Minster Abbey, Kent

The first monastery at Minster dates from around 670, but a new convent was built for the nuns in the mid 8th century on the site of the present abbey. During the next hundred years, the monastery was invaded by the Danes on several occasions, but in 840 it was finally burnt to the ground.

In 1027 King Canute granted the site to the monks of St Augustine's Abbey, and they immediately began rebuilding Minster. But less than 60 years later, William the Conqueror completely destroyed the Isle of Thanet and, once again, the Minster Abbey suffered severely. However, after this long period of instability, the Benedictine monastery was steadily restored and developed by the Abbots of Canterbury throughout the next 350 years.

After the Dissolution in 1538, many of the monastic buildings were destroyed and the stones quarried away for other purposes, but the house was left in tact and used as a family residence for some 300 years. In the early 20th century the house came into a new ownership and some excavation of site was carried out. These uncovered the ancient foundations of Minster Abbey and the site of St Mildred's tomb, dating back to the 8th century.

By some strange twist of fate, in 1937 the former abbey was again in the hands of a group of Benedictine nuns who, having been threatened with eviction from their monastery in Bavaria, decided to make Minster Abbey their new home, and a place of refuge. Although life was difficult, both financially and politically, in the early years, after the war Minster Abbey was restored and improved continually and the community grew steadily.

Today there is very little visible evidence of the original monastery, apart from the Saxon west wing and the adjoining ruined Norman tower. However, there is a wonderful Norman crypt in the Saxon wing that once would have provided access via this vaulted passage.

Our two visits to this delightful place were made most enjoyable by the presence of the former Mother Prioress, who carried out her role as guide and local historian in a captivating and graphic manner. Possibly a little off the beaten track, but I would thoroughly recommend a visit if you are anywhere in the vicinity.

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