St Benet's Abbey

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Gatehouse of St Benet's Abbey, with later windmill (conical building) inside

St Benet's Abbey is a ruined abbey of the Order of Saint Benedict situated on the River Bure within The Broads in Norfolk England.[1] It is also known as St Benet's at Holme or Hulme. St Benet is another name for Benedict Biscop,[2] the 7th-century Northumbrian famous for his founding of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow.


Carving detail around gate

St Benet's, according to abbey tradition, was founded on the site of a ninth-century monastery where the hermit Suneman was martyred by the Danes. About the end of the tenth century it was rebuilt by one Wulfric. A generation later, c. 1022, its estates of Horning, Ludham and Neatishead were confirmed by King Canute. Other early benefactors included Edith Swannesha, concubine to Harold II, and Earl Ralf II of East Anglia. In 1065 the abbey established a cell at Rumburgh Priory in Suffolk.[3]

At the time of the Norman Conquest Harold Godwinson put the abbot of St Benet's, Aelfwold, in charge of defending the coast against invasion. After the Conquest, Aelfwold fled to Denmark, and the abbey's estates suffered encroachments by neighbouring landowners. The site was enclosed by a wall with battlements in 1327.

Sir John Fastolf, the inspiration for Shakespeare's Falstaff, was buried here in December 1459, next to his wife Millicent in a new aisle built by Fastolf on the South side of the abbey church.

It has been claimed that St Benet's is the only religious house not closed down by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Instead he united the Abbacy with the bishopric of Norwich and therefore that the Bishops of Norwich have remained abbots of St Benet's to this day. The Bishop of Norwich, as Abbot, arrives once a year, standing in the bow of a wherry and preaches at the annual service on the first Sunday of August. However, since the grant of the abbacy to the Bishop was on the basis of his maintaining a community of twelve monks under a prior and by 1540 no such community existed the abbey therefore having become extinct, the claim is spurious.

After the Dissolution the majority of the buildings at the site were demolished, with the exclusion of the gatehouse, which is now a grade I listed building.[4] In the second half of the eighteenth century, a farmer built a windmill, later converted to a windpump, inside the abbey gatehouse, removing the second floor of the gatehouse in the process. The windmill, which ceased operating approximately a century later and is itself now a ruin, is a grade II* listed building.[5] On 2 August 1987 a cross made from oak from the Royal Estate at Sandringham was erected on the High Altar.


remains of nave of abbey church, looking toward the high altar
The Cross at the High Altar of St Benet's Abbey
View of the Abbey and wharfe from the River Bure

The years listed are election dates[6]

Year Names
1020s Aelfsige
1046 Thurstan de Ludham
1064 Aelfwold
1089 Ralph
1101 Richard
1126 Conrad
1128 William Basset
1133 Anselm
1140 Daniel
c. 1150 Hugh
1151 Daniel (reinstated)
1153 William
1168 Thomas
1186 Ralph
1210 John
1214 Reginald
1229 Sampson
1237 Robert de Thorkeseye
1251 William de Ringfeld
1256 Adam de Neatishead
1268 Richard de Bukenham
1275 Nicholas de Walsham
1302 Henry de Broke
1326 John de Aylsham
1347 Robert de Aylsham
1349 William de Hadesco
1365 William de Methelwold
1395 Robert de Sancta Fide
1395 Simon de Brigham
1411 Richard de South Walsham
1439 John Marte
1439 John Kelyng
1470 Thomas Pakefield
1492 Robert Cubitt
1505 William Forest
1510 John Redinge
1517 John Salcot, alias Capon
1530 William Repps


  1. ^ Ordnance Survey (2005). OS Explorer Map OL40 - The Broads. ISBN 0-319-23769-9.
  2. ^ "Saint Benedict Biscop | English abbot". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2016-06-03. 
  3. ^ Page.W (1975) 'Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Rumburgh', A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2, pp. 77-79 (available online). Retrieved 2011-05-02.
  4. ^ "Name: GATEHOUSE TO ST BENETS ABBEY List entry Number: 1171673". English Heritage. Retrieved 5 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "Name: ST BENETS LEVEL WINDPUMP AT TG 39941564 List entry Number: 1171700". English Heritage. Retrieved 5 March 2014. 
  6. ^ "Partly from The Abbey of St Benet at Holme". A History of the County of Norfolk vol. 2. London, England. 1906. .

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Coordinates: 52°41′11″N 1°31′29″E / 52.6864°N 1.5247°E / 52.6864; 1.5247