2021 Symposia

PRESS RELEASE 28th December 2020

Lewes Priory Trust has announced that the Priory will come alive next year after the Covid lockdowns with a colourful series of 16 illustrated talks on Zoom.

© Dr John Crook

© Dr John Crook

“The talks are free to all”, says chairman Sy Morse-Brown, “and we have news of a mysterious underground tunnel, and the chances of new excavations at the Priory park.

The Priory Trust is presenting a line-up of expert speakers in four evening symposia on Zoom.

We’re proud to offer an appealing programme for anyone with a love of Lewes history, telling the story of how our magnificent monastery became one of the top ten in England 900 years ago. Its Great Church was bigger than Chichester Cathedral.

We shall tell the tale of how the Cluniac order of monks was a huge power across Europe 150 years before they even came to Lewes. For 300 years our Priory made a major and lasting mark on England, especially in Sussex, Yorkshire and Norfolk.

Then its huge buildings were unceremoniously blown up by an all-too-expert Italian engineer on the orders of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. We’ll show you some of the bits of it that were re-used in masonry around the town”.



The four symposia, each containing four short talks, begin at 7.30pm on Tuesday 4 May, Friday 7 May, Tuesday 11 May and Friday 14 May.

“What did the Cluniacs ever do for us?” asks the first symposium. It aims to show what was so special about the pathway to heaven offered by Cluniac monasticism, and how its great scholars and administrators put Lewes firmly on the European map.

 “The destruction and rediscovery of the Priory”, the second symposium, is the story of its demolition – which, thanks to the engineer’s reports, tell us much. The evening also tells how the driving of the railway through it, 300 years later, in 1844-6, led to more discoveries and the founding of the Sussex Archaeological Society.

 “Caring for a heritage site into the future”. The present day’s conservation challenges are discussed in the third symposium, . Speakers include the Lewes Town Clerk – the Council is the latest of the many dynasties of Priory owners and benefactors – as well as the Trust’s architect, and local flintman David Smith.

“What the latest research is telling us”, the concluding symposium, , has new insights into the lavatorium where the monks washed their hands before meals, and its associated  but still mysterious tunnel. There will also be encouraging news of possible new excavations on the Priory site that would be scrutinised by Historic England. The lectures finish with evidence the preservation of the Priory’s first small church for centuries, with its service as a shrine to Canterbury’s Saint Thomas Becket.

The series will then be rounded off on Saturday 15 May with a Guided Tour of the Priory Remains by two of the Trust’s experts.

The symposia are free: email [email protected]  to receive the full programme. “We welcome all Lewesians and lovers of Sussex”, says Sy Morse-Brown.