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Medieval church remains uncovered

Posted onPosted on 17th Jul
Medieval church remains uncovered

The remains of a medieval church, thought to have been destroyed following Henry VIII’s Reformation of the Catholic Church, have been uncovered at one of Nottinghamshire’s most popular tourist attractions.

Archaeologists from Nottinghamshire County Council and a team of local volunteers have been excavating an area of land at Rufford Country Park, adjacent to the last existing ruins of the 12th century Rufford Abbey near Ollerton, Notts for the last two weeks.

The church, which dates back to 1160, was part of a number of buildings which made up the original abbey, built by monks from Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire and home to the Cistercian Order.

The beginning of the end for the original abbey began in 1533 when Henry VIII declared himself as ‘Protector and supreme head of the church and clergy in England’ in defiance of the Pope, who had refused to grant the King a divorce so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.

The Reformation, as it became known, signalled a devastating end for every Catholic monastery in England, which were all either demolished or – as was the case with Rufford – stripped of anything of value, including much of it’s stone and allowed to fall into wrack and ruin.

To help justify the closure of Rufford, it’s recorded that two Royal commissioners visited the Abbey in 1536 and claimed to discover many “disgraceful offences”, including that the Abbey’s monks possessed some of the Virgin Mary’s milk and that the Abbott was incontinent!

The excavation work is helping archaeologists piece together the layout of the Abbey’s buildings, which is different to what was originally thought.

Artifacts uncovered during the dig including a piece of Tudor pottery and two teeth, which are thought to belong a monk buried there and confirming that burials took place in the grounds of the church.

Nottinghamshire County Council’s Community Archaeologist, Emily Gillott, who has led the project, said: “Uncovering the remains of the original church is momentous and will help us to better understand how the site was laid-out and how and when the original Abbey buildings have been developed over the years.

“The Abbey’s role in the Reformation, one of the most controversial and important periods in the country’s history, provides added significance to this work.

“We are extremely grateful for the contributions of the team at Rufford for facilitating this project and especially to the many volunteers, without which this work would not have been possible.”

Coun John Knight, chairman of Culture Committee at Nottinghamshire County Council, added: “English Heritage describe the visible remains of the Abbey as being the best preserved remains of a Cistercian abbey cloister in England, but what you see today is only a fraction of what was originally there.

“Rufford is already one of the region’s most visited tourist attractions. Visitors are taken aback by the wonderful country park setting and spectacular 17th century mansion but this project reminds us that there is much more history, literally beneath our feet.”

Regular updates and photographs of the dig are being posted at the Community archaeology team’s Facebook page:

The council’s archaeology team carry out regular community work and digs throughout Nottinghamshire during the year. Further information on taking part is available at: