Carved figures on the west front of Thorney Abbey
Carved figures on the west front of Thorney Abbey

An abbey was established at Thorney about AD 662 when this patch of high ground in the marshes was known as the 'Island of the Hermits'. The religious settlements of the area were devastated in Danish attacks in AD 870, but the monks of Thornton escaped the worst of the Danish depredations and were thus able to help bury their less fortunate fellows at Peterborough.

The abbey was refounded on Benedictine lines in AD 972 by St Aethelwold. A large church was erected in Norman style about 1080. The abbey encouraged pilgrims by bringing saints relics to Thornton, including those of St Botolph from Boston (Lincolnshire).

Thereafter, Thorney was known as the church of St Mary and St Botolph. The abbey was expanded in the early 14th century, but it suffered badly from the Black Death of 1349 and subsequently went into a decline.

Head of a beast on the west front
Head of a beast on the west front

The abbey was disbanded at the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. The 20 monks were pensioned off, and the abbot allowed to retire. The abbey stripped of building materials, much of which went to assist the erection of the chapel at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University. In 1550 the abbey was sold to the Earl of Bedford.

The abbey church was partially spared as the 5 westernmost bays of the nave became adapted to serve as the parish church.

The best remaining part of the original abbey church is the superbly carved west front, featuring figures of saints in a horizontal row of niches, plus carved heads of beasts above the arched doorway.

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About Thorney Abbey
Address: Thorney, East Anglia, Cambridgeshire, England, PE6 0QB
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: In the centre of Thorney, on the B1040. Plentiful on street parking.
Website: Thorney Abbey
Location map
OS: TF282042
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


HeritageWe've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.

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10th century (Time Period) - 11th century (Time Period) - 7th century (Time Period) - Henry VIII (Person) - Medieval (Time Period) -


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