Lost monastery ruled by early medieval queen discovered in England | Smart News
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a long-lost monastery where medieval Queen Cynethryth presided as abbess in the late 7th century CE
The team, including researchers from the University of Reading and local volunteers, found evidence of wooden buildings where monks and nuns lived, as well as clay pots, jewelry and personal effects, BBC reports News. Scholars say the site, in the village of Cookham in Berkshire, England, may also house Cynethyrth’s tomb.
“Despite its documented royal associations, almost nothing is known about life in this monastery, or in others on this part of the Thames, due to a lack of archaeological evidence,” explains the head of the excavation. Gabor Thomas, archaeologist at the University of Reading, in a statement. “The objects that have been discovered will allow us to piece together a detailed impression of how the monks and nuns who lived here ate, worked and dressed.”
Cynethryth was the queen consort of King Offa of the Kingdom of Mercia, wrote Susan Abernethy for Medievalists.net in 2015. Although few written records of her reign survive, historians know that she was a leading figure in the region’s politics at the time.
“Cynethryth and Offa were the ultimate power couple in 8th century England,” Abernethy added.
Cynethryth is one of the very few female leaders of the time to have a coin minted in her image, and Thomas says she was clearly an influential figure.
“When the powerful European leader Charlemagne wrote to his English counterparts, he wrote jointly to King Offa and Queen Cynethryth, granting them equal status, ”he explained in the statement. “We are delighted to find physical evidence of the monastery she presided over, which is also quite possibly her final resting place.”
After Offa’s death in 796, Cynethryth joined a religious order and became abbess of the monastery.
The monastery was one of many built along the Thames, which was the center of important trade routes in the early Middle Ages, Nathaniel Bahadursingh reports for Architect News. The Cookham site lies along the disputed border between the Kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex, giving it special strategic importance.
Although written documents mention the existence of the monastery and Cynethryth’s position there, historians have not known its exact location until now, notes Maev Kennedy for the Art journal. The remains of the monastery are located next to the current site of the Church of the Holy Trinity. Excavations have shown that the building was built on a gravel island that raised it above frequently flooded areas. The site was divided into zones, comprising a living area and another with a cluster of hearths that were probably used for metalworking.
The first medieval rulers of what is now England began to convert to Christianity at the end of the 6th century, according to the Alison Hudson of the British Library. Irish missionaries sent by Pope Gregory I spread the religion, as well as the Latin alphabet and writing technologies that helped kings create systems of law to consolidate their power. In the 8th century, Offa worked with the church to create a new Archbishop in Mercia who consecrated his son as his successor.
During this time, monasteries spread across Britain, acting as educational centers, economic centers, and sites for healing and medical training.
The team hope to return to the Cookham site next summer for further excavations that could potentially reveal Cynethryth’s resting place.