Until Alfred the Great managed to isolate and contain invaders from Scandinavia, Lyminge, a monastery in Kent, was on the front line of long-running Viking hostility.

Lyminge endured repeated attacks for almost a century through effective defensive strategies, University of Reading archaeologists now say. Despite being in a region of Kent which bore the full brunt of Viking raids in the later 8th and early 9th centuries, they survived. rebuilt, and recovered more completely than historians previously thought. 

The excavation at Lyminge, Kent. Credit: Dr. Gabor Thomas

During archaeological excavations between 2007-15 and 2019, archaeologists uncovered the main elements of the monastery, including the stone chapel at its heart surrounded by a wide swathe of wooden buildings and other structures where the monastic brethren and their dependents lived out their daily lives. Radiocarbon dating of butchered animal bones discarded as rubbish indicates that this occupation persisted for nearly two centuries following the monastery’s establishment in the second half of the 7th century.

Historical records held at nearby Canterbury Cathedral show that after a raid in 804 AD, the monastic community at Lyminge was granted asylum within the relative safety of the walled refuge of Canterbury, the administrative and ecclesiastical capital of Anglo-Saxon Kent. But evidence from the dig by Dr. Gabor Thomas in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading shows the monks not only returned to re-establish their settlement at Lyminge, but continued living and building for several decades over the course of the 9th century. Dateable artifacts such as silver coins discovered at the site provided insight into the re-establishment of the monastic community.

"This research paints a more complex picture of the experience of monasteries during these troubled times, they were more resilient than the ‘sitting duck’ image portrayed in popular accounts of Viking raiding based on recorded historical events such as the iconic Viking raid on the island monastery of Lindisfarne in AD 793," says Thomas. “However, the resilience of the monastery was subsequently stretched beyond breaking point. By the end of the 9th century, at a time when Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great was engaged in a widescale conflict with invading Viking armies, the site of the monastery appears to have been completely abandoned. This was most likely due to sustained long-term pressure from Viking armies who are known to have been active in south-eastern Kent in the 880s and 890s."

Yet a short while later it was settled again, this time under authority of the Archbishops of Canterbury who had acquired the lands formerly belonging to the monastery.