Somewhere near the village of Coldingham in Berwickshire lie the remains of an ancient monastery founded by Princess Æbbe nearly 1,400 years ago. Its location has eluded archaeologists for decades, but now a team armed with new evidence is asking for help from the public to reignite the search.
Oswald is most famous as the King of Northumbria who returned from exile to reclaim the family throne, and founded a small monastery on Lindisfarne in AD 635. Famous for being where the Lindisfarne Gospels were created, and the first place in the British Isles to be targeted by the Vikings, it’s now one of England’s best known historic sites
Meanwhile, the monastery at Coldingham founded by his sister Æbbe remains much less well known. Now separated by a border, they were once part of the same kingdom, and both were influential in the spread of early Medieval Christianity.
“Despite Coldingham’s significance, compared to Lindisfarne, much less is known about it. This project aims to change that and reveal Æbbe’s side of the story in Scotland,” says DigVentures archaeologist Brendon Wilkins.
Starting in June, a team of archaeologists and crowdfunders lead by DigVentures will begin unearthing a location in the heart of Coldingham.
“Although previous attempts to locate the remains of the original monastery based on historical sources have come up largely empty handed, we’re working with a new set of geophysics results that have revealed a number of possible Anglo-Saxon structures at a slightly different location. Now, we just need to excavate and see if it’s really there,” says Wilkins.
Historical sources indicate that Æbbe’s monastery burnt down soon after she died, was abandoned for a short while, rebuilt and continued to thrive until AD 870 when it was destroyed once and for all by a devastating Viking attack – just like Oswald’s Lindisfarne. The team ran a small trial excavation in November, and collaborated with the community to help decide where to dig during the upcoming excavation.
“Like Lindisfarne, Coldingham is an important site in the story of early medieval Christianity in the British Isles, and yet we know much less about it than other sites of similar significance. This is a chance to redress the balance, and begin answering some big questions about Coldingham’s early medieval history” says Wilkins.
Anne Dall, secretary for Friends of Coldingham Priory says “As a community, we are delighted that the DigVentures team is coming to the village in June. Let’s hope that the investigation reveals the hidden traces of Æbbe’s lost monastery and throws more light on the history of Coldingham.”
The project has already received some support from the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable a programme for local schools and people in the area. DigVentures is now inviting anyone interested in helping to unearth Coldingham’s history to join the excavation. Details can be found at digventures.com/projects/coldingham
Notes to editors
Available for comment are:
• Lisa Westcott Wilkins – Managing Director and co-founder DigVentures
• Brendon Wilkins – Projects Director and co-founder DigVentures
DigVentures is a social business that runs crowdfunded, collaborative archaeology projects in the UK and beyond, with the aim of increasing opportunities for people interested in the past to take part in archaeological research.
DigVentures is registered with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, and publishes all discoveries online in an open access database, making them instantly accessible to anyone in the world.
• Carole Souter CBE, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund
• Sir Tony Robinson, actor and amateur archaeologist
• David Gilbert, board president, Chair of Creative United and Writer’s Centre of Norwich, and former Managing Director of Currys Group and Waterstones
• Simon Collister, Senior Lecturer at University of the Arts London
• Thomas Knowles, Head of Grants at Historic Environment Scotland
• Tim Schadla-Hall, Reader in Public Archaeology at University College London, Institute of Archaeology
• Sarah Stannage, Policy and Culture Sector lead for the Understanding Everyday Participation (UEP)
Other upcoming excavations:
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