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Long-lost monastery unearthed at Church in Berkshire

by Donna Birrell
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University of Reading

A lost Anglo-Saxon monastery has been found beneath the grounds of a village church in Berkshire.

A team from the University of Reading unearthed the remains on the site of Holy Trinity Church in Cookham. Archaeologists believe it is the place where Queen Cynethryth ruled a monastic community at Cookham Abbey in the 8th century.

The Queen was the widow of the powerful King Offa of Mercia and it's hoped the discovery will give a unique insight into one of the most prominent women of the early middle ages.

The Telegraph says that while written sources from the Middle Ages reference the abbey, no physical trace had ever been found before the University team struck timber and pottery near Holy Trinity Church earlier in the summer.

Dr Gabor Thomas, leading the team at the site, told the Telegraph :

"We have solved the mystery of the missing abbey. Our excavation is smack bang in the middle of a monastery complex. This is where Cynethryth, queen of the Mercians, retired after her husband King Offa died. She retired here to rule over this institution.

"She would have been buried and her soul would have been cared for by the community she had led, that was the idea. There is, somewhere in the environs, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, the burial ground of the people who lived their lives here, the burial ground."

Dr Thomas said that the current churchyard may partly rest above the burial site used by Anglo-Saxons.

"We hope this will give us a fine-grained picture of the physical details of this monastery, the different activities that took place within it, and what life was like. This would have been not only a religious centre but also a political one, with plenty of feasting, production and other activities all taking place."

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