After we looked at Matthew Flinders’ birthplace in Donington Andrew drove me to Crowland. (That’s not a spelling mistake. Though the name of the town is ‘Crowland’, the abbey is correctly ‘Croyland’, the result of a misspelling by a medieval monk.)
Before the Fens were drained the area was marsh and swamp and dotted here and there with tiny islands upon which lived small groups of people. On one such island a young man decided to erect a small building and there to start a life of denial and contemplation. Young Guthlac, who eventually became St Guthlac, arrived on the island in 699 AD, according to legend.
And things started to grow. A hut became an abbey and more monks arrived. The abbey was burnt down and rebuilt and destroyed and rebuilt. First the Danes, then fire, then earthquake but always the rebuilding until there was a huge wonderful abbey with many monks and considerable wealth.
Then Henry the Eighth decided that in order to be able to legally divorce and remarry whenever he felt like it he just might have to disestablish the Roman Catholic Church and set up his own Church of England. But you all know that story. In 1536 there were over 800 religious houses in England and Wales, and about 10,000 monks and canons and nuns and friars. Four years later there were none. Henry’s Dissolution of the Monasteries involved the taking over by the Crown of the buildings and properties and many of these properties fell into disrepair.
As we drove through the Fen in the mist and fog one of these old buildings, on one of those small islands loomed into view.
We drove into the town where we saw the Trinity Bridge.
I did not take this photo. Actually I did, but it is a photo of an old engraving. The bridge was built over a river where it branched in two. The three way bridge allowed people to cross the river from any side.
It was strange to see a bridge over solid ground but, as I am sure you will understand, when it was first built there were real water courses which are now underground drains.
It is thought that the name ‘Trinity Bridge’ refers the the doctrine of the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost – three bridges – but one bridge.
After spending a lot of time deciding how many different games the young children of Crowland could devise as the climbed and frolicked over and under the bridge we thought it might be a good idea to have a bit of a look at the actual Abbey.
This is what you see from the bridge. And I want you to work out what time of the day it was.
When the Abbey was Dissolved it slowly fell into ruin although although the north aisle of the Abbey Church was saved and is now the present day Church of England Parish church. And I’ll show you inside in a minute but I just want to duck around the outside for a few minutes.
All that remains is about one eighth of the abbey as it would have been in 1536. The material that would have been there has, over the years been looted or sold and has found its way into many buildings in the surrounding area.
Now that you’ve checked that out let’s go inside.
We didn’t go to Peterborough Cathedral which is definitely magnificent but I think I had given Andrew a pretty good idea of what I did want to see. Anyway, we had started to run out of time, what with me wanting to stop and feel the structure of the soil.