Was there an anchoress at Colne Priory?

A short article to be published in Essex Archaeology and History.  A recent Time Team dig at the site of Colne Priory in north Essex discovered the outline of a ‘mysterious room’ attached to the priory church.  Was this the cell of an anchoress enclosed at the end of the twelfth century?

On 4th March 2012, Channel 4 broadcast an edition of the popular archaeological programme, Time Team, from Colne Priory in north Essex.  The priory was established on the banks of the river Colne as a daughter house of the Benedictine abbey at Abingdon in the early twelfth century by Aubrey de Vere initially, it seems, as a chantry for his son who had died at Abingdon.

The general outline of the priory was already known; the dig was primarily concerned with confirming the position of the priory church, discovering burials of the de Vere family, and establishing the position of the first post-dissolution manor house built on the site.  A ‘mysterious room’ on the north side of the nave of the church, just to the west of the crossing, was seen in the geophysical survey and at first it was thought that this might be a private burial chapel.  A trench was dug but although the outer wall of the priory church to which the room was attached was found, there was no evidence of the room itself.  It was claimed in the programme that it was the cell of an anchoress.  I was called in to the dig on the third day of recording to discuss this ‘mysterious room’, and confirmed that a position on the northern side of the church is where I would expect to find an anchorite’s cell.

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