The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 12. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1801.
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THE MONASTERY OF ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL, USUALLY CALLED ST. AUGUSTINE'S ABBEY.
IN THE EASTERN SUBURB of the city, is the precinct of the once magnificent ABBEY OF ST. AUGUSTINE, much of the ruins of which is still remaining; the abbey stood mostly in the western part of it, the whole being inclosed with a strong wall, containing within it about sixteen acres of ground.
This precinct is exempt from the liberties of the city and county of the city of Canterbury, being esteemed to be within the jurisdiction of the justices of the county of Kent at large; a small part of it on the south side, next the wall of this precinct, adjoining to the public high-road of Longport, is within that borough. (fn. 1) The whole of it is extraparochial.
Between this monastery and that of Christ church, there was ever an apparent jealousy and emulation; though no epicopal chair had been placed in it, yet the abbot had the privilege of the mitre and of other ensigns of episcopacy, and that the abbey might not seem second to any, or inferior to Christ-church itself, they put themselves under immediate subjection to the pope, and procured to themselves an exemption from professional obedience to the metropolitical church, and the jurisdiction of the metropolitan; and if the profound veneration, which all men bore to St. Thomas the martyr, had not surmounted all opposition, they would at least have maintained their pretences to an equality, if not to a superiority of glory and dignity, against their rival monastery.
KING ETHELBERT having seated St. Augustine in his royal palace at Canterbury, as has been fully related before, began by his persuasions in 598, on a large spot of ground, situated without the city walls eastward, the building of a monastery to the honour of St. Peter and St. Paul; after which, in 605, the king, with his queen Bertha and their son Edbald, St. Augustine, and the nobles of the realm, celebrated the solemnity of Christmas, at Canterbury; when, with the general consent and approbation of all present, as well clergy as laity, the king, on the 5th id. January, delivered up this monastery, with the endowment of it, at the instance of St. Augustine, to God and the monks, who should serve perpetually in it; and he enriched it with different possessions of lands and other ample gifts, and placed Peter, the first abbot, over the monastery and the congregation of monks in it, (fn. 2)
In this monastery, St. Augustine placed Benedictine monks, that is, followers of the order of black monks, after the rule of St. Benet, of which order he himself was, and they were of the same fort as those placed in the neighbouring priory of Christ-church.
King Ethelbert's two printed charters of the donation and foundation of this monastery, are both dated in the same year, anno 605; the variations of these one from the other, may well cause a suspicion of their not being genuine, and Sir Henry Spelman, though for other reasons, is of that opinion, (fn. 3) although they are printed from the manuscript registers of the mo nastery and other antient documents of the like fort, belonging to it, (fn. 4) and the former of them is recited in the charter of inspeximus of king Edward III. in his 36th year, confirming the possessions of this monastery to it. (fn. 5)
King Ethelbert, by another charter, granted that same year, having constituted Peter, a monk, the first abbot of this monastery, as before-mentioned, gave to it for the increase of its revenues, the ville of Sturiag, other called Chistelet, with all its lands and appurtenances, together with his golden sceptre, and other rich gifts. mentioning in it, that Augustine had also enriched this monastery with relics of the apostles and martyrs, and with other ecclesiastical ornaments, sent him from Rome, and had directed (and that with the pope's licence) that he and all his successors should be buried in it, for that the city was not for the dead, but for the living, where he, the king, likewise had ordered the sepulture both of himself and his successors; (fn. 6) and that none of the bishops or kings, his successors, should presume to hurt or disturb the peace of it, or should dare in any shape to usurp any subjection of it to them, but that the abbot himself, who should be so constituted, should, with the advice of his brethren, freely govern and order it both within and without, &c. (fn. 7) Which charter was confirmed and corroborated by one of Augustine, usually styled the privilege of St. Augustine. (fn. 8)
