South Elmham Minster

These enigmatic ruins, located a short distance from the hall, have been claimed to be those of a minster church or cathedral of the Anglo-Saxon bishops of Elmham, but the most likely explanation is that this was an episcopal chapel built for Herbert de Losinga, Bishop of Norwich (1091-1119). As well as building a new cathedral at Norwich, Herbert left his mark on the older seats of the bishops. He founded a small monastery at Hoxne and at both North and South Elmham, he built special churches. These two churches have a similar plan with unusually large tower bases; a possibility is that there were chapels at first-floor level for the private devotions of the bishop.

Medieval documents refer to the 'church' at South Elmham as le Menstre, le Mynstre, le Mynstreclos or the monasterium, but give no explanation of what this meant. It was not in use as an independent church by the 14th century, though some of the references to a chapel and cloister in the 14th century manorial account rolls could refer to this site or to the complex at the Hall, where there was another chapel. The medieval names imply the presence of a monastery and it is possible that Bishop Herbert Losinga established a cell of the Cathedral Priory of Norwich at South Elmham, as he did at his other Suffolk seat at Hoxne. Interestingly, there is a definite Middle Saxon site nearby, on top of the hill near South Elmham Hall. This could well be the site of the Middle Saxon bishopric of Elmham.

The Minster ruins consist of a flint rubble building aligned approximately east-west and is presumed to be a church. It consists of an eastern apse (not visible above ground, but revealed in excavations 1963/4), a nave and a western narthex or tower base. The 1963/64 excavations also revealed a Late Saxon (10th century) tomb slab fragment built into the church. Indicating the building must have been later than this date.

The ruin lies with a roman ditch and bank enclosure surrounded by a mature woodland of Hornbeam, Oak and Ash.

Site of the Minster ruins Path to Minster