Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Croyland Abbey I

On Saturday afternoon, after lunch and an amble around Spalding, in blazing heat we travelled south across the Great Postland to Crowland, a tiny remote market town at the very southern edge of Lincolnshire.  There rising blunt and massive like some sort of butte carved by the wind above the houses stands Crowland, or Croyland, Abbey.  Not however the work of nature and time but the work of the hand of man both creative and destructive; a great fragment of what once was a vast church and monastic complex and a place of pilgrimage, for it was here on St Bartholomew's Day in 699 that the former warrior Guthlac came to do spiritual battle. To make Catharsis on the path to Theosis.  His reputation for holiness attracted others, and after his death King Athelbald of Mercia founded an abbey.  It was destroyed during the Viking invasions and was refounded sometime before the Norman Conquest.  It was dissolved in 1539, and all is now Ichabod.

What remains is now mainly from the time of Abbot Lytlington and is the work of Master William.  There is some surviving Norman work at the east end of the nave and at the west end too where it formed the east wall of a chapel built around what was thought of as the remains of Guthlac's cell.  The little metal plaque that marked the cell has gone.  The lower part of the west front dates from the middle of the 13th century.  I had hoped to bring you some pictures of the interior, but by the time we had walked around the inside the church had been locked.


It turns out that the site has been holy for far longer than the arrival of Guthlac in 699.  Crowland does not, as is popularly thought, sit upon a fen 'island' but at the end of a peninsular of gravel stretching out from the fen edge at Peakirk north-east into the fen.  It is dotted with Bronze Age barrows.  Interesting too when you think about it that Peakirk with it's ancient sanctity should stand almost on guard at the start of the peninsular.

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