Monday, November 21, 2005

Lost centuries of St Osyth

Back in the seventh century, Viking pirates sailed up a muddy Essex creek. Legend has it they captured a lonely nun who, when offered a choice between her 'modesty or her mortality', chose to die. The nun carried her severed head up the hill to her church where she collapsed. Where she lay a spring bubbled up.
The nun was St Osgyth, or Osyth, the wife of the Saxon king of Essex, who chose the veil rather than consummate her marriage. The site of her death became a shrine and a busy settlement grew up. In the 12th century Richard de Belmais, bishop of London, founded a large Augustinian priory in the middle of the village. This became a powerful establishment, which, by the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, was one of the wealthiest Augustinian monasteries in Europe.
A few years ago a local boat builder noticed some decayed timbers sticking out of the mud in St Osyth Creek. The tides gradually revealed more of these timbers, which are on a significant bend in the channel. Could they be the remains of a medieval wharf that served the town in its early days?
Time Team was also interested to find out whether they might be the key to unlock a bigger mystery. The present town of St Osyth seems to date only to the 15th century but the famous priory is much older. There must have been a busy settlement servicing it – so where was the original town of St Osyth?


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