~ ST. SEPULCHRE'S NUNNERY ~
Mildred Hale prioress of St Sepulchre's, Canterbury v. Laurence Byker (debt). fol. 63v. - 1476-77, CCA, Court books
"The recent discovery at Canterbury of an ancient cemetery adjoining the site of the nunnery of St. Sepulchre, whence a number of skeletons have been exhumed, with little or no evidence of any remains of wood, has caused me to bring this subject before your readers. Beneath this graveyard was a Roman cemetery, from whence have been taken, within the last few weeks, numerous mortuary urns, and domestic vessels of pottery of different patterns. The locality abuts the Old Dover Road (Watling Street), the Roman iter to Dover and Lympne, establishing the existence of a second Roman burying place without the city; the first being at St. Dunstan's on the high road to London." John Brent, Canterbury, Jan-June 1861
"Turning off opposite the County Hospital, we may pass through Chantry Lane to the Dane John, with a glance at the site of St. Sepulchre's, a Benedictine nunnery, founded by Anselm, adjoining a church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was here that Elizabeth Barton, "the nun of Kent," was removed from Aldington, where her cell "for some 3 years was the Delphic shrine of the Catholic oracle, from which the orders of Heaven were communicated even to the pope himself." There are but scanty remains of the nunnery, and it will be hopeless to attempt to trace the chamber from which she "went to heaven once a fortnight," and where the devil at other times "made great stinking smokes." (see more, Aldington, Rte.7) HFT1858
"One cemetary on the east, runs under and on both sides of the road now called "Old Dover Road;" part of it was subsequently used as the graveyard of St. Sepulchre's Nunnery. A second Roman cemetery was found outside Worth Gate. It was adjacent to the site of the Chatham and Dover Railway Station, and extended into Wincheap field, beyond the Gasometer. A third cemetery was on the St. Dunstan's Road. It included the site of St. Dunstan's Churchyard, but it extended from the South Eastern Railway cutting to the London Road on the north-west. A fourth cemetery was found a Vauxhall, beside the Ramsgate Road. It included the sites of the Infantry and Cavalry Barracks. A fifth seems to have been near Little Barton and the cemetery of St. Augustine's Abbey. (See Brent's Canterbury in the Olden Time, 2nd Edition, pp. 31-33, 38-41)
In the yere of our Lorde 1537 the xxiij day of February, the monasterie of Seynet Gregories was suppressed and the chanons were expulsed; mr. Spilman and mr. Candish (should be Candel) being the kynges commissioners herunto appointed.
The same day, the church of Saynet Sepulchre, by the autoritic of the same commission, and by the same commissioners, was suppressed. The moinalls* notwithstandyng at that tyme were not removed, for they obtayned lycence to abyde there untill Easter, which notwithstanding scarlsly (scarcely) remayned one moneth afterwardes; so at the last the weeke before Easter they were expulsed.
*i.e. the nuns; misprinted "monks" by Strype, ubi supra.
Saynet Sepulchre - A house of Benedictine nuns in Canterbury: see Monasticon Anglicanum, new edition, iv. 413; Hasted's Kent, folio edit. iv. 449. Elizabeth Barton had been a member of this house
Narrative of the days of the reformation 1859
"In the south east part of this city was a Benedictine nunnery, founded, (A.D. 1100.) It was called St. Sepulchre's, and had a Prioress and five or seven nuns, with an income of 38l. 19s. 7d. ob. In the 30th of Henry VIII., the site was exchanged with the Archbishop of Canterbury for other lands, but in 8 years after it was granted to James Hales." UM1751
...At this turning stood the nunnery of St. Sepulchre, which, as Mr. Somner says, was founded by Archbishop Anselm, A.D. 1100, and was a corporation, consisting of a lady prioress, and five veiled black nuns, so called from the colour of their habits and veils. One of these was Elizabeth Barton, called the Holy Maid of Kent, in king Henry the Eighth's time, who being tutored by some monks, pretended to inspiration, and prophesied destruction to those who were opening a way to the reformation. For this she and seven of her accomplices suffered death among whom was Richard Dering, the cellarer of the cathedral monastery, and Hugh Rich, guardian of the Franciscans; six others of them were punished by fine and imprisonment. The revenue of this nunnery, at the dissolution, was 29l. 12s. 5d. On part of the scite of it some handsome houses have recently been erected. Till lately some of the ruins were remaining; but are now entirely removed; the stones of which were used in building the walls of the new houses. WG1825
St. Sepulchre's Nunnery, founded 1100, by Archbishop Anselm, in the south east of the city; revenues 38l. 19s. 7 1/2d., now worth 779l. 12. 6d.; granted, 38 Henry VIII., to James Hale.
