Secrets of Priory revealed


A group of a dozen museum members enjoyed a fascinating trip to Lewes Priory on Tuesday July 11, led by Graham Mayhew, the author of the history of the Priory The Monks of Saint Pancras – Lewes Priory, England’s Premier Cluniac Monastery and its Dependencies 1076-1537.

A wonderful trompe l’oeil door depicting the old monastery garden

The priory ruins are just a short walk from Lewes train station and we went through the beautiful park, past Southover Grange. Along the way, in fact throughout Lewes, buildings and walls have been partly constructed from the destroyed priory remains. We were given a detailed talk at St John the Baptist Church, Southover, where the remains and tomb slab of the founders of the priory are now laid to rest in the specially constructed Chapter House. It was only by chance, when the railway was built from Brighton to Lewes in 1845, that the lead tomb boxes were uncovered of Gundrada (daughter of William the Conqueror) and her husband William de Varenne. They had the vision and means to construct the priory but did not live to see it completed.

Saint Pancras, the patron saint of keeping promises, is of importance. King Harold had sworn on his bones that his throne would go to William, Duke of Normandy. This promise was not kept, as everyone knows in the story of the Battle of Hastings.

Lewes Priory became one of the wealthiest monasteries in England and was populated by more than 100 monks plus servants and many visitors. It was visited by all Kings of England until it was deliberately destroyed during the Reformation on orders of Henry VIII. There are still extensive ruins in the park and you can see the well-engineered toilet block. The infirmary is covered over but this is where monks in ill health would be well fed and treated.

Graham certainly gave us a lot of historical information and a trip to Lewes and the Priory Park is well recommended.

Rye Castle Museum’s varied programme of talks, usually on second Thursday of the month, will commence in October. There will be a special talk during Rye Arts Festival fortnight – look out for details soon. There are special rates for members, open to everyone, call in at the museum to pick up a membership form. We also welcome new volunteers. East Street Museum will open every day during the festival in September – we hope to see many of you there.


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