"Do you come from Bardney?" .... As winter approaches and the cooler weather takes over, that question will be asked quite often around Lincolnshire, and a good way beyond. Of course, the questioner isn't really interested in where you come from, but is telling you that you've left the door open and there's probably an almighty draft blowing through the room. So what has that got to do with Bardney? Well, it's a tale that goes back over 13 centuries to Saxon times, when Ethelred was King of Mercia.
King Oswald of Northumbria
Ethelred's wife was Queen Osthryd, and she was the niece of King Oswald of Northumbria. Oswald was killed in battle in the year 642 and in the years that followed he was made into a saint. Ethelred decided that he would found a monastery at Bardney to be a shrine to St Oswald. Thus, in the year 675 the monastery was founded and arrangements were made to bring the body of St Oswald to Bardney. Not all of the saint came to Lincolnshire, for saint's relics were very important objects in those days, and were able to work miracles and heal all sorts of ills. So Oswald's head went to the great Abbey at Lindisfarne, his arms were sent to Bamburgh, but the rest of him was reverently loaded onto a cart and transported on the long and difficult journey to Bardney.
The tale of the arrival of St Oswald's bones at Bardney is told by a Durham monk, the Venerable Bede, in his book 'A History of the English Speaking Peoples'. This is the only written history of those times which exists. Bede tells us that when the cart bearing Oswald's coffin arrived at the abbey gates the monks were suspicious. They shut the gates and refused to allow the cart into the abbey precinct. The cart stood outside the locked gates all night, but during the night a great pillar of light shone skywards from the coffin and convinced the monks that Oswald was indeed a saint and that they had been wrong to shut his coffin out.
The next day they welcomed the remains of St Oswald into the abbey and, so the tale goes, they removed the great doors of the abbey so that such a mistake could never be made again. And so we have the saying: "Do you come from Bardney", meaning the you've left the door open!
The arrival of the Vikings
Bardney Abbey became a place of great pilgrimage with visitors from throughout the kingdom and from over the sea coming to revere Saint Oswald's bones for nearly 200 years – but then, around the year 870, disaster struck. Marauding Vikings attacked monasteries up and down the English countryside – they sacked Bardney Abbey, killed the monks and destroyed the buildings. The shrine of St Oswald was desecrated and the abbey was abandoned. In 913 his bones were moved to Gloucester.
However, not all was lost for, twenty years after the Norman invasion, the new Norman lord of Bardney, Gilbert de Gant, founded a new monastery at Bardney close to the site of the lost Saxon Abbey. Bardney Abbey, although small, prospered for nearly 500 years before it was closed down by Henry VIII along with all the monasteries in the land, in the great Dissolution.
Bardney Abbey today
All that remains today are the faint traces of the walls and precincts of the lost abbey, and that enigmatic question whose meaning is known across several counties: "D'ye cum from Bardney?"
Director, Heritage Lincolnshire