Jersey team discovers medieval priory

Jersey archaeologists had the first chance to explore a rare medieval priory after uncovering a stone wall.

Jersey team discovers medieval priory
The priory was run by the Abbey of Mont St Michel in Normandy and is an example of an "alien priory", one run by a house from another country [Credit: BBC]
Robert Waterhouse, Societe Jersiaise Archaeologist, said the St Clement's priory had been an accidental find.

He said the society knew it must have existed as there was documentary evidence, but that it had not been able to find it until now.

Mr Waterhouse said: "In the summer we carried out a student excavation in the cemetery looking for [an] Iron Age and Roman settlement that was known to exist here.

"At the end of the investigation one of our trenches came up with a substantial stone wall while the one behind came up with a great mass of building rubble and medieval pottery.

"We put in a larger trench and came up trumps. We got a substantial medieval wall in the south west corner of the building."

It is thought the wall belonged to the chapel of a priory founded by the Abbey of Mont St Michel in Normandy around AD1150.

Neil Molyneux, Vice President of the Societe Jersiaise, said the priory would have been dissolved on the orders of King Henry V in 1413.

He said: "The site of the priory has been lost for several centuries, so this is a very exciting find and a considerable coup for the Archaeology Section."

Mr Waterhouse said previously no small medieval priories had been studied in Jersey and only one in the Channel Islands.

He said it had been known four or five existed but that people did not know anything about them.

"Previously no small medieval priories have been studied in Jersey. The only one that has been examined in the Channel Islands is at Lihou in Guernsey.

"We know of four or five of them and the best one is the one that was on Elizabeth Castle Island before Elizabeth Castle was built. We have no illustrations of this one so this is really exciting."

Mr Waterhouse said there were rumours of where the priory would be.

He said most thought it would be on the site of the former Priory Inn, now a housing development.

But he said archaeological work on that site in early 2000 showed no trace whatsoever of medieval buildings.

The team believes the priory would have been a collection of small buildings, with the chapel as the most important, as they have uncovered evidence it had a slate roof.

Mr Molyneux said: "We knew we were looking at the remains of a building of some importance. It is within a distinct date range that appears to be 12th or 13th century, which is the date the priory was fully functioning here.

"There was an important building of the priory where we dug and we are confident it was the chapel.

"All the houses in Jersey and even the court house in town was known to have been thatched in the medieval period. Slate was only imported for the most important buildings."

There would have been three or four monks living within the priory as well as a number of servants who would cook and look after the farm.

Mr Waterhouse said: "We know what the monks had on their tables, we know what their servants were cooking with so we can start to build a picture of what their life would have been like."

"There were two or three monks and a number of non-monk servants who would look after the farm and carry out the work they couldn't, given they would spend a considerable amount of time on their knees praying to God."

Early in 2012 Mr Waterhouse was part of the team that recovered a hoard of nearly 70,000 Celtic coins from a Jersey field. He said this was a more important discovery for him.

He said: "It is very enjoyable finding something this good, personally you can keep your coin hoards, give me a nice medieval building any day."

Source: BBC News Website [November 06, 2012]

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