A GUIDE TO
COMPRISING A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MONASTERY
FROM ITS FOUNDATION TO THE PRESENT TIME,
WITH A DESCRIPTIVE ACCOUNT OF ITS ARCHITECTURAL
PECULIARITIES AND RECENT IMPROVEMENTS;
COMPILED FROM THE WORKS OF GUNTON, BRITTON,
AND ORIGINAL & AUTHENTIC DOCUMENTS.
GEORGE S. PHILLIPS.
A New Edition, Revised and Corrected.
PUBLISHED BY GEO. C. CASTER, BOOKSELLER, MARKET PLACE.
PRINTED BY GEO. C. CASTER,
AT HIS PRINTING OFFICE, IN THE "KING'S LODGINGS,"
WITHIN THE MINSTER PRECINCTS, PETERBOROUGH.
A GUIDE TO PETERBOROUGH CATHEDRAL.
From the foundation of the monastery by Peada, a.d. 655, to its destruction by fire in the reign of Henry the First;—embracing a period of 461 years.
The history of our monastic establishments is but little regarded and as little known. The obscurity in which all monastic institutions is involved renders it difficult to give any certain and positive information respecting the origin of the building to whose history these pages are devoted; but it appears to have been founded at a very early period—the churches of Canterbury, Rochester, London, Westminster, York, and Winchester, being the only large sacred edifices that preceded it. The date of the first building is stated to have been a.d. 655—fifty-eight years after the introduction of Christianity into England by St. Augustine; and so large were the foundation stones, that it required eight yoke of oxen to draw them. From this it may be inferred that the structure was not, like many of the Anglo-Saxon churches of this period—built entirely of wood; though it was probably far inferior in size and style of architecture to the building which succeeded it.
It was one of the kings of Mercia who laid the foundation of the monastery of Medeshamstede in 655; his name was Peada, the eldest son of Penda, the fourth monarch of that kingdom. The facts are thus related by the Saxon chronicler:—"From the beginning of the world had now elapsed 5,850 winters, when Peada the son of Penda assumed the government of the Mercians. In his time came together himself and Osway, brother of King Oswald, and said they would rear a minster to the glory of Christ and honour of Saint Peter; and they did so, and gave it the name of Medeshamstede, because there is a well there called Medeswell. And they began the ground-wall and wrought thereon, after which they committed the work to a monk, whose name was Saxulf. Peada reigned no while, for he was betrayed by his own queen in Eastertide, 658."
Wolfere was the youngest son of Penda, and when Peada died, King Osway assumed the government of Mercia, and ruled very despotically for about three years, when the nobles, incensed at his conduct, rebelled against him, drove him from the kingdom, and chose Wolfere for their king. It was in his reign that "Medeshamstede waxed rich," for Wolfere not only caused the monastery to be built, but he endowed it with a great number of lands, and made it "not subject except to Rome alone;" and the abbey, which was by this time completed, was dedicated with great pomp and ceremony to "Christ and St. Peter," and hallowed in the name of "Saint Peter and Saint Andrew."
Saxulf, who had superintended the building of the abbey, was the first abbot whose name is mentioned in the monkish chronicles as its ruler. He was remarkable for his learning, piety, and humility, and was chiefly instrumental in bringing Christianity into the kingdom of Mercia. Both Saxulf and Cuthbaldus who succeeded him were abbots of the monastery during the rule of Wolfere, although there is little mention made of either in the records which have been handed down to us.
Wolfere died in 683, and was succeeded by his brother Ethelred, who contributed very largely to the monastery, and secured to it by his interest extraordinary privileges. Those who could not afford to go to Rome to offer up vows and get absolved from their sins were allowed both indulgences at this monastery, and could likewise receive "the apostolical benediction." Ethelred built a house for the abbot, which is now the palace of the bishop, but, excepting for its antiquity, it possesses no features of interest.
After a reign of thirty years, Ethelred exchanged the insignia of royalty for the rough garments of a monk, and became abbot of Bardney, in Lincolnshire, where he died, in the year, 716.
From the death of Cuthbaldus to the accession of Beonna in 775, there is a blank in the history of the monastery. During his rule one or two important concessions were made to the monks by King Offa.
The name of the next abbot was Celredus, but of him nothing particular is recorded. He was succeeded by Hedda, in 833, during whose abbacy the first destruction of the monastery by the Danes occurred, which founded an important era in the history of this institution. A band of savage Danes, headed by Earl Hubba, invaded the territory of the Mercians, and after committing numerous depredations in the country, they plundered the monastery of Croyland, and proceeded to attack Medeshamstede. The monks of this abbey had, however, gained intelligence of their intentions, and having closed the gates, resolved to act on the defensive. Hubba and his desperadoes soon surrounded them, and demanded that the gates should be opened; and when he was told that he should not enter, he commenced to batter the walls. In the course of the attack, one of the monks hurled a great stone from the top of the building upon the besiegers, and Tulba, the brother of Hubba, was killed by it. This so incensed the earl, that he vowed to put every monk to death by his own hand; and having forced the gates, proceeded to put his horrible threat into execution,—robbed the monastery of everything that was valuable, and then set it on fire. It burned fifteen days. All the portable valuables were then packed on waggons and taken away. The plunder, however, is said to have been lost, "either in the Nen or in the neighbouring marshes." This was in 870.
In a short time a few monks who escaped at Croyland re-assembled at their abbey there, and after electing Godric their abbot, proceeded to Medeshamstede, and buried the monks of that monastery who had been murdered by the Danish invaders in one vast tomb. Godric likewise had their effigies cut out in stone (a representation of which is here shown, the original being in the Lady Chapel), and, to honour their memory, he went every year to weep over the grave in which he had laid his brethren.
From this time until the reign of Alfred the Great  the monastery of Medeshamstede was frequently invaded, and the lands which belonged to it were seized by the conquerors. It was left for the wisdom and courage of Alfred to restore that tranquility to England which it had so long lost, and to give protection and security to his subjects. The Danes who had committed so many depredations before his accession to the throne were now beaten back and finally checked by the powerful fleet which he built to