Thursday, September 16, 2021

Lost Monastery of Cookham

 From Medievalists:

The location of the 8th-century monastery in the village of Cookham, on the banks of the Thames, was a mystery until now, despite being well known from contemporary historical sources. Written records show it was placed under the rule of a royal abbess: Queen Cynethryth, the widow of the powerful King Offa of Mercia.

Now, archaeologists at the University of Reading and local volunteers excavating in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church – one of the rumoured locations of the monastery – have made a breakthrough discovery. The team has uncovered the remains of timber buildings which would have housed the inhabitants of the monastery, alongside artefacts providing insights into their lives.

“The lost monastery of Cookham has puzzled historians, with a number of theories put forward for its location,” explains Dr Gabor Thomas, the University of Reading archaeologist who is leading the excavation. “We set out to solve this mystery once and for all. The evidence we have found confirms beyond doubt that the Anglo-Saxon monastery was located on a gravel island beside the River Thames now occupied by the present parish church.

“Despite its documented royal associations, barely anything is known about what life was like at this monastery, or others on this stretch of the Thames, due to a lack of archaeological evidence. The items that have been uncovered will allow us to piece together a detailed impression of how the monks and nuns who lived here ate, worked and dressed. This will shed new light on how Anglo-Saxon monasteries were organised and what life was like in them.”

A network of monasteries was established on sites along the route of the Thames to take advantage of what was one of the most important trading arteries in Anglo-Saxon England, enabling them to develop into wealthy economic centres. The stretch of the Thames in which Cookham falls formed a contested boundary between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex, so the monastery here had particular strategic and political importance. In spite of this historical background, the exact location of the monastery has been long debated. (Read more.)

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