The protestant "reformation" 1853
"...the present road leads by Oaten-hill, into the city through St. George's gate; at this turning stood the nunnery of St. Sepulchre, the gates of which are still to be seen, but of the house very little.
St. Sepulchre's nunnery, Mr. Somner says, was founded by Archbishop Anselm, and was a corporation, consisting of a lady prioress, and five veiled black nuns, so called from the colour of their habits and veils. One of these was Elizabeth Barton, called the Holy Maid of Kent, in King Henry the Eighth's time, who being tutored by some monks, pretended to inspiration, and prophesied destruction to those who were opening a way to the reformation; for this she and seven of her accomplices suffered death, among whom was Richard Dering, the cellarer of the Cathedral Monastery, and Hugh Rich, guardian of the Franciscans, six others of them were punished by fine and imprisonment. The revenue of this nunnery at the dissolution was 29l. 12s. 5d." WG1777
"This church* was built by William, surnamed Fithamon, being the son of Hamon, the son of Vitalis, one of those who came over from Normandy with William the Conqueror. This William was no doubt, the patron of this church, which he had built, and most probably gave it to the neighbouring nunnery of St. Sepulcher, where it staid till the dissolution of that house in king Henry VIII's reign, when the patronage of it was granted anno 29th of it, when the nunnery and the rest of the possessions of it to the archbishop of Canterbury, subject nevertheless to the payment of 3s. to the vicar of this church; all which where again reconveyed by the archbishop to the king in his 37th year, in exchange for other premises, and he granted them the following year to the Hales's, lords of the manor of the Dungeon, whose burial place was within this church; since which the patronage of it has continued in the possession of the owners of that manor, down to Henry Lee Warner, of Walsingham abbey in Norfolk, the present patron of it. Upon the decline of the church of St. Edmund of Riding-gate, not far distant, of the patronage likewise of the same nunnery, it was in 1349 united to this of St. Mary Bredin, with the consent of the prioress and convent**.
Hasted *St. Mary Bredin (Little lady dungeon)
"Founded by Archbishop Anselm; revenues
38l. 19s. 71/2d. at the reformation, now worth 779l. 12s. 6d.; granted,
38 Hen. VIII., to James Hale."
A geographical dictionary of England and Wales, William Cobbett 1832
"To the south-east of the city was a Benedictine nunnery, founded by Archbishop Anselm, and dedicated to St. Sepulchre; the revenue, at the Dissolution, was £38. 19. 7. This convent obtained celebrity from the pretended inspiration of Elizabeth Barton, one of the nuns, called "the Holy Maid of Kent," who, for denouncing the wrath of the Almighty upon Henry VIII., for his intended divorce of Catherine of Arragon, was hanged at Tyburn, with her confederate, Richard Deering, cellarer of Christ-Church."
"By Saint Sepulchre's Nunnery was held the Beast Market, for the sale of Cattle..."
"On the right hand of the Dover Road, in the south-east suburb, not far from the nunnery of St. Sepulchre, stood the old Hospital of St. Laurence, of which there are now no remains save in the walls of cottages adjacent to the site."
Canterbury; A History of the Ancient City, J. Charles Cox 1905
"The cemetery at St. Sepulchre, discovered during the present year (1861) in making excavations for the cellars of some houses about to be erected, has proved rich in antiquities.
In this place had evidently been two distinct graveyards; one, about four feet below the present surface, was probably a general burial-ground attached to the nunnery, for the bodies were far too numerous for us to suppose the interments had been restriced to the former inmates of the Order; the other cemetery was a Roman one, found at a distance of five or six feet beneath the surface. Herein, the practice of urn burial had prevailed.
The dead in the upper layer were so closely packed, that there was something ghastly in the process which laid open their remains. Rows of skulls with skeletons lying almost shoulder to shoulder, presented themselves to view. In these upper graves, there was vestige neither of coffin nor of shroud.
