Archaeologists have discovered that Anglo-Saxon monasteries were more resistant to Viking invasions than previously believed.
Lyminge, a monastery in Kent, England, was in the epicenter of the protracted Viking conflict that Alfred the Great ultimately won. Archaeologists at the University of Reading claim that despite numerous assaults, the monastery managed to avoid collapse for nearly a century because to strong defenses put in place by both the ecclesiastical and secular rulers of Kent.
Alfred the Great (848/849-899) was King of the West Saxons from 871 to 886 and King of the Anglo-Saxon from 886 until his death in 899. During Alfred’s rule, important administrative and military reforms were introduced that led to lasting change in England.
Alfred spent several years after his accession fighting Viking invasions. He won a decisive victory at the Battle of Edington in 878. He defended his kingdom against attempted Viking conquest. Details of his life are described in a work by the 9th century Welsh scholar and bishop Asser. Alfred had a reputation as a gracious, prudent, learned and compassionate man who promoted education, recommended that primary education be conducted in English rather than Latin, and improved the legal system, the military structure and the quality of life of his people. In the 16th century he was given the nickname “The Great” and is one of only two English monarchs, along with Cnut the Great, to be so called.
The new evidence from the city of Kent was presented by Dr. Gabor Thomas of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading after a detailed examination of the archaeological and historical evidence.
“The image of ruthless Viking raiders slaughtering helpless monks and nuns is based on written records, but a re-examination of the evidence show the monasteries had more resilience than we might expect.” Dr Thomas said.
Despite being located in a region of Kent that bore the full brunt of Viking raids in the late 8th and early 9th centuries, that the monastic community at Lyminge not only survived but recovered more completely than historians previously thought.
The main components of the monastery, including the stone chapel at its center surrounded by a wide swath of wooden buildings and other structures where the monastic brethren and their dependents lived out their daily lives, were unearthed during archaeological excavations between 2007–15 and 2019 by archaeologists. Following the founding of the monastery in the second part of the 7th century, this habitation continued for about two centuries, according to radiocarbon dating of butchered animal bones thrown out as trash.
The monastic community at Lyminge was given sanctuary during a raid in 804 CE, according to historical documents kept at the neighboring Canterbury Cathedral. Canterbury, a former Roman town and the administrative and religious center of Anglo-Saxon Kent, was a a solid shelter.
The evidence from Dr. Thomas’s dig, however, demonstrates that the monks continued to live and construct in Lyminge for several decades throughout the 9th century. Dr. Thomas gained insight into the re-establishment of the monastic community thanks to dateable artifacts like silver coins found at the site.
Dr Thomas 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 raid on the island monastery of Lindisfarne in AD 793. However, the resilience of the monastery was subsequently stretched beyond breaking point. “
“By the end of the 9th century, at a time when Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great was engaged in a widescale conflict with invading Viking armies, the site of the monastery appears to have been completely abandoned. This was most likely due to sustained long-term pressure from Viking armies who are known to have been active in south-eastern Kent in the 880s and 890s. Settled life was only eventually restored in Lyminge during the 10th century, but under the authority of the Archbishops of Canterbury who had acquired the lands formerly belonging to the monastery.”