Mattersey Priory
Mattersey Priory
The partial remains of a small medieval Gilbertine monastery situated on the River Idle in peaceful Nottinghamshire countryside. The Gilbertines were the only completely English order of monks, and Mattersey is one of the few examples of a Gilbertine monastic site. The remains include parts of the church, a 15th-century tower, the 13th-century refectory and priory kitchen.

Mattersey Priory was founded in 1185 to support six Gilbertine canons. At that time the site was actually an island in the middle of the river, but time and the silting of the river have 'moved' it to the river bank.

It was damaged by a disastrous fire in 1279 and the priory buildings were never completely rebuilt. It somehow survived until 1538 when it was dissolved by Henry VIII. The priory lands were later granted by Henry to the Neville family.

The Gilbertines

The Gilbertine order was the brainchild of Gilbert, a priest of Lincolnshire, who desired to make his parish churches at Sempringham and West Torrington open for use by 'the poor and the godly'. He initially wanted to bestow his gift upon a group of religious men, but he could not find any who were willing to live the strict lifestyle he envisaged.

Instead, he bestowed his gift upon a group of young women, who set themselves up in a house attached to the church of St Andrew at Sepringham. This anchorage developed to become a priory.

As for Gilbert, he was concerned for the care of the sisters. He introduced lay sisters to help the nuns, and lay brothers to take on the heavier work. In 1147 he asked the Cistercian order to take over his followers. The Cistercians refused. Pope Eugenius III encouraged Gilbert to found a new order, to be called the Order of Sempringham or Gilbertines.

The new order expanded rapidly, and between 1148 and 1154 several houses were added in Gilbert's native Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, and Northumberland. However, though the Gilbertines were popular, they were never rich, certainly not as wealthy as the Cistercians.

Henry VI  did his best to help them by declaring the order exempt from taxation. The best remaining Gilbertine establishment may well be at Malton, Yorkshire, where the Gilbertine priory was incorporated into the parish church.

Most Gilbertine monastic houses supported both nuns and monks, but there is no evidence to suggest that Mattersey was ever a 'double house'.