After which, Mellitus, bishop of London, being in 609 sent by king Ethelbert and archbishop Laurence to pope Boniface IV. on some business relating to the English church, and likewise to obtain the confirmation of this monastery by the apostolic see, prevailed on the pope to convene a synod of the Italian bishops next year, for this purpose, at which Mellitus was present, in which the same was confirmed, and the privilege of the confirmation was recited in the bull for that purpose. (fn. 9)
By the above charters it appears, that the chief intent of setting apart this space of ground in the suburbs of the city, and the founding of a monastery on it, was, that it should be a place of sepulture for them and their successors, as well in the kingdom, as in the archbishopric, for ever afterwards; (fn. 10) for it was not then, nor long afterwards, the custom to bury within cities; (fn. 11) in compliance with this injunction, many kings and archbishops were buried within it afterwards. Of these, Thorn and others have recorded the following: king Ethelbert, with Bertha his queen, and Letard, bishop of Soissons, her chaplain and conconfessor, in the portico of St. Martin; (fn. 12) Eadbald, with Emma his queen, in the portico of St. Cathe rine; (fn. 13) the kings Ercombert (fn. 14) and Lothaire, with his daughter Mildreda; Mulus, a staranger king, brother of king Cedwalla, and Withred, who was the last king interred in this church; the archbishops Augustine, Laurence, Mellitus, Justus, Honorius and Deodatus, were all interred in the porch of this church. The archbishops Theodore, Brithwald, Tatwin and Nothelm, (fn. 15) were buried in the church itself; but archbishop Cuthbert procured a licence from the pope, and a grant from the king likewise, wherein a right of sepulture, within his own cathedral of Christ-church, was given and confirmed to it; by which this monastery was, in great measure deprived of a fundamental privilege, if it may be so styled, as having been appropriated solely to it from its first foundation; but although the cathedral of Christ-church was allowed a right of burial, equally with this monastery, by which it was deprived of the sepulture of most of the archbishops, and several other persons of nobility, yet there were many prelates and nobles of high title and distinction afterwards, from time to time, buried within this church and monastery, besides a multitude of others, whose memories have been for ages lost, and few of whom have at this time one bone lying near another.
Among others whose sepulture is known to have been here, arcbbishop Janibert or Lambert, as he was variously called, the next but one in succession to arch bishop Cuthbert, was buried in the chapter-house, by his own particular directions, being the last archbishop buried here; (fn. 16) S. Brinstan, archdeacon to St. Alphage, was buried in the north portico of the church. (fn. 17) Emer, bishop of Shirburne, and many of the abbots were buried in the church, and other parts of the monastery, several of whom are mentioned in their lives. Here was also buried in St. Ann's, commonly called the Countes's chapel, Juliana, countess of Huntingdon, the rich Infanta of Kent, as she was called, who died in 1350, and endowed a chantry here for the repose of her soul, with many charities to be distributed to the poor, on the day of her anniversary for ever.
Besides these burials in the church, there were others within the precincts of this monastery, for they had within it an antient cemetery for burial, (fn. 18) not private and proper only to this abbey and the several members of it, or for such as made choice of it for that purpose; but still further until the dissolution, the proper and only cemetery belonging to some of the parish churches of the city in the patronage of the abbey, which had not church-yards of their own; these were, those of St. Mary Magdalen, St. Andrew, and St. Paul; but on the suppression of this monastery, this cemetery being disused and converted to other purposes, those parishes buried their dead in the church-yards of other churches, to their great inconvenience, till they found opportunity to purchase others for this purpose, to themselves elsewhere.
The foundation of this abbey being thus laid, it soon advanced to stateliness in the enlargements of its buildings, and the augmentation of its endowments; among those who added to the former, was king Eadbald, the son of king Ethelbert, who, at the instance of archbishop Laurence, built a fair church in this monastery, which he called St. Marie's. After Eadbald, king Canute, the great monarch of this realm; Egelfine, the abbot of it, who fled through fear of the Conqueror; abbot Hugh Florio, who was of kindred to king William Rufus, and by him made abbot; these, with others, several of whom will be noticed hereafter in the list of the abbots, were the persons who chiefly increased the buildings, some adding churches and chapels, some dorters and resectories, or some other kinds of edifices.
