Rushen Abbey, Isle of Man: A hundred years of research and excavation
Rushen Abbey was a Cistercian monastery founded in 1134 and suppressed in 1540. It was the most important religious institution on the Isle of Man wielding significant secular power as well as ecclesiastical authority. This book aims to provide a synthesis of all the available evidence for Rushen Abbey under one cover.
Rushen Abbey, now owned and managed by Manx National Heritage, was a Cistercian monastery founded in 1134 and suppressed in 1540. It was the most important religious institution on the Isle of Man wielding significant secular power as well as ecclesiastical authority. Its location in the middle of the Irish Sea and its political connections made it one of the most influential houses in western Britain and Ireland.
The first known excavations were carried out in the late 1890s by Deemster Gill, one of the most senior law officers on the island. They were followed in 1912 and again in 1926 by more extensive investigations of parts of the east range the north transept of the church by William Cubbon then owner of the site. The modern study of the site began in 1978 and 1979 with excavations of the presbytery and both transepts by Dr Lawrence Butler, who followed them in 1988 and 1989 with a complete exploration of the east range. In between these two programmes of work Dr Larch Garrad of the Manx Museum carried out an important rescue excavation to the east of the church in 1984, locating a new chapel, part of the monastic cemetery and a charnel pit.
Under threat of development for a hotel complex the site was purchased by the Manx Government in 1998 and the Centre for Manx Studies, University of Liverpool was asked to carry out exploratory excavations in the first place, followed by more extensive investigations of a number of areas of the site. These were carried out each year from 1998 to 2008 and succeeded in defining the plan of the church and claustral buildings together with parts of the western courtyard. In addition, to the south of the Cistercian complex an already disturbed early medieval cemetery was investigated. Alongside the excavations, medieval documentary sources were reviewed, and extensive fieldwork was carried out on the abbey’s lands throughout the island.
This book aims to provide a synthesis of all the available evidence for Rushen Abbey under one cover. Given the numbers of excavations, their complexity and the richness of finds, the detailed evidence on which this overview text is based is provided by a set of 20 online reports.
About The Author:
Dr Peter Davey is an archaeologist with a special interest in the medieval and early modern periods in north-western Europe and a 40-year involvement with the Isle of Man. As Director of the multi-disciplinary Centre for Manx Studies between 1992 and 2007 he led the excavation team at Rushen Abbey from 1998 to his retirement. He obtained his PhD from the University of Liverpool in 1990.