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Muchelney Abbey

Ilchester, Somerset

Featured Location Guide

The Abbey was the second largest in Somerset after Glastonbury . Today we have the remains of a medieval Benedictine Abbey, the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon abbey, and an early Tudor house dating from the 16th century, formerly the lodgings of the resident Abbot.

A fine unusual intact structure is the Abbot's House with well-preserved architectural features including external stonework and inside a great chamber with ornate fireplace, carved settle and stained glass, and timber roof. An unusual attraction is the nearby thatched two-storey monks' lavatory, unique in Britain.

The south cloister walk and the north wall of a refectory are surviving features otherwise only some foundation walls remain.

Muchelney, the atmospheric and once-remote 'great island' amid the Somerset Levels. This area before the drains (canals) were put in, was largely inaccessible. Tidal surges also came in across some parts of the Somerset levels several times. It is this area and islands that some feel are connected with the stories of King Arthur.

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The site of the Abbey was effectively an island in the marshy and frequently flooded Somerset Levels. It was therefore an ideal religious retreat. There is believed to have been a religious building erected on the site as early as 693 (most likely none Catholic) probably with monks from Glastonbury. The Benedictine monks were not established there until the 10th century.

According to the 11th century Domesday survey, Benedictine Muchelney owned Muchelney, Midelney and Thorney islands.

Much of the building was carried out in the 12th century. By the 16th century the Abbey included an Abbey Church, a desmesne farm barton, an almonry, the parish church of St Peter and St Paul with its vicarage, and a Cross dating from the 15th century (moved in 1830 to near the parish church). The parish church (just outside the EH boundary) can also be dated to Saxon times, but the present building was completed by the abbots in the early 15th century.

In 1538 the Abbey with all land and possessions was surrendered by the monks to Henry VIII in the course of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The whole property and advowson was then granted to Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, later 1st Duke of Somerset. On his execution in 1552 it reverted to The Crown.

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In addition on this site we have a complete early Tudor house in miniature. Originally the abbots' lodgings, this charming building includes a magnificent great chamber with ornate fireplace, carved settle and stained glass, two rooms with time-faded walls painted to resemble cloth hangings and a pair of kitchens with fine timber roof. An exhibition illustrates monastic life with a fascinating collection of site finds, including decorated tiles and stonework. 

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A local tale,  describes a love between a young man and the daughter of an important knight, who, being against their union, forbade their marriage. The heartbroken man became a monk and travelled in due course to Muchelney Abbey. There to his great surprise he found his former love cloistered as a nun whereupon they renewed their relationship not just in defiance of her father but also in defiance of Holy Orders. They planned to elope but, unhappily, were betrayed. The young monk (or in some versions he is the Prior) was sent in disgrace to a distant Abbey while the nun was walled up in a secret passage somewhere within the Muchelney Abbey buildings.


Further information Grid



Muchelney Abbey, nr Ilchester, Somerset

Ceremonial County: Somerset

Grid Reference:


Map Link:


Aerial photo: Google Aerial  



Best Times to Visit:






Other useful websites:


Nearby Locations:  
Other Relevant pages: Abbey Section, including all major Christian buildings, regions orders, normal layouts and history.


Planning Grid


Muchelney Abbey, nr Ilchester, Somerset

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

In Muchelney, 2 miles S of Langport via Huish Episcopi




Own car park - Free



Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Buildings, architecture, views.

What to take:

Tripod, level, wide angle lens.

Nature highlights:







TA10 0DG


01458 250664

Opening times:

Daily. 1 Apr-30 Jun and September 10am-5pm
1 Jul-31 Aug 10am-6pm; October 10am-4pm
Closed 1 Nov- 31 Mar

The fine adjacent parish church and the medieval Priest's House (pos NT) are not managed by English Heritage.


English Heritage - Free to members

Adults 4.20; Child (5-15) 2.50; Concessions 3.80

Photo Restrictions:


Other Restrictions:  
Special Needs Access:  
Special Needs Facilities: Facilities for disabled visitors include a touch-screen tour of less accessible areas.
Children Facilities: A good site for children with no obvious dangers
Dogs Allowed: in grounds on a lead

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Keith Park Section: Abbey and Religious Buildings Key:
Page Ref: Muchelney_Abbey Topic: Abbeys Last Updated: 02/2011

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