Historic Broads tradition will tell the story of St Benet’s Abbey

St Benet’s Abbey has recently been the subject of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust’s (NAT) Conservat

St Benet’s Abbey has recently been the subject of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust’s (NAT) Conservation, Access and Community project, substantially funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Now a Friends of St Benet's group has been formed to preserve the hertigate of the site.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

A Broads tradition with its roots in the 16th century will be brought to life once again next month.

The Bishop of Norwich The Rt Revd Graham James arrives at St Benets Abbey by wherry on the Broads to

The Bishop of Norwich The Rt Revd Graham James arrives at St Benets Abbey by wherry on the Broads to lead a special open air service St Benet’s Abbey the former wealthy Benedictine house of Anglo-Saxon foundation. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

The annual open-air service by the Bishop of Norwich at St Benet's Abbey has been held on the first Sunday of August every year since 1939 and is now a mainstay in the area's calendar.

During King Henry VIII's reign, St Benet's became the only abbey in the country to escape disbandment during the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1541.

Instead, a deal was struck between the Diocese of Norwich and the Crown which saw the former take over St Benet's and latter secure much of the Diocese's wealth and properties.

Today, the Diocese still owns the remains of the abbey church and, in order to preserve the Bishop's title as Abbot of St Benet's, the boat journey and service continues.

The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Rev Graham James sailing on the Wherry Albion to take the annual service a

The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Rev Graham James sailing on the Wherry Albion to take the annual service at St Benet's Abbey.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYCOPY:FOR:EDP NEWS© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2010 (01603 772434) - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

Jane Bowden, of the Friends of St Benet's Abbey, said: 'It is very much a Broads tradition and many local people remember attending it both before and after the war, when local school children used to line the Bishop's route to the gatehouse, where the service was held.

'Today the Bishop leads the service under a large oak cross made from trees donated by HM the Queen from the Royal Estate at Sandringham and put up in 1987 on the site of the original high altar.'

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While much of the abbey's history is unclear, it is thought it occupied an isolated sand and gravel island from 1020 to 1545, becoming a popular pilgrimage site.

However, after William Repps - the then Abbot of St Benet's - was made Bishop of Norwich in 1530 and given St Benet's in the deal with the King, he began pulling down church buildings and selling stone in an attempt to clear his debt.

Today, the remains attract more than 30,000 visitors a year.

To coincide with this year's service, Mrs Bowden said the Friends group had organised a trip for up to 100 people from Horning to the Abbey.

The event doubles up as the annual fundraiser for the Friends, which is made up of 100 local volunteers working to promote the abbey, one of the first sites in Norfolk to listed as a nationally protected ancient monument.

While the service will take place at 3.30pm on Saturday, August 7, the Friends' boat - the Southern Comfort - will begin boarding at 1.15pm at the Swan Green in Horning to allow for the best views as the Rt Revd Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, arrives.

The service will last about an hour, with time to look around the site after. The boat will return at 6pm.

• Tickets cost £10 each can be reserved by either emailing tfosba@gmail.com or calling 01692 631254.

• Do you have a Broads story we should be writing about? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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