Breedon Priory, Leicestershire

The site of the church of St. Mary & St.Hardulph at Breedon-on-the-Hill is extremely ancient. It can be seen for miles, sitting atop the dramatic cliff which shoots up into the sky to dominate all the land around. This was the site of an Iron Age hillfort and quite probably a Roman Temple which was converted for Christian use by King Hardulph of the Tomset (Saxons from round Tamworth) in the 6th century. He later became a saintly hermit and friend of St. Modwen of Burton-on-Trent, and was buried at Breedon. In AD 676, the land was given by a local lord named (St.) Frithuric to King Aethelred of Mercia 's new abbey at Medeshamstead (Peterborough) and the monks established a small monastery at Breedon. Frithuric and two other - otherwise unknown - saints, Cotta and Benna, were buried there. However, the  complex was torched by the Vikings in AD 874 and the monks fled. In 1122, the ruinous buildings were given, by Robert de Ferrers, to Nostell Priory in Yorkshire and a small community of Augustinian Canons took up residence. They rebuilt the east end of the Saxon church to form the present building while the antiquated nave was left for the use of the parish. It was again remodelled in the 13th century and, at the Dissolution, was bought by Francis Shirley for use as a private mausoleum. His family's pew and excellent monuments can be seen in the north aisle. By this period, the nave was in an advanced state of disrepair and so the villagers persuaded Shirley to let them use his new purchase as their parish church. The nave was then pulled down, but its western tower had an extraordinarily fine collection of Saxon stone carvings which were removed to the porch. In 1937, they joined other carvings already placed around the church interior and today form "the cream of known carving from the 8th-9th centuries".

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