THORNEY. THE ABBEY CHURCH OF ST MARY
THE VIRGIN AND ST BOTOLPH.
Thorney used to be called 'Thornie' which means 'Island Of Thorns'. Well, it seemed more like island of freezing cold wind when I first visited Thorney Abbey back in the winter of 2008. I had started off at Thorney before moving on to nearby Eye. Photographed for a time in gloves before throwing in the towel and going home to seek warmth. Always wanted to pop back one day and re-visited in the summer of 2014. A lovely structure and it is always good to visit here.
Thorney Abbey is one of the most historic and important buildings covered by this site. A hermitage was set up here as long ago as 662. Along with many other buildings in the area, this was sacked by the Danes. In the year 972, a Benedictine Abbey was founded by Ethelwold, the Bishop of Winchester. This had a hospital for the poor attached to it. The Abbey used to be much bigger in size than it is today and at one point in time it would have been as big as nearby Peterborough Cathedral. At one point the Abbey was 290 feet long, as opposed to the 117 feet today. Much of the building was destroyed during the 16th Century, during the dissolution of the monasteries. By 1574 the Abbey roof had collapsed and half the steeple was down, regular processions of horse drawn vehicles were seen to be carrying away materials of wood and stone. Much of the Abbey fabric was purchased for the building of Corpus Christi college, Cambridge in 1579. What was left of the building became the parish church of Thorney in 1638, this is the date carved in to the west porch. Much of the present building was originally re-built between the years 1089 and 1108. Work was done on the church in the 1840's, when the transepts were added. The interior was restored in 1888. Looking at the structure today, the west front is still very impressive and the visitor can only imagine what the building as a whole would have looked like at its peak. Over the west porch is a large, partially bricked in window and above that a row of nine figures, which are said to be Anglo Saxon saints, with one being identified as Tatwine, friend and guide of St Guthlac. I don't usually use Wikipedia as a site of research for this site but I did take a look at a page which popped up when I was trying to establish who the nine figures just mentioned were. It is a measure of how important Thorney Abbey was that many medieval Fenland saints are buried, or their relics brought back, to the Abbey. Included are Cisson of Crowland, who succeeded Guthlac as Abbott of Crowland. His relics were brought back to Thorney in the tenth century. Also buried here are Tancred, his brother Torthred and their sister Tova, who were hermits killed by raiding vikings in 870. An important place of worship, and an important are as a whole with Crowland just a few miles away. The abbey is open to visitors and, as you would expect, inside is large and imposing. There is some interesting stained glass here. The large stained glass windows on the East wall of the chancel is a copy of one found in Canterbury Cathedral and details the miracles performed by Thomas A Becket.Six panelsof glass in the nave are thought to be Flemish, dating from the late 15th century. According to the National Church Bell Database, just a single bell hangs here, this being attributed to Henry Bagley II with a questionable date of 1720 on it. The Bagleys were a well known family of bell founders who were quite prolific over a large area for many years. A very lovely monument marks the final resting place of one George Smith, Steward to William, Earl of Bedford. According to the inscription 'Hee dyed the 29 October Anno 1651. Thorney is interesting as it was the place that many French Huguenot refugees flocked to in the 17th Century. These people were victims of religious persecution in their own country and they arrived at Thorney and nearby Whittlesey in order to help drain the fens. Both Thorney and Whittlesey had French churches founded. Thorney has a baptism register in French. Some of these Huguenots did very well for themselves and some built substantial stone houses and barns using stone from the dissolved Abbey. A monument in the church commemorates the first French minister who preached to the refugees. The church grounds here are very intesesting, and include some very fine pieces of work. One grave in particular stands out as being important.. Standing in the extreme south west of the grounds, this gravestone, which appears to date from the late 17th century, marks the final resting place of two persons. At the top of the stone, two figures stand guard with upraised flaming torches with a human skull below. Upturned torches were normally used to indicate victory over death and the moving on to eternal life in heaven. The Abbey is well worth visiting, and there is also a museum in Thorney, open Sundays in the summer months for anyone interested.