A stunning ruined Benedictine Priory, among the most complete and impressive monastic ruins in Norfolk, dominates a rural setting in Binham four miles from Blakeney.
The nave is surrounded by open fields commanding pastoral views reminiscent of a John Constable painting - a tranquil scene which belies its turbulent past. For within the ruins lie tales of scandal, cruelty and rebellion.
Binham was home to a Benedictine community of monks for over 400 years. Its history is one of almost continuous scandal. Many of its priors proved to be unscrupulous and irresponsible.
One instigated a battle with the king, another went mad and was kept in chains until his death. He was buried in the churchyard still in chains.
The scale of the ruined buildings, founded in 1091 by Peter des Valoines, a nephew of William the Conqueror, create a sense of just how important and grand the original building would have been in its full glory.
The nave remains in use as the local parish church of St Mary and Holy Cross holding regular services and is a venue for concerts with its wonderful acoustics. This link provides a programme of concerts.
A gallery in a side room of the church displays rich archaeological finds linked to the site’s history.
Guided tours of Binham Priory and its monastic precincts, lasting about an hour, are given every Sunday and Tuesday starting at 3.00pm. Booking is unnecessary.
The priory ruins, an English Heritage site, is open during daylight hours and access to the nave of the original priory church is normally open from 9am to 6pm but can be restricted during services.
The imposing building has a striking 13th century west front and fine tiers of Norman arches. It also has the former rood screen with medieval saints overpainted with Protestant texts.
The abbot in charge was also the Lord of the Manor of Binham and received tithes from 13 other Norfolk churches. He had between eight and 14 monks at the priory. The building was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1539 and much of the stonework was dismantled and used in local homes.
The priory's extensive ruins beyond emphasise how enormous the original monastery was and provide really spectacular photographs.
A stroll from the site takes you into the village of Binham. The village green in the centre of the village has an ancient 15th century stone cross which could have been erected by the priory monks.
The green was the site of an annual fair and weekly market following a charter granted by Henry I in the 12th century. The annual fair was held from the 1100s to the 1950s.
Some 12,000 stone crosses were erected around England but fewer than 2,000 survive. This is one of the best surviving examples of a medieval standing cross in Norfolk.
Stone crosses were used as places for preaching, public proclamation and penance, and for defining rights of sanctuary. They also marked parish, property or settlement boundaries, and sometimes to commemorate battles.
The Chequers Inn in the village provides a good selection of food and drinks.