In relation to its possessions and endowment, it would be too tedious a matter to particularize them here, and there is the less occasion for it, as they are all taken notice of in the course of the history of the county of Kent; but certainly the multitude of benefactors of all sorts, who made their donations and grants of lands to it, out of the warmth of their devotion to the place, for the double founder's sake, strove through a pious zeal to outstrip one another, in an open handed liberality to this abbey; among these were most of the Saxon kings, and besides them, king Canute, the Danish monarch, must not be forgotten, down to king Edward the Confessor. The succeeding kings, for the most part were rather confirmers or restorers of the old, than contributors of the new possessions of the abbey, their charters, as well as the former ones, are recorded in the registers of it, and are printed in Reyner, Thorn, and other books.
The revenues of this monastery are exactly recorded by Thorn, in his Chronicle of this abbey, by which it appears, that they were possessed in their several manors, of 11,862 acres of land, (fn. 19) and that in king Richard II.'s time, their spiritualities were taxed at 424l. 13s. 4½d. and their temporalities at 808l. 0s. 12½d. the whole of both were taxed at 1232l. 14s. 4½d. (fn. 20)
Whenever the kings of this realm were under any necessity for money, for the carrying on their wars, or on any other pressing occasions, they in general directed their writs to the several bishops, abbots, priors, &c. to supply them with specific sums therein set down to each, promising to repay them at a particular time. Thus king Edward III. in his 12th year, borrowed of this abbot and convent fifty marcs; in his 16th year, 100l. in his 20th year 200 marcs, (fn. 21) and king Richard II. in his 10th year, borrowed of them 100l. and again in his 20th year, 100 marcs more.
It has been said that the art of printing in England was used in this monastery, under the care and patronage of the abbots of it, before it was exercised elsewhere, not long after the middle of the fifteenth century. (fn. 22) But Stow contends for its having been first used in 1471, by a press set up by archbishop islip, in St. Peter's church, in Westminster. (fn. 23)
This monastery had many great and extraordinary privileges conserred upon it, both by royal charters, and by papal bulls; the royal charters seem to have been free acts of grace, purchased either through benevolence and favour, or at no greater expence than that of entertaining the several kings in it, who are said by the reports of our English Chronicles, to have been more frequently received and lodged here, than in the neighbouring monaltery of Christ-church; but the papal bulls were purchased at the dearest rate, with great sums of money, as if the seal affixed to every bull of privilege had been, not of lead, but of pure gold. These privileges are recorded at large in Thorn's Chronicle, to which the reader is referred.—King Ethelbert's grant of freedoms and privileges to this abbey, has already been mentioned, as has the charter of St. Augustine to it, confirming and corroborating them, as it was esteemed in those times, being usually called the privilege of St. Augustine to this monastery, other succeeding kings (fn. 24) and some of a much later date granted others and confirmed the former ones, and there were some on writs of quo warranto brought against the abbot, confirmed and recorded in the several itineraries of the justices itinerant for the county of Kent, all which are given at large by Thorn. These privileges were exemptions from toll, sheriff's tourn, and such like, now entirely obsolete and useless; and the liberties were such as were claimed in their several manors; all which are particularly mentioned in the description of them, under their respective parishes, in the several parts of the history of the county of Kent.
The abbots of St. Augustine's had by the grant of king Athelstan, the privilege of mintage and coinage of money, which continued until the time of king Stephen, and then was utterly lost; Silvester, the 45th abbot, who died in the year 1161, being the last who enjoyed it. (fn. 25)
The abbot of this monastery was possessed of the aldermanry of Westgate, in this city, in see, by grant from the crown, and it was afterwards held of the abbot at a certain rent, in lieu of all service to him. (fn. 26)
In the year 1103, the king granted a fair to this monastery for five days, that is, from two days before the day of, and the two days after the translation of St. Augustine; (fn. 27) which fair was continued to be kept till the time of king Edward I. at which time it was disused, on account of the many quarrels and disturbances, which continually happened from it in their church yard; and on account of the heavy exactions on bread and ale, which the bailiffs of the city claimed during the time of it; afterwards, king Stephen granted to this monastery, a fair on the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, which, through neglect, was used but for a short time; and there was another fair for the sale of husbandry and cattle only, yearly on a Friday, viz. after the seast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, in recompence of the former fairs abovementioned. (fn. 28)
The privileges granted to this abbey by the papal bulls were numerous and extensive; in the first of them it is called, the first born, the first or chief mother of monasteries in England, and the Roman chapel in England, adding, that the archbishop was not to visit it as their prelate, but as their brother, not out of a pretence of prelacy, but out of the duty of love, and that he was to repute the abbot as a legate from Rome, as a fellow minister of the gospel of peace.
