Beckery monastery and chapel

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The small island of hard geology known since the 7th century AD as Beckery has been the venue for a training excavation funded by the Avalon Marshes Heritage Lottery Fund. click on the word ‘medieval’ for blog pages of the beckery and burtle excavations.

The new investigations were undertaken by South West Heritage Trust as a community training excavation, funded by the  HLF Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership.The site has been investigated twice before, once by John Morland (local antiquary) in the 1880’s and then in 1967-8 by Philip Rahtz for the Chalice Well Trust.

The early Norman and late 13th century (poss. 1274 AD rebuild) chapel walls were exposed and human remains excavated from the earlier cemetery. Analysis of those remains have provided the first precise dating evidence for the cemetery, which was thought to be part of a small Saxon monastery. Now it is known that the cemetery begins in the 5th or early 6th century, before the conquest of Somerset by the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the mid 7th century. Study of isotopes in the bones may reveal if the people buried in the cemetery had come to the site from distant areas.

Other trenches investigated things seen on a geophysical survey (by Geoflo Ltd) -another medieval stone building, which looks to be 13th-14th century in date, and an enclosing ditch which appeared to be of Iron Age date from the pottery but was later proved to be of late Saxon date by radiocarbon dating of animal bone.

Several hundred people visited the dig open day. Interim results will be presented on a special day at the nearby Red Brick building in 2017 and a local lecture given in 2017.

Glastonbury Abbey sources from the 12th century link the chapel to King Arthur, who had a vision of Mary Magdelene and the infant Jesus there, and to the Irish Saint Brigit, who is said to have visited in 488 AD and left some items behind. In the Medieval period the chapel was dedicated to Brigit and became a place of pilgrimage to visit her relics.

SWHT manage the site on behalf of Somerset County Council who own the land. It is intended to mark out the site of the chapel on the ground surface and show a revised plan of what we know on the interpretation board beside it. On the former tip site to the south an orchard has been planted and we had just grafted some traditional varieties onto the root stock – roll on Autumn!