Isle of Albion
Set in the picturesque medieval village of Much Wenlock.
Photographed: Tuesday 11th July 2006
Site rating:  

Wenlock Priory was originally founded by Merewalh, King of the Magonsaete around 680AD. It was a "double monastery", housing both men and women. Merewalh's daughter, Milburga, was installed as its abbess for the female community, but little is known of Wenlock's history following her death in 727AD. It is possible (indeed likely) that monks continued in residence until the Normans arrived, but it seems certain that the women's community had disappeared by that time.

Following the Norman conquest, around 1080AD, Roger de Montgomery founded a Cluniac priory on the existing site. It is believed that the original "double monastery" consisted of two entirely separate churches, and archaeological evidence suggests that the Norman's founded their new church on the site of the male monastery. In 1101AD, remains claimed to be those of Milburga (by then a saint) were discovered, enabling Wenlock to establish itself as a popular place of pilgrimage.

By the early 13th century, work was under way to rebuild the church on a grand scale, creating a cruciform structure with an aisled nave, transept chapels and central tower. Further work was undertaken during the 14th Century, when a Lady Chapel was added at the east end of the church. The late 15th Century saw the completion of a heptagonal sacristy and the prior's house.

Wenlock Priory was dissolved on the 26th January, 1540AD. The prior's house and the infirmary were converted into a private residence, and this remains occupied and little altered to the present day.

Other ruins of note include the monks' washing fountain, which features well-preserved 12th Century carvings. The remains of the chapter house, dating from around 1140AD, feature multiple arches and columns, highlighting the extravagant embellishment that characterised the Cluniac order. Parts of the nave and transepts still stand, along with a section of the nave's south aisle which survives in good condition.

Despite the ruinous nature of Wenlock Priory, the fragments that survive are rich and diverse, often highly ornate, and frequently spectacularly well preserved. Located in a beautiful corner of the Shropshire countryside, on the edge of a picturesque village, this is an easy site to recommend.