The town of Battle is situated in East Sussex, England, and is so named because it was once the site of the Battle of Hastings. In fact, Battle Abbey is built on the very site on which the battle was fought. This abbey was dedicated to St. Martin.
The Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 of our Common Era (CE) and is still recognised as being the victory in the Norman conquest of England. Today, the abbey’s buildings and the ruins that remain are owned and managed by the English Heritage and are still a major tourist attraction. Official tours are conducted regularly to expose the fabulous remnants of this fascinating declaration of times past. It is particularly aimed at educating and entertaining children.
To understand the complex history of Battle Abbey is to appreciate its enormous value. After the Normans invaded, Pope Alexander II ordered that they be punished for the massive scale of killing of the people in England that they had undertaken in their conquest. In response, William the Conqueror promised the Pope that he would erect an abbey on the site of the Battle of Hastings. He even promised that the high altar would be on the spot on which King Harold died in the battle. William the Conqueror died before its completion, but it was eventually completed 24 years later under the guidance of his son. It had been dedicated to St. Martin, and was thus known as the Church of St. Martin of Battle. It would be free of Episcopal Jurisdiction and was, in effect, as high up in the order of churches as Canterbury, which was no mean feat. This earned it much acclaim in the local society.
However, when King Henry VIII implemented the Dissolution of Monasteries, this church was all but completely desolated. The parts that remained were converted into a private home for the monks that had accumulated a pension. Then, in 1719, Sir Thomas Marfleet Battle purchased Battle Abbey from Sir Henry Wheeler. When he died, it was naturally passed onto his son, and thus stayed in the family until 1858. After several other owners, it was again back in the Battle family in 1901, when Sir Augustus Marfleet Battle bought it back.
Since the Second World War, it has been a school. During the 1940’s, it was an all girls’ school, sometimes concealing troops from their enemy. Battle Abbey finally left the ownership of the Battle family in 1976, when it was sold to the government.
Although the actual church of Battle Abbey no longer stands, the buildings that were erected between the 1200’s and the 1500’s tell fascinating tales. Because the abbey itself is such a fragile and treasured remnant, visitors are not allowed to enter it. However, the surrounding buildings, history and heritage around these structures are fascinating, their mystery and intrigue permeating the very air.
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