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The Abbey is open again! the long view...

It was last week that Thorney Abbey was able to open for private prayer again. The Coronavirus lockdown period was the third time when the Abbey church was unavailable for services.


From 23 March 1208 to 2 July 2014 England was under Papal Interdict. In this case, Pope Innocent III, who led the Roman Catholic Church, disagreed with King John. The main dispute was over the election of Stephen Langton as the Archbishop of Canterbury in December 1206, approved by the Pope and consecrated in a ceremony in Rome, but unacceptable to John. At this time, the Pope was concerned to make his points by basically excommunicating whole nations if their rulers were displeasing him. The theory was that people likely to lose their eternal life if they could not have church services would be so angry and afraid that their rulers would have to do as the Pope wished, due to pressure in their kingdoms.


In Thorney, which archaeology has suggested was predominantly a monastery on an island without a lot of other people around it, priests were allowed to make their daily devotions as individuals, but there would not be services for pilgrims coming here. Only baptisms of children and confessions of the dying were allowed - but no masses, marriage services or burial services. In 1209 congregations of monks were allowed to have communal services and in 1212 the last communion was allowed to the dying. However, the great new church of Thorney, less than a century old, lost much of its use and no Christian burial was allowed in the churchyards.


In 1214, after a year of negotiation, the interdict was lifted and the Abbey church was in use again until 1539. At this time, it looks as though the demolition of many of the Abbey buildings took place in the winter of 1539 after Henry VIII legally dissolved the monastery.


For around a century some walls of the Abbey church remained as a ruin, until under the protection of the Earl of Bedford a functioning building was made. Walls filling the arches and a new roof made a church for his estate as people began to come into the area in a major campaign to drain the fens - hence the date of 1638 on the west front of the Abbey. This image of our Victorian Gravestones book (£3.95 from the Museum - please email enquiry@thorney-museum.org.uk if you are interested) shows how the great west window of the middle ages is higher than the new roof installed in the 1630s!


The Abbey has been in constant use since then until 23 March 2020 when rules to control the spread of the Coronavirus were made. This month the Abbey is adapting and making arrangements to allow use for private prayer to happen on Wednesdays and Sundays. See http://www.wherecitymeetsfen.org.uk/thorney-abbey-open-for-private-prayer/


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