Thursday, April 12, 2012

St Radigund's Ramble

Tuesday was a fine evening to take a short stroll. We chose an area neither of us had explored previously as it looked jolly interesting on the OS map.

We took a footpath through cultivated fields towards St Radigund's Abbey Farm (we parked at grid reference TR 27131 42119 which is about 3 miles out of Dover, above the Alkham Valley). It was pretty blustery and behind us was an impressive cumulus bank.

The site looked interesting on the map because the farm is on the site of St Radigund's Abbey - now picturesque, tumbledown ruins. We weren't expecting the ruins to be so impressive.

St Radigund's Abbey was founded in 1191. Of course Henry VIII included it in his Dissolution of Monasteries in 1538. The abbey was demolished and the stone used for various buildings in the vicinity (probably Henry's castles). The farmhouse (below) apparently used to be the abbey refectory.

Wallflowers (Erysimum cheiri) are growing just where their name says they should.

The main part of the building still standing is the gatehouse tower which would have give access to the nave of the abbey. Here's the side view.

And this is the front elevation (all visible from the public footpath).

The Prémontré (Premonstratensian) order was founded in 1120 by a chap called Norbert (Premonstratensians are also called Norbetines), now St Norbert. Strictly speaking they are canons regular, not monks. The mother house was at Prémontré in France. They were nicknamed White Canons after their white habit. (The picture below of Norbetine habit is from Wikipedia.)

Back to the gatehouse tower. Looking through an arch, the farmhouse door is visible.

The patterned stonework is just gorgeous; chequered knapped flint and Caen stone or Kentish Rag (I believe).

There's more decorative stonemasonry on the front of the tower.

I just love this patterning.

From my photos the whole area looks very flat. But the ruins are actually on a hill so the abbey must have been quite an imposing building in its heyday in this high position. If it was still standing the abbey would be one of the finest ecclesiastical buildings in east Kent (MJC Davis, 2006). An impression of what it may have looked like (based on archaeological evidence) is here.

All in all a blissful evening ramble....

....and across the road we discovered an enchanting wood. More on that to follow.....

Further Information on...
Radegund was a 6th century Thuringian (German) princess. Before her 10th birthday her power-hungry uncle had killed her father in a battle and 'adopted' her (perhaps enslaved is a more appropriate term). Fraticidal uncle Hermanfrid then overthrew his other brother and took overall control of Thuringia. However, he foolishly reneged on an agreement to share power with the Frankish King Theudric, who'd helped him defeat his brothers. Theudric, not a chap to be messed about, joined forces with the ruthlessly ambitious Frankish King Clotaire I to defeat Hermanfrid. Young Radegund (she would have been about 11) was a mere chattel. She was given to Clotaire as his 2nd wife (or concubine - he eventually had 6 wives) and taken back to Gaul. Sadly she was childless and after her 'husband' had her brother murdered she left him to found a nunnery at Poitiers. She was canonised in the 9th century.

St Radigund's Abbey 
I see that there have been Heritage Open Days at the Abbey with guided tours. Best keep a watch to see if there's one this year. Linkie here.
The Ruins of Bradsole, or St Radigund's Abbey near Dover (1837) The Saturday Magazine. March 25th. Link here to an article reproduced by The Dover Society
Kent Archaeology have published a paper by MCJ Davis (2006) St Radegund's Abbey - a re-assessment of the Abbey Church. Archaeologia Cantiana, Vol. 126, pages 239 - 56. Link here and many thanks to them for making it available online.
There's also a booklet by Mrs Grace Moynan (1995) St. Radigund’s Abbey, Dover, Kent which I've not seen but it's available from the farm (linkie). The Moynan family own the farm.
William Page (Editor) (1926) Houses of Premonstratensian canons: The abbey of Bradsole or St Radegund in A History of the County of Kent (Volume 2) pages 172-5. Linkie.

The monks of St Radigund's were clearly not short of a penny or ten. The Parrot pub (Canterbury's oldest (circa 1370) and somewhere I will visit soon as it looks pleasant) used to be called St Radigund's Hall. The abbey owned property in the vicinity and St Radigund's Street in Canterbury reminds us of this fact. Spirogyra lived in lodgings in St Radigund's Street in the late 60s. Their debut album was called St Radigund's.

St Radigund's Abbey Farm
The farm have holiday cottages for rent. It's a quiet, well situated area to explore the White Cliffs and surrounding countryside.

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