The monastery had likewise by these bulls large immunities, in respect both of secular and ecclesiastical matters. In 611, the pope granted a bull, that no bishop should intrude upon this monastery, on pretence of exercising any episcopal function within it, but only such as should be freely invited and admitted to it by the convent, to perform the divine offices within their church. In 955, pope John XIII. commanded the monks of Christ-church, who are said to have envied those of St. Augustine, not to molest this convent upon any pretence whatever. Afterwards the pope by his bull, took this monastery entirely under his own protection, which meant the exemption of it from every intermediate power of the archbishop, or any ordinary whatever, and subjecting it only and wholly to the pope himself; and pope Alexander II. in the year 1063 conferred on Egelsine, abbot of this monastery, who was sent to Rome on an embassage to him, such honours and powers, as belonged to the episcopal dignity only, so that he in some respects appeared and acted as one, for he permitted and granted licence to him and his successors, to wear the mitre, sandals and gloves, after the manner of those who exercised that sunction. Notwithstanding this, these ornaments were soon laid aside by the abbot, for archbishop Lanfrance would not suffer any such innovation, nor were they resumed till the year 1179, when the pope made a new grant of them, from which time they were constantly made use of, and the abbot was accounted a mitred abbot; which, as Cowel interprets it, was an abbot sovereign, exempt from the jurisdiction of the diocesan, having episcopal jurisdiction within himself, and he had place and voice not only in parliament as a spiritual baron, being con stantly summoned there by writ, (fn. 29) but also in the general councils, where by the gift of pope Leo IX. his place was next to the abbot Montis Caffini. (fn. 30).
The abbot of this monastery was empowered to pronounce the solemn benediction, when mass was ended, and at some times the sentence of excommunication against such as should with-hold or privately withdraw tithes, or other ecclesiastical dues to the convent and the churches of it; and he had authority to celebrate the offices of religion in those churches and chapels, which were appropriated to their own convent; he had power likewise to reconcile and consecrate anew any of their own churches or church-yards, which happened to be desecrated by the shedding of blood, or by any other pollutions. These are mentioned, among many other privileges, which were granted from time to time by the several popes to this monastery.
Their exemption from archiepiscopal jurisdiction claims however some further particular notice, for as it infringed on the rights and dignity of the metropolitan, so it caused continued disputes and animosities between them.
This monastery, from the first foundation of it to the time of the Norman conquest, was subject to the mother church, and the archbishop was accustomed at all times, whenever he pleased to come and have access to it, to celebrate publicly in it the offices of religion, and to pay his devotions privately at the shrine of St. Augustine. He frequently endowed it with rich ornaments, delighting to confer honours on it, and to desend it from every injury it was subject to.
The abbots at the times of their benediction, prosessed obedience to the archbishops, as is computed by Ralph de Diceto, for 500 years, (fn. 31) or rather according to the account of Gervas, for the space of 575 years. Some of these original professions are still remaining among the archives of Christ-church, one of them was made in the presence of seven bishops, who certified it under their seals; this was the prosession of abbot Sylvester; (fn. 32) however, after a long contest between the archbishops and the successive abbots, concerning this privilege, it was decreed, in order to compromise the matter, that the archbishops should in future give the benediction to the abbot of St. Augustine's, within the abbey church, without exacting the prosession of obedience to the archibishop, or his metropolitical church; (fn. 33) but to gain and keep this privilege was attended with a vast expence, and great sums were paid at the election and benediction of an abbot; Thorn mentions one instance of its amounting altogether to no less a sum than 1008l. 13s. 8d. (fn. 34)
Notwithstanding these many instances of royal munisicence, aided by the fostering hand of papal favour and indulgence, this abbey met with detriments and misfortunes, which at times obscured the sunshine of its prosperity, till it at last was overtaken by that impetuous storm, which wholly extinguished the glory and majesty of this once famous and opulent abbey.
