After almost a decade of excavations, and a host of new radiocarbon dates, a detailed chronology of the palimpsest of ecclesiastical settlement remains at Lyminge has been revealed. The results suggest that Lyminge’s religious community did not quickly fold under the pressure of Viking raids – at least at first.
Best known for the complex of Anglo-Saxon royal halls that was excavated there between 2012 and 2015 by archaeologists from the University of Reading, led by Dr Gabor Thomas (see CA 284), Lyminge is also home to one of the earliest stone-built post-Roman churches in Britain. Excavations in 2019 (see CA 355), revealed the foundations of the original 7th-century apsidal church to the south of the present-day parish church, which would have formed part of a larger monastic settlement at the site (pictured above).
Although the monastery thrived for more than two centuries, historical records tell us that in AD 804 the monastic community was granted refuge within the walled bastion of Canterbury in the face of Viking raids on coastal areas of south-east Kent. But this does not seem to have spelled the end for the community, as dating evidence shows prolonged activity at the site stretching well into the 9th century, with the monastery finally coming to an end sometime between AD 840 and 920. This would mean the monks had returned to Lyminge for at least several decades after the first wave of Viking attacks, until they may have finally succumbed following the ravages of substantial Viking armies in Kent during the 880s and 890s.
Commenting on his findings, Gabor said, ‘This research paints a more complex picture of the experience of monasteries during these troubled times, they were more resilient than the “sitting duck” image portrayed in popular accounts of Viking raiding based on recorded historical events such as the iconic Viking attack on the island monastery of Lindisfarne in AD 793.’
This evidence adds to recent research focused on Iona (see CA 381) suggesting that multiple monasteries across Britain may have been able to continue or re-establish themselves after initial Viking raids at the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th centuries.
The full findings were recently published in an open-access article in a relaunched version of the journal Archaeologia, which has been published by the Society of the Antiquaries of London since 1770: www.sal.org.uk/journals/in-the-shadow-of-saints-the-long-duree-of-lyminge-kent-as-a-sacred-christian-landscape.