October 13 2020 – Minster Abbey, Minster, Isle of Sheppey, Kent.
“Make much of your steed. He has saved your life but he shall yet be the means of you losing it.”
Cursed the witch upon the head of Sir Robert De Shurland as he rode his favourite horse, Grey Dolphin, ashore at Scapgate on the Isle of Sheppey, after being pardoned by King Edward I for the killing of a priest at nearby Minster Abbey. In an effort to thwart the curse, Sir Robert drew his sword, thrusting it deep into the neck of Grey Dolphin, killing the horse immediately. He left the corpse to rot where it lay on the beach.
Three years later, while walking on the beach, Sir Robert came across the sun, wind and sea-bleached skull of Grey Dolphin, half sticking out in the sand. In a fit of grief-filled anger he kicked the partially exposed skull, badly breaking a toe in the process. A blood infection caused by unhealed bone fragments took his life not long after. The witch’s curse was fulfilled…
As I was driving from Sheerness to Shellness I spotted a sign for Minster Abbey. I had not heard of it before so a visit was not on the plan, as I was doing a ruin-based road trip. I love an abbey it so seemed remiss to not take the short detour to the highest point on Sheppey. It is not that high. There has been an abbey on this hill in Minster in some form or other since 664.
There is not much left of any of the various abbey structures that preceded King Henry VIII ordering the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541, but it is a lovely and quite space; and right next to the working men’s’ club. The museum was closed so I took a walk around the outside instead.
The buildings have been renovated beautifully and are in wonderful condition. They look fabulous in this weak autumn afternoon sunlight.
I am guessing the year on this stone reads 1826, though it could read 1226. Who knows, who cares? Whatever. I love how one number has been worn by footsteps so much more than others, yet it is a number in the middle. Why?
I was mainly interested in the grave stones, which have all been moved to the perimeter, lined up in some order or other. I wonder what has happened to the bodies that these stones marked? Are they still where they were buried, broken down into dirt by time and nature, or have they been dug up and relocated with or without their head stone. Are the curses of old still placed upon those long passed?
Why a skull? Was this a plague grave or do they mark the burned or drowned remains of a witch buried here in this consecrated ground? A warning to those who came after to not disturb this ground.
I could not make out from the writing as it has faded too much, if these two joined in death by the vines were joined in life by other ties.
I wasn’t here long, and would like to go back and visit the museum which was closed on this autumn Wednesday. Apparently there is a great view from the roof, and that is rumoured to be in memory of a horse named Grey Dolphin.
As usual, as I started writing this post I researched the building and location to at least get some of the historical facts right. Normally I rely on Wikipedia as an (un)reliable source of information, though this abbey appears to be so insignificant that no one has bothered to create an entry for it.
There is a very detailed history page on the abbey website, and for such a small place it has a fabulous and long history and it is worth reading.
I also carry an immense burden of guilt as my cousin Roger, lives on Sheppey and I know he works with the churches on the island. In my research I saw that he is the treasurer of the abbey. I have not been in contact with him for quite some time. I am terribly negligent in contacting family, I keep meaning to be better, but…. well, there is always another excuse.