|You may be wondering why we are marking the feast day of this obscure 7th century East Anglian monk and early English saint. Contradictory accounts exist of the early life of Botolph, or Botwulf, who was born around 610AD. Most versions of his story however agree that he spent time in a monastery in France before returning to England to promote Christianity and a version of the Benedictine rule. He was granted land by AEthelmund, King of the South Angles, to found a monastic house at a remote spot called Ikenhoe. There is some dispute about the location of this place, some historians say Suffolk others Essex, but most claim that Botolph's monastery was close to the modern town of Boston in Lincolnshire. The derivation of place names can be a tortuous business but it is generally claimed that Boston derives from 'Boltoph's Town' (variants Botolfston, Botelstone, Botolf's tun, Bostonstow). The name was exported to America when 17th century emigrants from Boston, Lincs named their settlement in Massachusetts Boston in memory of their home town. St Botolph is still venerated by the Catholic community of that fair city to this day.
Botolph died in 680 and his fame soon spread far and wide. He has been adopted as a patron saint of merchandising, sea-faring, priesthood, farming and travelling. Eventually over 100 churches in England were dedicated in his name and his patronage also extended to churches throughout Scandinavia.
So why are we bothered? The reason is that St Botolph's influence extended as far as Weardale in the North Pennines. In the village of Frosterley a medieval chapel, predecessor to the current church built on a different site, was dedicated in the saint's name. The name Frosterley is Norman in origin but prior to the Norman conquest the settlement may have been called Bottlingham, after St Botolph. In 2013 and 2014 Altogether Archaeology excavated the site of St Botolph's Chapel and confirmed that the foundations of the medieval chapel still exist beneath demolition debris that has accumulated since its abandonment and dereliction. We found evidence that the chapel was repaired or rebuilt in the 12th century and may have been constructed on the site of an earlier building, removing or masking most of the evidence for it. The excavation yielded important early medieval finds, principally fragments of an Anglo-Saxon stone cross which has been dated to the first half of the 8th century and suggests the presence of a settlement or religious site at that date. Later medieval finds included a fine stone carved head (mid - late 12th century), two adjoining pieces of a font carved from Frosterley marble (late 12th - early 13th century), and two fragments of a freestanding cross head (12th century).
This was one of Altogether Archaeology's most important excavations to date and we are pleased to celebrate it by honouring the feast of St Botolph.