Axminster is at the crossing of two ancient roads, adopted by Romans as the Fosse Way to Aquae Sulis (the modern Bath in Somerset ) and Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter) now the County Town of Devonshire.


Records show Saxon Christianity rooted here in the eighth century (786 AD) focused on a "Minster"- a monastic community. It is uncertain where the original Church was located - there are however stories of Saxon Princes, squabbles, battles and burials, and on this site an ancient burial uncovered in the nineteenth century revealed a person of substance and high standing. Athelstan, Alfred's grandson, who reigned over the house of Wessex 924-939 founded a college of priests here. With the coming of the Normans in 1066, the eleventh and twelfth centuries brought an infusion of fresh ideas, new ways, and adventurous architecture, the old structures were overlaid. The Saxon Church however had held fast to the Christian faith in difficult and often brutal times, nurturing sound learning, music, defending justice and mercy, sending missionaries to Europe notably Winfrith (S Boniface) of Crediton.

The Norman de Mohun Family held huge tracts of land in the West Country. Newenham Abbey, built with resources provided by Reginald de Mohun in 1246, was one of many Cistercian monasteries dominating the area. Founded at Citeaux in France, Cistercians became the most successful of mediaeval monastic movements. Using the rule of Benedict and reformed by Bernard, they lived simply and had plain and unadorned churches.

A new Church was built here near the castle (more a fortified house) through the patronage of the de Mohun family - this Church stands close to what is still known as "Castle Street" and "Castle Hill". Alicia de Mohun was influential in its building. Her effigy graces the South wall of the Sanctuary; her hands holding the seal of the Abbey. Her Chaplain, Gervase de Prestaller, is to be found on the north side of the Sanctuary.





Newenham Abbey stood for three hundred years until the dissolution of the monasteries; for some of that time Abbot and Bishop of Exeter disagreed about the appointment of the Priest at this Church ... possibly this was something to do with different styles of leadership and spirituality and the independence cherished by Benedictine orders.

At the Reformation there were wide changes. The closing of Newenham Abbey in the 16th Century brought to an end to the Abbacy of John Cabell (1525-1530). He and the monks were well treated and given an adequate pension; monastic buildings were dismantled, wood, stone and material recycled. Property owned by the Abbey passed into other hands. There are a few traces around town; the north parapet on the Minster Church; some original gargoyles; the doorway in the south east corner; the Archway Bookshop entrance in Church street; and remains of fish farms are still to be found near Holy Cross Church. A few stones on the site of the Abbey still form part of farm buildings near the Axminster bypass.


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