If you were looking for a rather ridiculous sort of name for someone, you probably couldn't go past "Sexburga" or perhaps Etheldreda for a woman. Or for a man, how about Erconbert, and Egbert? If we go back to the 7th Century, these were real people, royalty no less, and I am going to tell you why I am interested in them.
This month, for the Fabric book Round Robin I am participating in, I needed to do two pages on the theme of Ancient Architecture. The owner of this month's book, Mary Ann in New Zealand, said she was happy for me to do Georgian architecture for one page - although it can hardly be called ancient. However, for the second page I thought I should work with something really old. I tossed around ideas such as the Great Wall, the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat, but none of them seemed quite right.
So, believing that the best ideas are the ones that come from your own experience, I chose Minster Abbey. Now Minster Abbey is on the Isle of Sheppey, which is an island in the Thames Estuary in Kent, England. The island , large enough for a few townships, has a fascinating history, originally being called "The Isle of Sheep." It is now joined to the "mainland" by a long bridge. It is where my parents were born and lived up until their marriage, and I have many happy memories from early childhood of holidays there with grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.
But back to Sexburgha. She was the daughter of King Enna (or Anna) of Kent back in the 7th century AD, and had two sisters Aethelreda and Withburgha. All three sisters later became Saints. Sexburga's husband Erconberht later became King of Kent, and after his death, Sexburga became regent for four years before abdicating and handing the kingdom over to her son Ecberht (or Egbert.) She also abdicated from secular life, and established a Minster (or Monastery) on land given to her by her son in 664 AD. It is believed she headed a community of 77 nuns in this spot on the Isle of Sheppey, on one of the few elevated areas of a fairly flat island.
After a few years, Sexburga decided to go and join her sister Ethelreda, who had similarly founded an abbey at Ely in East Anglia, and became the Abbess there after her sister's death.
The picture above is the only pictorial representation of Queen Sexburgha, and is painted on a wall of the Willingham church at Ely. I love it, and can't wait to use it in a future creation!
Meanwhile Minster Abbey had a chequered story, undergoing many periods of destruction, neglect and re-building, at the hands of the Saxons, the Danes and the Normans. At one time it became part of a private estate of a gentleman, who proceeded to move the remains of several of his ancestors into the church!
Nevertheless, the attached Gatehouse is still much as it was in Saxon Days, while the church itself still has some traces of the original building, including some Roman tiles. The basic fabric of the present church building dates back to the 15th century.
Minster Abbey, also known as "The Abbey Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Sexburgha" has a claim to being one of the oldest churches in all of England, with Christian worship having been carried on here for over 13 centuries!!
My page shows an image of the church, printed onto water colour paper, and mounted onto a silk paper background. The foreground has also been produced with hand-dyed silk fibres. Now the border fabric is one I bought because I really liked it, and I think I have probably been waiting about 12-15 years for the right occasion to use it!!! The lace at the top is fairly old, and was purchased at an Antique store in Newcastle N.S.W.
The binding fabric, in the deeper plum shade, is from a piece that I hand-dyed some time ago. I found just a small strip that was the perfect length and width to use. That was after laboriously unpicking another piece of fabric that was just too slippery and shiny and quite unsuitable.
Below is a 19th century print that shows the Abbey church, with the very imposing old Gatehouse to the left. I am told that the Gatehouse has been kept in better and more original condition over the centuries because it has been continuously been occupied as a residence. Today it is used as a local Museum.
A small footnote....the present congregation of this old church have a wonderful website. However, they have been very careful to refer to it as "Minster Abbey" to avoid attracting Net users looking for Porn sites!
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