The ruins of St Augustine's Abbey lie
south-east of the city, between it and St Martin's Church. St Augustine
landed in Kent in AD 597 to introduce Christianity to the pagan Angles,
Saxons and Jutes after their conquest of the south and east of Britain.
Unfortunately, this had also had the effect of destroying the remnants
of the Roman British Church. In 598 work started on the abbey to house
St Augustine and his monks while they worshipped at St Martin's.
The abbey also became the burial place of the kings
of Kent and archbishops of Canterbury. Three separate chapels were built;
the Church of St Peter & St Paul, the Church of St Mary, and the
Chapel of St Pancras (here), but only parts of St Pancras have
survived. Canterbury also became a centre of teaching, and subsequently
the scriptorium flourished, producing elegantly illustrated books, although
ninth century Viking attacks on Canterbury may have reduced output.
A monastic revival swept England during the
middle of the tenth century under the reforming influence of St
Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury (960-988). In 978, the west wall
of St Peter & St Paul was demolished and the church was enlarged
and additionally rededicated to St Augustine, which is when the abbey
as a whole became known as St Augustine's. Further enlargements
followed in 1047-1059, but they remained unfinished after the death
of Abbot Wulfric II.
Appointed by William the Conqueror, Abbot Scolland
replaced the old Saxon stonework with a new, Romanesque structure, much
of which is still visible in the ruins. Fire damaged the church in 1168
and repairs and enhancements were undertaken during the thirteenth century,
with a bell tower being added after the earthquake of 1382. The Dissolution
meant that St Augustine's was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1538 and its
treasures and relics were lost.
Henry kept St Augustine's for himself rather than
sell it as he did most other monasteries. He converted it into a royal
palace in 1539, altering buildings from the prior's lodgings into a
residence fit for the reception of his latest wife, Anne of Cleves.
The brick level in the north wall shown here dates to this period. In
1541, Henry ordered the demolition of the church. The materials were
used in other projects, such as Walmer Castle, and after his death the
palace was leased.
The grounds were converted into formal gardens in the 1600s,
although the fourteenth century Great Gate (above) survived and now leads to
part of the King's School. The palace was damaged in the 1692 earthquake, and by
the 1770s many older buildings were being used by the townspeople. A farmhouse
was built into the ruins of St Pancras. In 1791, the south-eastern section of
the abbey was sold off for a gaol and hospital, while the rest slowly crumbled away.