Archaeologists Discover 8th Century Monastery

Holy Trinity Church Cockham, Berkshire, England. Source: Christian Today

An archaeological dig in the grounds of a church is offering fresh glimpses into one of the most powerful women of the early middle ages.

Archaeologists in Berkshire, England discover the remains of a 8th century monastery while digging in the parish grounds of Holy Trinity Church, Cookham. According to preliminary archaeological evidence, the monastery appears to have been ruled by a royal abbess, Queen Cynethryth, the widow of the powerful King Offa of Mercia.

Situated on the banks of the Thames, the monastery’s strategic value on a contested boundary between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex, would have made it a major trading post. Researchers from the University of Reading, while evacuating nearby, discovered the remains of timber posts from buildings which they believe would have housed inhabitants of the monastery.

Lead archaeologist Dr Gabor Thomas said, “The lost monastery of Cookham has puzzled historians, with a number of theories put forward for its location. We set out to solve this mystery once and for all.”

Other areas evacuated confirm the notion of the monastery’s strategic value. The presence of blacksmith shops for metalworking and the size of the stables suggest the monastery housed a sizable population for its day.

Artifacts from the dig have thus far included food remains, pottery vessels used for cooking and eating, and items of personal dress including a delicate bronze bracelet and a dress pin, probably worn by female members of the community.

“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,” said Dr Thomas.

“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.”

According to early Anglo-Saxon literature, Cynethryth became abbess of the monastery after the death of King Offa of Mercia in AD 796 and reigned until AD 798.

A powerful woman in her time, she is the only Anglo-Saxon queen to have been depicted on a coin.

Dr Thomas said, “Cynethryth is a fascinating figure, a female leader who clearly had genuine status and influence in her lifetime. Not only were coins minted with her image, but it is known that when the powerful European leader Charlemagne wrote to his English counterparts, he wrote jointly to both King Offa and Queen Cynethryth, giving both equal status.

“We are thrilled to find physical evidence of the monastery she presided over, which is also very likely to be her final resting place.”

Source: Christian Today