Lost monastery of St Æbbe in Berwickshire

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The search for the lost monastery, founded by St Æbbe and recorded by the Venerable Bede, will take place at Coldingham this summer.

Archaeologists leading the dig to locate the lost monastery, say it is one of the most important sites to the story of early medieval Christianity in Britain.

The ‘Beyond Bede: the Lost Monastery of St. Æbba’ project has been awarded £62,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to undertake a programme of free community events, training seminars, workshops and school visits. An archaeological excavation, led by DigVentures and sponsored by The Friends of Coldingham Priory, will be held from June 19–July 1, with opportunities for the public to visit as well as jump into the trenches alongside the DigVentures professional archaeological team.

St Æbbe was the sister of King Oswald, founder of the iconic monastery at Lindisfarne. Historical sources indicate that Æbbe’s monastery burnt down soon after she died, was abandoned for a short while, rebuilt and continued to thrive until AD 870 when it was destroyed once and for all by a devastating Viking attack – just like Oswald’s Lindisfarne.

The site is fundamental to understanding the Anglo-Saxons in Scotland, and to prove the story with archaeological evidence.

There have been several attempts to locate the monastery’s remains, most recently at the nearby site of St Abb’s Head, however no definitive evidence for its location has ever been found.

Tantalising new geophysics results, however, suggest a number of possible Anglo-Saxon structures at a slightly different location, close to the ruins of Coldingham’s much later medieval priory. This summer, DigVentures is set to look for definitive new evidence and confirm whether or not this is indeed the site of St Æbbe’s lost monastery.

DigVentures projects director Brendon Wilkins: “Coldingham is one of the most important sites to the story of early medieval Christianity in Britain, of the Anglo-Saxons, of the Scottish Borders and the great flourishing of power in the region.

“We know so much less about it than many other of the similar sites of the period, so this really is an incredibly exciting chance to answer many vital questions and to share this knowledge as widely as we can.”

Anne Dall, secretary for Friends of Coldingham Priory added: “As a community, we are delighted that the DigVentures team is coming to the village in June.

“Let’s hope that the investigation reveals the hidden traces of St Æbbe’s lost monastery and throws more light on the history of Coldingham.”

DigVentures is now inviting anyone interested in discovering the past to crowdfund the project on their website, www.digventures.com. Supporters can become part of the team in the trenches or on-site lab, or participate from the comfort of home through DV’s innovative online app.

Bookings for the excavation are now open on the project website at digventures.com/projects/coldingham.