Travel Report: St Botolph’s Priory, Colchester.
May 2019. I love how the majority of Colchester’s sights are dripping with history and free to visit! From Castle Park and Hollytrees Museum to Firstsite and Colchester Natural History Museum, it was certainly a refreshing change from the relentless costs of London. Another free Colchester delight that’s well worth your time is St. Botolph’s Priory, the ruins of an ancient Augustinian monastery dating back to the 12th century.
Located on Priory Road next to the somewhat uninspiring exterior of St. Botolph’s Church, the priory ruins are a fine example of early Norman architecture. Constructed from flint and a distinctive orange-red reused Roman brick, St. Botolph’s was one of England’s first religious houses to adopt Augustinian rule. As a result, it had the authority to set regulations, correct abuses and inflict punishments over subsequent houses of Augustinian order.
Nevertheless, St. Botolph’s was a small institution dwarfed in every sense by nearby St. John’s Abbey. In fact, the two institutions had something of an ongoing feud. Fiercely contested disputes over the control of The Church of St. Peter, for example, eventually led to violence!
In the mid 14th century St. John’s Abbey filed an official complaint about St. Botolph’s to The Pope. They claimed that three priory members forced themselves into the abbey and stabbed one of their monks! The matter was eventually settled the following year without formal charges.
St Botolph’s Priory.
It was interesting to load up the ruins’ history on my phone as I wandered through the various giant pillars and round arches. Sadly for St. Botolph’s Priory, it was game over in 1536 when Henry VIII passed into law The Dissolution of the Monasteries Act. In order to save themselves from being executed for treason, the prior and seven canons all took an oath to relinquish their positions and bow to Henry’s supremacy.
And so the priory was left to rot. Over a hundred years later in 1648, St Botolph’s was reduced to the ruinous state we see today during The Siege of Colchester. I was literally gulping up the palpable sense of drama as I walked, quite unaware that a group of drunken morons had just parked themselves on a nearby bench.
“Nobody’s home mate, ha ha ha!” one of them shouted, a cigarette behind his ear, beer can in hand. Then he tripped over his own shoelaces and fell on his ass, which was quite funny.
What To See & Do, Colchester.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the priory’s nave became a burial spot and indeed you can still visit the small graveyard set discreetly behind the ruins. It’s a fantastically peaceful and leafy spot, set away from the main road. The perfect place to come and think and read. Or, in this case of this guy, to destroy a newspaper-wrapped portion of fish and chips. Oh man, I could actually smell the vinegar from my discreet vantage point from between a cluster of trees. Time for a chippy myself, I thought. And off I went, to see what I could find.
For more on my adventures in this pretty English town, check out my other travel reports from Colchester.
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