Twelve centuries will have passe d, next year, since the consecration of the abbey church built by St. Mildred's successor, the Abbess Edburga, at Minster-in-Thanet. The centenary, when it comes, can be commemorated in particularly happy circumstances.
Readers of the Catholic Herald have already had the good news that the historic estate of Minster Abbey, embracing remains of the building belonging to A.D. 738, is once again the property of the Benedictine nuns. Kindly goodwill on the part of the non-Catholic owner, and the pious zeal of an Irish-American benefactress, have brought this restoration about.
Among the southern counties, Kent is the most richly-favoured on the ecclesiastical side. Canterbury is of course the place of supreme interest, with Rochester as another cathedral city where pilgrim steps should halt. But there arc also, among other ancient centres, the two Minsters: Minsterin-Sheppey and Minster-in-Thanet, each with its monastic associations and remains. With the Thanct foundation alone we are at the moment concerned.
The First Three Abbesses
The story begins in the seventh century, when Princess Domneva, daughter-in-law to the Mercian king, established a nunnery in memory of two brothers murdered with the connivance of Egbert. King of Kent. Al this early stage, legend embroiders history, and we see the frontier of the domain marked out by a hind's course. The domain itself, however, is real enough, with a sequence of events, from those times to our own, which can be followed and believed.
Domneva's daughter and successor was the famous St. Mildred, in whose honour there is nowadays a yearly pilgrimage; she is the titular patron of the church served from Ramsgate by the Benedictine Fathers. and due rejoicings attend her feast-day. Readers who would know more about this great worker can get St. Mildred and her Kinsfolk from the C.T.S., and be profited in the result.
Edburga, the builder, was the third abbess. So well did her craftsmen do their jobs that to this day some of her walls stand, forming part of the western wing; the northern wing of the existing house belongs to the eleventh century. The fabric is excellently cared-for. After it ceased to be a religious house it continued as a place of residence; in fact it is said to be the oldest inhabited house in the country.
The Second Chapter
For nearly three hundred years the Benedictine nuns held the abbey, but in the eleventh century continuous attacks by the Danes obliged them to abandon it. The next phase continued the Benedictine ownership, but with a difference: men took the place of the women, when King Canute gave the house and all its lands to the Abbot and monastery of St. Augustine, Canterbury.
The monks had possession until the Dissolution under Henry the Eighth. after which the abbey was seized by the Crown—" reverted" is the guide-hook's charitable euphenzi.sm—and was held so, under successive sovereigns. until its sale into private hands by James the First.
Excavations in the grounds have brought to light the line and foundations of the Saxon Church, of which there is to be seen also the ruinous lower part of the tower. Fifteenth century work remains in proof that the Canterbury abbots did not neglect their Thanet property.
Churches, Ancient and Modern
Pilgrims to Minster-in-Thanet will have their interest stirred also by the noble church of St. Mary, formerly attached to the nunnery. Most of the arches dividing nave and aisles arc pre-Norman; the nave is Norman work, as is also the Western tower; while the chancel and transepts are Early English. And they will not omit to make their way to St. Mildred's Road, to the present-day Catholic centre which is now within a twelvemonth or so of its diamond jubilee.
The generosity of an American benefactress, it has been said, has restored Minster Abbey to religious ownership. that its original life and purpose may be resumed. But the nuns are not yet there, and it is much hoped by them that Catholics on this side of the Atlantic will come forward and share in the good work by helping to furnish the temporary church and monastery. The Abbess of St. Mary's Abbey at East Bergholt, near Colchester, will gladly welcome any donation or gift.