It is also interesting to note that Emperor Antoninus Pius, in his Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, placed Muriduno between Dorchester and Exeter – thought to be the modern Seaton or Honiton. Are Muriduno and Merantum the same settlement?
It can be seen from the foregoing that the view that Cynehard founded the church in Axminster in AD 786 is problematic. Two questions arise for those who support this view. Would a prince be permitted to found a minster, especially an exiled prince? And, if he was buried in the church in AD 786, is it likely that Cynehard founded the church in the same year?
During the excavation of a vault in the south –west corner of the church in 1748, a skull and skeleton filled with lead were discovered. This was not only a typical form of Saxon burial but, following an edict from the Archbishop of Canterbury, became the norm for high-
In the will of Alfred the Great, dated AD 899, the Manor of Exanmynster is included as one of the Royal Manors, described as a Royal estate. (‘exan’ or ‘axan’ meaning water).
In AD 937, King Athelstan won a great victory at Brunanburgh and brought back the bodies of Danish princes and Saxon earls to be buried in the cemetery at Axminster. In the chartulary1 of Newenham Abbey (c. AD 1340) it is noted, “King
1 chartulary: a collection of deeds or charters, especially a register of titles to all the property of an estate or monastery.
Athelstan gave the church of Axminster to seven priests, who should forever serve God for the souls of seven earls and many others ….” Thus, the King gave the priests and Minster collegiate status (in medieval times, this would have been known as a chantry). He endowed the minster with half a hide1 of land from the royal demesne2 of Axminster, known as the Manor of Prestaller (meaning ‘all the priests’).
Modern scholars disagree over the location of Brunanburgh. Many place it in the north of England in locations
as far apart as just north of Sheffield and the Solway Firth. Davidson and Pulman both placed it in the Axe valley. Carter and Cornish were both sceptical about the tradition that Athelstan and the Battle of Brunanburgh were connected with the foundation and endowment of the church in Axminster. This seems to be a minority view.
Many place names in the area point to a battle being fought in the valley in late Saxon times. John Leland, who was chaplain to Henry VIII, and was appointed as the king’s antiquary, used the name Bronebyri when referring to Axminster. It was Saxon practice to use two names for important towns – one describing its military status and the other traditional when referring to civil or ecclesiastical affairs. It is possible that Bronebyri might mean ‘the river with a fortress on it’.
Just one more little twist – one of King Athelstan’s thegns, also called Athelstan, lived in this area and was granted land at Lym (Lyme Regis). Apparently, he was a renowned warrior. Was he the victor at Brunanburgh? It seems that we might never know the truth.
1 hide: originally referred to the land-
So, what can we make of Saxon history in Axminster? It seems certain that an important church was founded here in the 8th Century as a centre for mission to east Devon. Cynehard, a Saxon prince was buried in the church in AD 786. Axminster was a Royal Manor and this is confirmed by the will of King Alfred the Great. The name, Axminster, indicates that the church was regarded as a minster, one of only two in Devon. In AD 937, the bodies of nobles and princes killed in battle were buried in the cemetery. It is probable that King Athelstan endowed the church with land to support the seven priests who were to pray for the souls of those killed in the battle, thus making the minster a chantry.
Venerable Bede Historia Ecclestiastica Gentis Anglorum (AD 731) (Ecclesiastical History of the English People)
James Davidson History of Axminster Church (updated by Robert Cornish)
George Pulman The Book of the Axe
Angela Dudley The Book of Axminster
Various documents and church guides, including:
C. and O. Style Axminster out of the Mists
Various authors Church Guides
Also, information from a number of web sites.
Lambeth Palace Library
Exeter Diocesan Library