It comprises the remains and foundations 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. It is a Grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The Abbey is the second largest in Somerset after Glastonbury. Of the main building only some foundation walls remain. The south cloister walk and the north wall of a refectory are other surviving features. The only 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 site of the Abbey was effectively an island in the marshy and frequently flooded Somerset Levels. It was therefore an ideal religious retreat (cf. Ely Cathedral). There is believed to have been a religious building erected on the site as early as 693, although the Benedictine monks were not established there until the 10th century.
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 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.
A local tale, but one found in many other locations in the British Isles, 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. Like many such tales, it is believed to be entirely fictitious.
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- Map: streetmap.co.uk
- English Heritage: Muchelney Abbey
- The Heritage Trail: Muchelney Abbey
- IsleofAvalon:Muchelney Abbey
- Detailed historical record for Muchelney Abbey