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Who was who? Thorney's "Book of Lives"

A member of the Parish Council mentioned this book to me a couple of months ago. As the medieval history of Thorney is quite difficult to see - except the Abbey church itself - I thought this might be worth a quick blog post.


The book illustrated here is a print from 2015 of the "Thorney Liber Vitae". This type of manuscript lists both monks and abbots of an abbey, and also people who are linked to it, for instance by giving lands and money to the monastic community. Only three of these books survive from medieval England, and ours is written into a Gospel Book (the stories of the New Testament) which probably came originally from Brittany.


The book as added to over a period of centuries, and includes many names. About 75% of these are male names, and 88% are lay people (i.e. they aren't monks, nuns or priests). These allow the identification of what a scholar called Cecily Clark called the "catchment area" of the Abbey, which attracted support from people in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, Rutland, Norfolk and Middlesex. Many of these supporters were shared with Peterborough, Ely, Crowland and Ramsey abbeys.


This list of names is important as it shows hundreds of people with names from England, France and Scandinavia all wished to be associated with our Abbey, for instance Goscelin of London in the 1140s and Gilbert of Folksworth in 1127.


In the same book was the "Thorney Relic List", the names of the saints who "rest at the monastery of Thorney". This was made and added to in the 12th century. Relics include those of Saints Tancred, Torhtred and Tona whose remains were rediscovered by St Aethelwold when he refounded the monastery in the 970s, thus linked the earliest monastery of the 7th century to the refoundation 300 years later. We don't know what happened to the Thorney relics when Henry VIII closed down the monastery in 1539.


The Thorney Liber Vitae: London, British Library Additional MS 40,000, fols 1-12: Edition, Facsimile and Study ed. Lynda Rollason The Boydell Press, 2015, ISBN 9781783270101


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