To pass by the loss of that long enjoyed right and interest of the burials of kings and archbishops, which has been already taken notice of, in order to mention a much more dreadful calamity which besel this abbey; I mean the frequent and grievous infestation of this place by the Danes; and however their chroniclers for their abbey's greater glory, sometimes ascribe their safety and deliverance from those invaders, to miraculous preservation; yet doubtless it either suffered from their violence, or at least purchased its peace, and so prevented a much greater calamity at a dear rate, and with costly redemptions, especially in that lamentable spoil and devastation of the city, made by those merciless tyrants in the reign of king Ethelred, in the year 1011, when Elmer, then abbot of this monastery, was suffered, as it is said, to go away unhurt; (fn. 35) because, as may reasonably be thought, he had ransomed himself and his abbey, by composition with the enemy. (fn. 36) Is it credible, says archbishop Parker, (fn. 37) that among so many storms and invasions of the Danes, by which so many monasteries were overthrown, that this haughty abbey should remain safe and secure from the Danish ravages, which so miserably destroyed this city?
In the year 1168, the dreadful calamity of fire, nearly destroyed this monastery; it happened on August 29, when the greatest part of it was burnt; in this fire many of their antient codicils and charters perished, and the church itself being destroyed, the shrines of St. Augustine and many other saints, were miserably spoiled; upon which the pope, in order to afford them some affistance towards the repair of their monastery, granted to the abbot and convent, the appropriation of their three church of Faversham, Minister and Middleton. (fn. 38)
Another misfortune happened to this monastery, though of quite a contrary nature to that last mentioned, for as that was by fire, so this happened by water, though more than one hundred years between the one and the other; for in the year 1271, on the day of the translation of St. Augustine, there came on a storm and flood, which proved a general calamity to this city; it thundred and lightened that whole day, and the night of it, in which time dark clouds were continually gathered together, great torrents of rain flowed down for many days, flocks and herds were driven by it out of the fields, and trees were overthrown and torn up by the roots; in this inundation of rain, the city of Canterbury was almost drowned, and the flood occasioned by it was so high, both in the court of the monastery and the church, that they had been quite overwhelmed with the water, continues the chronicler, had not the virutue of the faints, who rested there, withstood the waters. (fn. 39)
But the greatest obstacle this abbey met with, which in a great measure put an end to the further aggrandizement of it, though it was felt in common by it with others, was the restraint of the laity from any longer extending their bounty in passing over their see estates to the abbey, without the king's special licence, by the statute of mortmain, passed anno 7 Edward I. without which prudent measure the over active charity of this kind of operative devotion, would in time have put the abbeys and monasteries in possession of the greatest part of this kingdom, leaving so small a share to others, as to endanger the safety of both prince and people.
To supply this loss however, as far as possible, and make it selt less sensibly by the religious, they brought forward a piece of policy, which they quickly put in use; which was, the procuring not only priviliges and immunities from payment of tithes, but also appropriations, or the annexing of churches to their houses; I mean the parsonages of them, leaving the church a bare vicarage or curacy, which though invented and set on foot long before, yet now, the other current of their gain being stopped, became more abundant than ever. (fn. 40) But it ought to be remembered, that though these were improperly enough in the hands of these religious, yet they became much more so afterwards, as many of them continue at present in the possession of laymen; an evil, says Mr. Lambarde, suffered to exist in this day-light of the gospel, to the great hindrance of learning, the impoverishment of the ministry, the decay of hospitality, and the infamy of our profession.
Whatever else occurs worthy of notice concerning this abbey, to the time of its dissolution, will be mentioned hereafter, under the respective abbot, in whose time it happened.