A Brief History of Minster-in-Thanet

Minster derives its name from the Saxon word ‘Ministre’ meaning Church or Monastery. It is believed that this name was given due to the erection of the Abbey circa 670AD.

St Mary's Church

St Mary’s Church

The first Monastery was built where the large medieval Parish Church now stands, several hundred yards away from the current Abbey grounds, but perfectly placed for a natural harbour which led into the Wantsum Channel. It was the harbour that led to Minster’s prosperity over the ensuing centuries, allowing grain from Kent to be shipped to London.

By 741AD the Abbey had outgrown its original buildings, with about seventy Nuns having joined the community. So the third Abbess, St Edburga, decided to build new monastic buildings a short distance away, on the site of the present Abbey. These 8th century buildings were of timber, probably topped by thatch, or lead roofs. A new Chapel was erected, dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. Under the leadership of Edburga, Minster supported missionary work in Europe, particularly that of St Boniface in Germany. The Kings of Kent added more land to the original Abbey estates, and under Edburga, Minster eventually fully controlled half of Thanet.

But this period of growth and prosperity was not to continue, and in the late 8th century the Danes appeared in the longboats, bent on plunder. They dealt an ultimately fatal blow in 840AD, when they burned Minster-in-Thanet to the ground, and killed the entire monastic community of Nuns and servants.

15th century map of Thanet

15th century map of Thanet
(click to enlarge)

In 1027, over 180 years after the final Danish raid, the Monks of Canterbury petitioned King Canute to give them the Abbey lands. Canute agreed, and the Monks began to rebuild the earlier timber buildings in stone.

Over the next few decades the Abbey was gradually rebuilt and expanded by the Abbots of Canterbury. The Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538, and both the Church and Manor became royal property, the Chapel was destroyed and the monastic buildings allowed to fall into decay. Like so many monastic sites, Minster passed through numerous hands over the following centuries. But where so many other sites around England fell into ruin Minster-in-Thanet had a different fate.

In 1937 a group of Benedictine Nuns from Southern Germany took possession of the site and established a new Monastery at Minster-in-Thanet. They had scarcely begun to integrate themselves into local society when the Second World War broke out. Being German, the Nuns were considered a security threat by the Government and the Nunnery was temporarily suspended and the Nuns interned for the duration of the war. In this case, the internment could have been worse, for they were sent to existing British Monasteries. After the war, they returned to Minster-in-Thanet and over the ensuing decades rebuilt the medieval buildings and added new ones.

Minster Abbey now stands proud free of conflict and aggression. It makes a great place to visit and tours can be arranged by contacting the Abbey directly. Please feel free to follow this link to view their website.

Minster Abbey

Minster Abbey

The history of St Mary the Virgin Church is entwined with that of Minster Abbey. Throughout this early part of the Abbey’s history the monastic Church served both the Nuns and the townsfolk as a Parish Church. There is some confusion over which part of the Church is the oldest; the Nave dates to 1150, and the Chancel may be slightly earlier. The Tower is said to be Saxon; it certainly has old stonework and a very odd turret stair, but the material is Caen stone which only truly became popular after the Norman Conquest. So it may not be as old as it appears at first glance. The Turret may have simply been a shipping lookout, for in the Middle Ages Minster-in-Thanet had a busy port and the Wantsum Channel lapped at the base of the churchyard wall. The Tower and the Nave walls also contain Roman bricks. The Chancel is a true highlight; one of the finest of any parish church in Kent. The Church also has a set of eighteen medieval Monks Stalls (Misericords), which are some of the finest in the South of England.

At the West end of the Church, Roman bricks have been used in the wall and tower, which may have come from the nearby villa. An older turret tower of unknown date is incorporated into the massive Norman tower. The turret may have served as a watch tower for shipping using the Wantsum Channel. In the Church grounds is the ‘Old Schools’ which was the Village School from 1847-1946 and is now used by the Church for community functions.

The modern Parish of Minster-in-Thanet now encompasses 4,858 acres that stretch from the banks of the River Stour up to and including most of Manston Airfield. The population is approximately 3,600 (2011 Census). The Village has formed over the centuries under the influential pull of Minster Abbey and St. Mary’s Church into the quaint and comfortable place that we know today. The Village still offers an insight into the past and this is reflected in the vast number of Grade 1 and 2 listed buildings throughout the area, their modern face partially disguising the older years. Minster also boasts a large range of shops, public houses, restaurants, a surgery, a vet and a dentist. The well reputed school teaches over 400 children. Minster also boasts many walks and green areas and the Village was appreciated for its true worth in 2009 when it won the Calor ‘Kent Village of the Year’ competition.

Kent Village of the Year 2009
(click to enlarge)