Had the wood decayed, or had the dead been interred uncoffined? a practice much more common, I believe, a few centuries since, than is generally supposed, and which it appears prevailed in a great degree in the present case; as among the Roman remains below, vestiges of wood were found, and portions of chests or boxes which had contained some of the most delicate of the urns and fictile vessels. Sometimes the interments had intermingled; broken pieces of pottery occurring among the Christian graves, marking where the earlier deposits had been disturbed byt he sexton's spade. The most interesting relic perhaps of the whole colleciton,w as a little vessel of bright polished red ware; in form rare, if not unique, deposited perhaps to accompany some child to whom when living it was the means of administering nutriment; its height was four and a half inches. This relic was discovered about eighteen inches below the surface, as if throuwn up in digging the later grave; it had, fortunately for the antiquaries of the present age, escaped detection; it is figured it the Plate, No. 15. The handle is at quarter distance from the spout, the bore of which is so small, that the orfice would not admit more than an ordinary-size knitting needle.
At the early part of 1861, many Roman vessels had been found in another part of this ground, in a portion purchased by Miss Wilks for the erection of a house. Some of these were presented by that lady to the Museum at Canterbury. Two of them are given in the Plate Nos. 10 and 11." AC1861
"St. Sepulchre's Priory, near Oaten Hill, founded by Archbishop Anselm in 1100, for Benedictine nuns, was the abode of Elizabeth Barton, the so-called "Holy Maid of Kent," who was hanged at old Tyburn, April 21, 1534; the ground behind was a Roman burial ground, where urns have been found. Lawrence House stood a little further on; a large stone, with the figure of St. Lawrence and his gridiron, is the only relic of it." 1913
Richard Berne, of Canterbury, 28th April, 1461. My body to be buried in the aisle before the cross, in the south part of St. Paul's, at Canterbury. To the rebuilding of the bell tower of the monastery of St. Augustine ix l. to be paid as soon as the said work shall be begun; to the prisoners of the Castle of Canterbury and of Westgate vi s. viii d. each; to the Prioress of the Church of St. Sepulchre, towards the works of her Church xiii s. iv d.; to the repair of the highway leading towards Sandwich, by St. Martin's Hill and the Fishpoole x l.; towards the repair of the highway in the Winecheape, between Bircholle's Place and St. James's Hospital x l.; to Joan, my wife, my furniture and my best cart, and my five horses fit to draw it, with all their harness; to the building of the new bell tower of Tenterden vi s. viii d. Richard my son. Proved 7th May 1461, at Canterbury. Testament a Vetusta 1826
...The interments whence these objects were taken seem to have been near, or intermingling with, a Roman cemetery, a not unusual occurrence ; the burial grounds of an older race of people offering obvious inducements for similar uses to the population which succeeded them. Indeed the practice has not been confined to Pagan races ; the churchyard of the nuns of the Holy Sepulchre, at Canterbury, was located over a thickly-occupied Roman cemetery, where the rites of cremation and urn burial had been practiced, whilst beneath the deposit of earthen and glass vessels, and broiue relics, were found more than one rudely-formed urn, composed of sun-baked clay, which indicated that the still older inhabitants of British soil, probably Beigic or Celtic tribes, had also held their funeral observances on the same ground.
A Book Entitled: "The History and Antiquities of the Three Archiepiscopal Hospitals at and near Canterbury; viz. St. Nicholas, at Harbledown; St. John's, Northgate; and St. Thomas, of Eastbridge; with some Account of the Priory of St. Gregory, the Nunnery of St. Sepulchre, the Hospitals of St. James and St. Lawrence, and Maynard's Spittle. By John Duncomb, M.A., Vicar of Herne, and Master of the Hospitals of St. Nicholas and St. John; and the late Nicholas Battely, M.A. Vicar of Beaksbourn, and Editor of Somner's Antiquities of Canterbury." "...Juvat antiquos accedere fontes, Atque haurire......." London, printed by and for J. Nichols. MDCCLXXXV. Plates, W. View of St. Nicholas Hospital, Harbledown. Arthur Nelson del. 1766, 2 - Curious Maple Bown at Mapledown, W. View of St. John's Hospital, Canterbury, J. Raymond, del. 1784, Seals of Harbledown and St. John's Hospital. N. View of Eastbridge Hospital, Canterbury, taken from King's Mill, Raymond del. Cook sc. South View of Kingsbridge and Mill, and of the Church of All Saints at Canterbury, according to the late improvements taken (from the Parlour Window of the King's Head Inn), March 11, 1780. J. Pridden del. Seals of Eastbridge Hospital, &c. View of St. Gregory's Priory, Canterbury. Ruins of St. Thomas's Chapel, Canterbury, as they appeared in 1781. F. Perry del. W. View of St. Sepulchre's Nunnery, and N.E. View of Maynard's Spital, Canterbury. W. Groombridge del. 1785. Seals of St. Gregory's Priory, St. Maynard's Spital, &c.
© T. Machado 2007