The Northern Antiquarian Forum

Archaeology, folklore & myth of Britain's pre-christian sites & heritage: stone circles, holy wells, maypoles, tombs, archaic cosmologies and human consciousness. Everyone welcome - even Southerners!




    Post  Guest on Sun Feb 21, 2010 2:37 am



    It is one of my pleasures to spend a leisurely sunny afternoon wandering around the ruins and well tended gardens, reflecting on an age past. My favorite spot is a ‘secret garden’ to the west beyond the cloister lawn. Here is an oasis of tranquility, a place to read, write or just simply rest one’s eyes on the delightful floral surroundings - pure joy.

    Just inside the North Gate you will find a café/shop, small museum and toilets. A good guide book, covering all aspects of the Abbey and its history, can be purchased in the shop. After visiting the Abbey walk down The Sands to view the Lay Brothers Dormitory in the grounds of the Catholic church, and the early 14th century West Gate that spans the road below the railway viaduct.

    The Cistercian Abbey dates from the early 14th century, built by the monks of Stanlaw on the Wirral whose convent was being flooded and eroded by the tides of the Mersey estuary.

    Standing on the Abbey site at that time was the chapel and rectory of the Deans of Whalley. This building has remarkably survived and is to be found at the rear of the east wing of the Conference House, referred to as the Chapel of Peter of Chester, the first and only rector of Whalley. Prior to this office, Whalley Church was under the jurisdiction of Deans from pre-Conquest times until 1235. The Deans were also lords of the manor of Whalley, inheriting their positions from father to son.

    The earliest recorded Dean was Spartling, followed by Liwulf, Cutwulf, and in Norman times Henry, Robert, William, Galfridus, Geoffrey and Roger. Roger, the last Dean, complying with the Lateran Council of 1215, which forbade hereditary succession, gave up his ecclesiastical rights to John de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, who appointed his clerk, Peter of Chester, to be rector.

    Pope Nicholas IV gave the monks of Stanlaw permission to move to Whalley and take over the rectory and lands on Peter’s death. In 1296 they arrived and began to build their great Cistercian Abbey dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    It is noticeable that the forenames of the Deans became Norman after the Conquest. This may represent a change of lordship.

    The first historical mention of Whalley can be found in Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 664. During that year Bishop Tuda visited these areas west of the Pennines to oversee the submission of the Celtic Church to Roman rites. While at Whalley, he died of the outbreak of bubonic plague recorded for that year, a horrific slayer that was given its momentum by the Synod of Whitby. Bede goes on to state that Whalley (Paegnalaech) was the site of a Celtic monastery and that Tuda, upon his death, was buried there. Clearly Whalley in the 7th century was an important religious centre, fit for a Bishop to base himself on, on a pastoral visit.

    All that remains today of the Monastery of Paegnalaech is the ‘vallum monasterii’, a wide earthen banked ditch. This enclosure served as a spiritual and legal boundary for the convent and must not be regarded as defensive, although in a previous age it may well have been constructed for this purpose.

    Between 1985 and 1988 an archaeological investigation conducted by myself with the Department of Geophysics at Lancaster University on the earthworks revealed its true site plan and method of construction. Fragments of 7th century pottery along with other artifacts were found during the excavation of a section of the earthwork at a depth of 3ft in the bottom section of the ditch.

    A stone axe-hammer found within the earthwork some years ago is now in Preston Museum.

    Whalley is again mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 798 as the site of a decisive battle during an internal conflict that had fraught the kingdom of Northumbria for over twenty years. Along with the erection of three high crosses at Whalley these events reflect the importance of Whalley between the 8th and 11th centuries.

    The presence of an early monastic institution at Whalley may go some way to explain the office of hereditary Deans at Whalley Church before the advent of a rector in 1235.

    In pre-Conquest times Whalley was the caput (capital manor) of the centrev (hundred) of Blackburnshire (possibly a former name existed). The centrev was divided into two commotes (component parts of 50 vills) represented by the mediaeval parishes of Whalley and Blackburn. Each commote contained two royal vills, Pendleton and Huncoat, Walton-le-Dale and Blackburn, all dependant on the royal caput at Whalley being not only the site of the court of the local petty dynasty but of a minster.

    Founded by a nobleman on his estate, ruled by his relatives and staffed by his dependants, the minster would be a ‘family monastery’ with most of the functions of a parish church. The founding of these royal minsters under royal license was a method of diverting taxable resources due to the King of Northumbria back to ones own family by grants of land, labour and capital to the ‘church’ (a good example today of this practice today can be seen throughout Greece).

    It was the disintegration of the royal resource base in this way that led to the downfall of Northumbria to the Scandinavians. The society could no longer mobilise its own defence under various Kings heading only factions of a greater political whole.

    The hereditary principle established within a framework of the family ‘minster/church’ seems to have been held in practice at Whalley, possibly due to its Northumbrian ‘remoteness’, until the 13th century – remarkable! Is there a foundation for the ‘Statutes of Blackburnshire’ after all?


    Post  Guest on Mon May 03, 2010 11:20 am

    (* ‘Paegna’ – pre 7th century personal name & ‘laech’ – warrior/layman, from Late Latin ‘of the people’.)

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