Archaeological dig uncovers Rufford medieval church thought to have been destroyed by Henry VIII

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The remains of a medieval church, thought to have been destroyed following Henry VIII’s Reformation of the Catholic Church, have been uncovered at Rufford Country Park.

Archaeologists from Nottinghamshire County Council and a team of local volunteers have been excavating an area of land at the popular tourist attraction, adjacent to the last existing ruins of the 12th century Rufford Abbey near Ollerton, for the last two weeks.

The church, which dates back to 1160, was part of a number of buildings which made up the original abbey, built by monks from Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire and home to the Cistercian Order.

The beginning of the end for the original abbey began in 1533 when Henry VIII declared himself as ‘Protector and supreme head of the church and clergy in England’ in defiance of the Pope, who had refused to grant the King a divorce so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.

The Reformation, as it became known, signalled a devastating end for every Catholic monastery in England, which were all either demolished or - as was the case with Rufford - stripped of anything of value, including much of it’s stone and allowed to fall into wrack and ruin.

To help justify the closure of Rufford, it’s recorded that two Royal commissioners visited the Abbey in 1536 and claimed to discover many “disgraceful offences”, including that the Abbey’s monks possessed some of the Virgin Mary’s milk and that the Abbott was incontinent!

The excavation work is helping archaeologists piece together the layout of the Abbey’s buildings, which is different to what was originally thought.

Artefacts uncovered during the dig including a piece of Tudor pottery and two teeth, which are thought to have belonged to a monk buried there - confirming that burials took place in the grounds of the church.

Nottinghamshire County Council’s Community Archaeologist, Emily Gillott, who has led the project, said: “Uncovering the remains of the original church is momentous and will help us to better understand how the site was laid-out and how and when the original Abbey buildings have been developed over the years.

“The Abbey’s role in the Reformation, one of the most controversial and important periods in the country’s history, provides added significance to this work.

“We are extremely grateful for the contributions of the team at Rufford for facilitating this project and especially to the many volunteers, without which this work would not have been possible.”

Regular updates and photographs of the dig are being posted at the Community archaeology team’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/communityarchaeology

The County Council’s Archaeology team carry out regular community work and digs throughout Nottinghamshire during the year.

Further information on taking part is available at: www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/learning/history/archaeology/communityarchaeology/