Cluniac Faversham

King Stephen

Duke William of Aquitaine founded Cluny Abbey in 910. It was exempt for visitations from it’s local bishop answering, instead, directly to the Pope. Like all monastics the monks at Cluny followed the rule of St Benedict but it placed a new emphasis on the liturgy. Ceremony, prayer, mass and psalms became the focus of the day.

William the Conqueror wanted the Cluniacs in England but the first one was founded at Lewes by William de Warenne. Lewes was not an abbey, it was priory. All Cluniac houses remained dependent upon their mother house at Cluny for direction. Bermondsey followed and William Rufus who did not have a reputation for piety gave it rich endowments. In total there would be some 35 Cluniac foundations in medieval England.

Faversham was founded by King Stephen and his wife Matilda in 1147 when Stephen donated his manor as the location of a new abbey – to be called St Saviour’s. A group of monks from Bermondsey, under licence and with permission from the mother house at Cluny to build the new priory – or rather abbey. It was understood that the new foundation was to be as free and independent as Reading Abbey, another Cluniac foundation. Reading Abbey was founded by King Henry I and is where he is buried. This was to be the place where the House of Blois would be buried. Stephen, his wife and son Eustace were buried there.

Henry II confirmed the grants and charters that Stephen made and it was still a Cluniac foundation. It remained Cluniac in the reign of his grandson Henry III but it was independent and ultimately not so important as Reading Abbey, the House of Blois lasting precisely one generation. It’s status as an abbey was contrary to Cluniac identity. Thus in the reign of Henry III, although it was founded by Cluniacs Faversham became a Benedictine Abbey.

At the dissolution the bones of Stephen and his family were disinterred. Their empty graves were discovered during archeological survey in 1965 but it is thought that they might have been moved to St Mary’s Church rather than dumped in Faversham Creek

Cluniac Priories:

Arthington (nunnery), Barnstaple, Bermondsey, Castle Acre, Davenrty, Delapre, Derby St James, Dudley, Faversham, Lenton, Monkton Farleigh, Montacute, Ponetefract, Prittlewell, Reading Abbey, St Andrew’s Northampton, Lewes, Stansgate, Thetford, Wangford, Wenlock.