Last Photographed: Wednesday 21st July 2021
Muchelney Abbey was sited on what was, at the time, a small island in the marshes of the Somerset Levels. The foundation date for the abbey is unclear. One tradition claims that King Athelstan established it around 933AD, whilst another claims that King Ine founded the abbey around 693AD. Wessex suffered from heavy Viking incursions during the intervening years, so it's possible that the church was founded, abandoned, and then re-founded. When excavations were carried out in the 1950s, the remains of an 8th Century church were discovered, lending credibility to the earlier foundation date.
Whatever the case, it is known that a Benedictine house existed at Muchelney by the latter part of the 10th Century. The church was rebuilt and extended in the 12th Century, following the Norman conquest. One of the latest buildings to be completed on the site was the abbot's house, which dates from the late 15th or early 16th Century. The abbey was dissolved on the 3rd January 1538AD, following a visitation by Thomas Leigh:
"... I found the abbot negligent and of doubtful character; and ten brethren which all war ignorant and unlernyd and in manor no servauntes maynteynyd or hospitalite kept and after examynation withe theym had they all subscrybid to the instrument of their submyssion and surrender and sealyd the same withe their common seale and delivered the same as their acte to me to thuse and pleasure of our soverayne lord the kyng, etc."
Today, only the ground-plan remains to show where the church once stood. The only buildings that survive are the abbot's house and the south cloister walk (now incorporated into the house). The house survives in excellent condition, and this feature alone makes Muchelney Abbey worth visiting. Other features scattered around this quiet and secluded village include the abbey's almonry barn, a thatched monk's reredorter (toilet block) and a priests house (built by the abbey in 1308AD to house the parish priest).
Muchelney still feels like a very isolated location. The village is tiny, and only a handful of visitors are usually to be found at the abbey. There are no shops, pubs or cafés (at the time of writing). In 2014AD, Muchelney was cut off from the world for almost a month when all of the connecting roads disappeared beneath flooding. With the village largely surrounded by water, it was easy to imagine it as an island once again, and to contemplate what monastic life must have been like out on the Somerset Levels.