Alnwick Abbey


From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. The Premonstratensian order, or "White Canons", were not monks in the strict sense but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and founded all its monasteries in rural locations.

The Premonstratensian abbey at Alnwick is a good example of an uncommon monument type. Excavation has shown that the remains of the abbey are extensive and well preserved and will retain valuable information relating to its layout and also to its construction, use and abandonment. The abbey gatehouse survives as a standing building and is a rare example. Overall, this monument will add to our knowledge and understanding of medieval monastic life and economy.

The monument includes the buried and standing remains of a Premonstatensian abbey of medieval date, situated on gently sloping ground adjacent to the River Aln. The precinct wall which delineates the northern boundary of the abbey is visible as a low foundation and incorporates the abbey gatehouse at its centre. This building is constructed of ashlar masonry with a Lakeland slate roof. It is a roughly rectangular two storey block with projecting taller angle turrets. The structure is predominantly late 14th century in date with minor later alterations. Within the precinct boundary, the foundations of a central range incorporating the church, claustral buildings and infirmary buildings are visible. An outer court to the west of this contains the foundations of a cellarers range, guest house, kitchen, bakehouse and ovens. The church is aisled and cruciform in plan and it has two chapels to the east of the north and south transepts. In the claustral buildings to the south of the church there is a slype, chapter house, warming house and dormitory. The abbey was founded in 1147 by Eustace Fitzjohn for Canons of the Premonstratensian Order and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was dissolved in 1539. Excavation in 1884 under the direction of W H St John Hope uncovered the foundations of the walls of the abbey. The monument is within the Alnwick Castle Grade I registered park and garden. The gatehouse is a listed building Grade I.








Historic England listing: Alnwick AbbeyLink
Keys to the past: Alnwick AbbeyLink
Skelly: Alnwick AbbeyFile
Wikipedia - Alnwick AbbeyLink