A ten-year dig which uncovered a staggering 120,000 artefacts has now resulted in a fascinating book on the history of Rushen Abbey.

Manx National Heritage has announce the publication of ‘Rushen Abbey: 100 years of excavation’ by Dr Peter Davey.

Rushen Abbey is one of the Isle of Man’s most important Christian heritage sites and came into the ownership of Manx National Heritage in 1998. 

There followed an intensive and extensive programme of archaeological excavations aimed at uncovering and interpreting the physical remains of the medieval monastic site.

Dr Davey said: ‘The Centre for Manx Studies excavations between 1998 and 2008 involved hundreds of individuals including many undergraduate students from several universities and a core of sturdy Manx volunteers whose contribution was invaluable. 

‘We discovered that, although the church and precinct were the smallest in the Cistercian world, Rushen Abbey was actually one of the richer ones and the extensive landholdings are still an integral part of the Manx landscape. ‘

The excavations uncovered a much deeper history of the site, extending beyond the Medieval period historian were already aware of.

‘We knew the site had burials in the medieval period,’ Dr Davey said, ‘but scientific dating techniques have now shown that Rushen Abbey has been a place of Christian burials for 1,000 years from AD400 to 1400.

‘When it came to publishing our excavations, it was clear that we had to include the evidence from all the previous digs on the site, dating back to 1926.  The result of this could have been a report running into a thousand pages! 

‘It was decided that a new and more practical approach would be for my overview of all the historical, archaeological and landscape evidence to be published in print form, and for the detailed, technical reports to be published online.

‘It is a great achievement to have the evidence for life at Rushen Abbey now accessible to anyone with an interest in Manx history and archaeology.’

Curator of Archaeology for MNH, Allison Fox believes the digs were vital in learning more about Rushen Abbey specifically.

She said: “We know a lot about the Cistercian order in general, but we needed the excavations to tell us more about Rushen Abbey specifically.  As is the nature of digging, we started at the most recent level and worked our way down, so artefacts that remind us of the much later social history, when the site of the abbey was a thriving centre of entertainment offering tea dancing and strawberries and cream!

‘But excavation is only one part of the archaeological process.  Following the final season of digging in 2008, work began on cataloguing, analysing and interpreting the layers uncovered and the 120,000 artefacts that had been found. 

‘Dr Davey enlisted the help of specialists to study everything found and this publication presents the results of what the excavations and subsequent research can finally tell us about Rushen Abbey.’

The book can be purchased online at: https://manxnationalheritage.im/shop/product/rushen-abbey-isle-of-man-by-peter-davey and also at the Manx Museum, Rushen Abbey, House of Manannan.