Thursday 23 July 2015

Learning about the Middle Ages: Abbeys

My younger children have been learning about the Middle Ages and, of course, that includes monasticism. The role of monasteries and abbeys in life in the Middle Ages is fairly difficult for twenty first century children to appreciate but actually seeing the remains of one towering above the surrounding countryside does give an idea of their importance and also their wealth.

I find that teaching about the religious life of the Middle Ages is complex in terms of balance. As a child, I read many, many stories about the Reformation and why it was needed but really lacked an understanding of the importance of many religious houses in the education, health and social life of the times. One way to begin to understand this is for the children to see the size of some of these places and to talk about their other roles. 

The Abbey which we saw recently was Bayham Old Abbey, on the Kent/Sussex border. This Abbey belonged to the Premonstratensian Canons who kept to an order reputed founded on the rules set by Augustine of Hippo. Like Wenlock Abbey which we saw last year, this Abbey has extensive ruins.

 As well as the remains of an old gatehouse, The Kent Gate. It is assumed that there was a Sussex Gate but nothing remains of this.

This site is large and there were relatively few visitors when we were there-ideal for children who want to run!

There is also still a fair amount of detail.

Plus a much more modern, eighteenth century house on the site. A couple of rooms have been renovated to show the eighteenth century features and not surprisingly, are reminiscent of some of the rooms in some Jane Austen films.

Having romantic remains in the garden was fashionable.

In the distance, is the third related building, Bayham Abbey House which was built in Victorian times.

This was a beautiful, and relaxed day out; vaguely educational but with plenty of space to run. The site would be improved by some information boards but perhaps, that would detract from imagining the Abbey in its complete state, some eight hundred years ago.

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  1. Wow, it's so amazing that you have the opportunity to illustrate your middle ages history lessons with historical sites to visit! Thank you for your pictures...they're the next best thing to being there.

    1. Thank you-it is a real privilege to be able to see so many amazing historical sites.

  2. This looks beautiful! We visited the ruins of the cathedral at St Andrews a few years ago, which was very interesting. I also appreciate your comments about balance, as it is a helpful reminder for me not to leave out that side of things with our children.