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Ramsey, Abbey of


Former Benedictine monastery in the county of Huntingdon (town of Ramsey) and the Diocese of Lincoln. It was founded c. 969 by Aylwin, Duke of East Anglia, at the prompting of oswald of york. Richly endowed by the founder and his kinsfolk, the abbey became known as "Ramsey the rich." Twelve monks came from Westbury to occupy buildings erected by Ednoth. The abbey church was built in 974 and dedicated to Our Lady, St. Benedict, and All Holy Virgins. At Oswald's request, the abbot of Fleury sent abbo of fleury (c. 986) as a teacher for this new Benedictine community. Abbo wrote his Questiones grammaticales for the instruction of the monks and a Passio sancti Edmundi at their request. One of his pupils composed a life of Oswald, while Byrhtferth, another pupil, wrote commentaries on Bede's mathematical works. Further gifts to support the community of 80 monks came from Aethelric, Bishop of Dorchester, early in the 11th century, whereas an attempt by the Mercian thegn, Aelthere, to replace the monks with seculars failed. In 1143 Geoffrey de Mandeville drove out the monks and used the buildings as a fortress during the Barons' War. After Geoffrey's death Abbot Walter had to restore the abbey. Shrines of the fenland saints, Felix of Dunwich, Ethelred, and Ethelbriht, were added in 1192. Community life was fully restored and high enough standards maintained to stand severe scrutiny by Bp. robert grosseteste in 1239. However, the rich fenland estates of the abbey aroused the jealousy of neighbors, and the monks were involved in expensive lawsuits, which led to their being in debt by 1267. Though discipline seems to have fallen off for a time, the abbey recovered c. 1400, and visitations in the 15th century showed little amiss. Abbot Tichmersh began further building work, while the magnificent library was put to good use by Lawrence Holbeach in composing his Hebrew lexicon. But zeal for the religious life again fell off; and when the crisis came with henry viii in November 1539, the abbey surrendered without a struggle. The monastic community was pensioned. All the buildings, except the gateway, have been destroyed.

Bibliography: w. h. hart and p. a. lyons, eds., Cartularium monasterii de Rameseia, 3 v. (Rerum Brittanicarum medii aevi scriptores 79; 188493). w. d. macray, ed., Chronicon abbatiae Rameseiensis (Rerum Brittanicarum medii aevi scriptores 83;1886). The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon, ed. w. page et al. (London 1926) 1:377385. d. knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 9431216 (2ed. Cambridge, England 1962); d. knowles, The Religious Orders in England, 3 v. (Cambridge, England 194860). d. knowles and r. n. hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (New York 1953). j. a. raftis, The Estates of Ramsey Abbey (Toronto 1957).

[f. r. johnston]

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