All welcome to St Benet’s annual open air service on August 4

PUBLISHED: 17:46 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:46 31 July 2019

St Benet's Abbey   Photo Getty Images

St Benet's Abbey Photo Getty Images


One of Norfolk’s most fascinating traditions takes place in one of its most isolated, iconic and beautiful locations on Sunday.

The Bishop of Norwich arriving on the Wherry Albion for an annual service at St Benet's Abbey.
 PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYThe Bishop of Norwich arriving on the Wherry Albion for an annual service at St Benet's Abbey. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

A bishop will arrive by boat to lead worship in the ruins of isolated 1,000-year-old St Benet's Abbey this Sunday.

The abbey, on the banks of the River Bure, near Ludham, was founded by King Canute exactly 1,000 years ago - and was the only one in the country to survive Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The annual open air service will be led by the Bishop of Thetford, as acting Bishop of Norwich and Abbot of St Benet's.

He will arrive by wherry, and walk with clergy and choirs from the river to the huge wooden cross which marks the site of the Abbey's high altar. The North Walsham Salvation Army Band will play for the service.

St Benet's Abbey was founded in 1019 when Canute, King of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and England, gave the site to a group of monks.

He is remembered for failing to control the tides, but modern interpretations of story suggest he was demonstrating how even he was subject to the laws of nature.

The site had probably been a holy place for centuries. There are haunting stories of Christian hermits slaughtered here by Viking raiders.

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Not many years after St Benet's began a treacherous monk is said to have agreed to open the abbey door to Norman invaders, in return for being made the next abbot. They made him abbot - and then hanged him.

The abbey, named after St Benedict, grew rich from gifts of land and money, with the 15th century Norfolk knight Sir John Fastolf one of its greatest benefactors (and the inspiration for Shakespeare's Falstaff.) He is buried at St Benet's, which became the only monastery in England to survive Henry VIII's destruction. The king had given the abbot the position of Bishop of Norwich, in return for land owned by Norwich Cathedral and the abbey was never formally dissolved. To this day the Bishop of Norwich is also the Abbot of St Benet's. However the buildings were abandoned and demolished, with just parts of the gatehouse, and an 18th century wind pump, remaining - and proving hugely popular with painters and photographers.

The site is owned by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, is free to enter and, until mid August, will be watched over by huge monks woven from willow.

St Benet's annual open air service, Sunday August 4, 3.30pm, St Benet's Abbey, near Ludham.

All are welcome. Access is by boat along the River Bure, on foot along the Three Rivers Way from Horning or Ludham, and by road from Ludham. There will be parking in nearby fields but only cars carrying disabled people will be allowed on to the Abbey site.

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