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Monday 18 March 2024 - Bill Franklin
In Search of Cratundene?


In January 2023 Janet Fairweather gave a detailed account of the literary evidence for the location of Cratendene. Due to time constraints Bill Franklin was only able to give a cursory treatments of his thoughts on how the location of this important historical site could be located. He has now kindly agreed to return for a more in depth coverage of his ideas. Here follows the original abstract as a reminder of the coverage of the subject so far.

Abstract: Cratundene and Ely’s earliest Christian beginnings: Janet Fairweather on the literary sources. The primary sources of written information about the earliest churches built near, or on the same site as, Ely Cathedral are contained in the following Latin texts: first and foremost, Bede’s report, dating from the early eighth century, on the life, monastic foundation and posthumous cult of St Etheldreda (OE Æthelthryth) in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People (book 4) and, secondly, two inter-related, but differently oriented, house-histories, the so-called Chronicon Abbatum et Episcoporum and the so-called Liber Eliensis, both originally compiled, apparently in the late twelfth century, at Ely’s Cathedral Priory, from earlier records preserved in the monastic library and archives. Of these, the Chronicon, the twelfth-century core of which was eventually supplemented by ‘continuations’ to cover the ecclesiastical history of Ely from the earliest beginnings to the Reformation, has been published in print only once, in Anglia Sacra I (1691), by Henry Wharton, who regarded its account of events up to the death of Bishop Nigel as being merely a competent epitome of the excessively long Liber Eliensis. But in fact the relationship between the two works seems more complex than Wharton suggested, and there exists evidence in at least one of its manuscripts suggesting that the whole twelfth-century Chronicon (introduction plus succession of the ten abbots and first two bishops) was written not by the compiler of the Liber Eliensis himself but by a much-respected colleague of his: the historian-monk Richard.

Both the Chronicon and the Liber Eliensis refer to a tradition that, even before Etheldreda’s time, a church had been built on the Isle by Saint Augustine of Canterbury in honour of St Mary the Virgin, but was later destroyed by the army of King Penda of Mercia. This ruined church is described as near a place, situated about a mile from the later city of Ely, the name of which is given as Cratendune in the earliest manuscript of the Liber Eliensis , but as Cradundene or Cratundene in certain reputable but later, mss. of the Chronicon. The -dune form, being attested earlier, is generally regarded as standard, but it is problematic that whereas the ending -dune might be expected to denote ‘-hill ’an etymology is attached to this place-name which explains it as meaning ‘the valley of Cra (c)tus’ or ‘of Cra(c)tum’. The ending -dene is equivalent to ‘-valley’. It looks as though the traditional etymology must originally have explained a form not unlike ‘Cratundene’. Ely Cathedral currently publicises itself as ‘a place of Christian worship since 673’. Is that claim justifiable? Do the sources support the hypothesis that beneath the present Cathedral’s floor, nesting neatly one inside the other, lie the foundations of the Benedictine abbey church of 970, maybe identical with those of the rickety structure inhabited by secular canons for perhaps twenty years previous to then, itself a reconstruction of Etheldreda’ first, seventh-century abbey-church, which had been reportedly patched up, and lived in, by eight monks who had survived captivity after its part-demolition by the Danes in 870 ? Maybe. The probability is stronger than I once thought. But other hypotheses cannot be lightly dismissed. Even supposing the plateau where the Cathedral now stands was the ‘relatively high ground’ which St Etheldreda preferred over Cratundene as the site of her monastery, might she not have opted to locate her abbey, for example, approximately where St Mary’s parish church now stands? Did her religious foundation, soon to receive male recruits as well as female, become in time centred not on a single house, but on two: one for monks, on the site of the Cathedral, the other, for nuns, on or near the site of our present St Mary’s Church ?
The evidence of Bede does not particularly encourage a ‘two churches’ theory. The monks and nuns reported by him as present at the exhumation of their founding abbess’s miraculously intact corpse seem accustomed to singing together antiphonally. Nor, to my mind, is Bede’s account of Etheldreda’s self-denying asceticism, as exemplified by her preference for used bath-water, very supportive of the hypothesis, recently mooted by Paul Everson and David Stocker in Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society CXI, that her monasterium consisted of a dispersed consortium of well-to-do female religious residing all over the Isle rather than confined within a precinct. The wearing of high-status jewellery was not compatible with the life-style which Etheldreda advocated.

Bill's follow on will deal with how he using this documentary evidence along with other material to hypothesise about the locations of Cratundene and the location of early churches. Bill has been using a newly available analysis method developed by NASA to identify the location of earlier water courses along with maps and records to narrow down possible locations. He has suggestions about field work that could be undertaken and will encourage EDAS members to get involved


Bill Franklin

Bill undertook his first excavation in 1969 and excavated numerous sites in Northamptonshire and north Bedfordshire between 1970 and 1975, including the early Saxon basilica church at Brixworth and the nave of the Saxo-Norman church at Thurleigh.

A career in nursing then beckond, and later, with a young family, less excavation and more fieldwork and archival research were undertaken. On retirement from the health service, landscape history and archaeology once more became the primary focus of his interests. A founder member of the Staploe Archaeology Group (STAG) he currently works with several local history groups as well as with other national and local groups in exploring history and archaeology, organising field-walking, geophysics and excavations. His primary archaeological interest is the medieval period.