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Ramsey Abbey



Ramsey Abbey, Huntingdonshire, England, was founded by Ailwine (Ethelwine, Egelwine), a Saxon noble, in 969. He was encouraged in the undertaking by St. Oswald of York, who advised him that where men have renounced the world the air becomes salubrious, the fruits of the earth are gathered in abundance, famines and pestilence disappear, the State is duly governed, prisons are opened, and captives set free, those wrecked at sea are relieved, the sick are healed and the weak find means for their convalescence. The site chosen, Ramsey (Ram+eie, insula arietis), was then the largest and finest of the islands of a great marsh formed by the waters of the Ouse. It was afterwards connected with the mainland by a causeway constructed by the monks. Here Aednoth, nephew of Ailwine, commissioned by Oswald to make preparations, built a wooden church and offices, and as soon as all was ready, the saint sent twelve monks from his monastery of Westbury (Worcester) to take possession. The wooden minster was dedicated by Oswald and St. Dunstan of Canterbury to St. Mary, all Holy Virgins, and St. Benedict. Soon a fine stone church with towers was erected and consecrated by St. Oswald, Archbishop of York, assisted by Aescwio, Bishop of Dorchester, in 991. The year following (992) the two founders, Ailwine and Oswald, died, and the monastery, governed till then by priors (Germanus and Aednoth), was permitted to elect an abbot. Aednoth, son of Aednoth, the prior, was the first to hold office.

Ailwine handsomely endowed his foundation with lands and privileges. He also presented the new church with an altar-frontal (tabula in fronte eminentioris altaris) of wood, covered with silver plates and many-coloured jewels. King Edgar, Henry I, Henry II, and others extended and confirmed the possessions and liberties. In 1002 the body of St. Ives (Ivo) was miraculously discovered in the neighbourhood and this led to the establishment of the dependent priory of St. Ives. Another dependent priory or cell was Modney, in Norfolk. The abbot had a seat in Parliament and ranked next after Glastonbury and St. Alban's. At the Dissolution (1539) John Wardeboys, alias Lawrence, willingly resigned the abbey into the king's hands and received a pension of £266. 13s. 4d. per annum. The estates were granted by Henry VIII to Sir Richard Williams, alias Cromwell. The revenue, according to Dugdale, was £1716. 12s. 4d., but according to Speed, £983. 15s. 3 1/4 d. Nothing important remains of the buildings but a ruined Late Gothic gateway.

Chronicon Abbatiæ Rameseiensis in Rolls Series (1886); Cartularium Monasterii de Ramsesia in Rolls Series (3 vols.); DUGDALE, Monasticon Anglicanum, II (London, 1846); REYNER, Apostolatus Benedictinorum, 149; WISE, Ramsey Abbey, its rise and fall, (1881).

J. C. Almond.








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