Shaftesbury Abbey Museum
Dorset SP7 8JR
Sheltering behind a massive buttressed wall in Park Walk are the Saxon remains of Shaftesbury Abbey and a replica monastic herb garden. The abbey started life in 888 AD as a Benedictine nunnery founded by King Alfred the Great.
In 978 AD the young King Edward II was murdered at nearby Corfe Castle. Edward had been chosen and crowned by St Dunstan and his death was an insult to the power of The Church. Within a short time Edward was canonised and became Edward the Martyr.
Edward’s remains re-interred in Shaftesbury Abbey
St Dunstan arranged for the King’s bones to be re-interred in Shaftesbury Abbey in 981 AD. During the 7 day procession a miracle was said to be observed – two cripples were laid beside the bier and were restored to health.
Many more miracles occurred; pilgrims and Royalty flocked to Shaftesbury Abbey, bestowing land and great wealth. It became England’s foremost Benedictine abbey and for 650 years the town’s fortunes grew with it.
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Dissolution of the Monasteries
As a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Abbey was raised to the ground in 1539. Edward’s relics were hidden to avoid desecration.
In 1931 the relics were discovered during excavations of the site. They have been proved to be the remains of a young man who died around 978 AD in the same manner as the young Edward. It has been concluded that these remains are indeed those of the young king. They are now in Brookwood Cemetary, Woking, Surrey.
The story of the Abbey and its inhabitants has been vividly brought to life in a new, state-of-the-art museum. The museum is decorated in dramatic medieval colours chosen to reflect the interior of the original Abbey church.
The museum houses a fascinating collection of carved stonework including samples of Saxon carving, medieval floor tiles and other excavated objects. Illustrations from ancient manuscripts help to tell the story of this foremost Benedictine nunnery.
The “Aethelgifu’s Herb Collection” is named after King Alfred’s daughter, the first Abbess of the Benedictine nunnery. The walled garden includes over over 100 species of herbs, and attempts to reflect what is known of their Anglo-Saxon uses. The plants seen are just a sample of the species that would have been cultivated and used by the nuns. As well as the more commonly known aromatic herbs, the garden includes unusual plants such as Woad, Marshmallow and even some poisons.
The herb garden was created in 1988 under the direction of Lady Jane Renfrew, during the Abbey site’s restoration. As Lady Renfrew noted, “The term herb at the time included a wide range of useful plants, not only those used in cooking or in medicine, but also dye plants, sweet strewing herbs, insecticide plants and those used in textile production and processing. In Anglo-Saxon England the monasteries and abbeys were in the forefront of knowledge about useful herbs”.
The re-created medieval orchard blossoms in the spring and yields an interesting variety of fruit in the autumn months. All the apples and pears are being grown on a single cordon system on the wall, a system used for many centuries where space is at a premium.
The varieties have been chosen to span an historical period from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Varieties such as ‘Adam’s Pearmain’ or ‘Ribston Pippin’ along with Pears and Medlars could have been grown in the ancient Abbey orchard.
The rose-scented garden has a magic of its own, offering seclusion, peace and tranquillity, and a sense that there has been a working garden on site for centuries.
Plan Your Visit
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1 April to 31 October.
10:00 to 17:00 hours.
Allow at least an hour for your visit.
Adult and Concession tickets available.
Children (accompanied) 16 years and under FREE
Visit the Abbey website for up to date details.
Audio and written guides
Entry to the museum shop is free
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1747 852910
In the centre of Shaftesbury
in the High Street
is the Town Hall. There is an alleyway on the far right of the Town Hall leading to Park Walk (between Oxfam Book Shop and Costa Coffee). The Abbey Museum is halfway along Park Walk wall on the right hand side, marked by iron gates.
- By Car
Follow the directions given in the Shaftesbury
article on this website. There is plenty of parking and it is recommended that you choose the long-term car parks for a leisurely visit.
Google Map - Shaftesbury Abbey Museum & Garden