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Thetford Priory, Norfolk

The town of Thetfordís importance as a religious centre started when the east Anglian bishopric moved here in 1071. 22 medieval churches were located in Thetford during its heyday. It resulted in the building of 12 other religious houses.

Thetford Priory ruins by Barbara Ballard The Priory of Our Lady of Thetford was established by Roger Bigod, William the conquerorís friend, in 1104. Twelve Cluniac monks, who came from Lewes priory in Sussex, staffed it. Originally it was located south of the river and took in the church of St Mary (once the diocese cathedral). In 1107 a site north of the river was chosen by prior Stephen due to overcrowding. By this time 20 monks lived at the priory. In 1114 the new church was completed while construction of the other buildings and cloister continued throughout the 12th century.

A lady chapel was built in the early 13th century on the north side of the church. The legend surrounding the building of the chapel states that the virgin Mary appeared to a local craftsman to say he would be cured of illness if he told the monks to build this chapel. Pilgrims wanting to be rid of their illnesses put the priory on their visitation list after the building of the chapel. The money they brought paid for a rebuilding of the priory church in the late 13th century.

The priory was dissolved in 1540 when the Kingís commissioners took it from the prior and 16 monks. The site was robbed of much of its carved stone and flint.

Thetford Priory Gatehouse by Barbara Ballard Today the priory site is in ruins. On the grounds can be seen the remains of the early 12th century church and its nave, side aisles, the quire, the transepts, and the lady chapel. Parts of the cloister, domestic buildings, and chapter house are visible. To the south-east are the ruins of the infirmary and a two storey priorís lodgings. The gatehouse is north-west in the grounds of Abbey house. It is faced with knapped flint. Also surviving as ruins is the priory of the Holy Sepulchre and the remains of a Dominican friary in the grounds of Thetford school, and the Benedictine church of St Georgeís nunnery south of Nunnís Bridges.

Visitor Information

Thetford Priory
Thetford, Norfolk
At the west side of Thetford near the train station, close to the A11 and the A134
Tel. none
Open: all year, daily, daytime hours (open site)
Owned by English Heritage


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