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Former Communards pop star Richard Coles puts Sheppey's Sexburga on the map with tweet

Former pop star the Rev Richard Coles has put the Isle of Sheppey on the map by highlighting one of its stranger-sounding roads.

The ex-member of The Communards, who had a number one smash with Don't Leave Me This Way with singer Jimmy Somerville, is now a vicar and featured the Feast of St Sexburga todaywith a photograph of Sexburga Drive, Minster, on his Twitter feed.

The Rev Richard Cole's tweet putting a road on Sheppey on the map
The Rev Richard Cole's tweet putting a road on Sheppey on the map

Follower AJ Phink was quick to respond with the quip: "Now there’s a fast food franchise waiting to happen."

But Simon Parr soon put him straight with a picture of Minster Abbey and the information: "The church on the Isle of Sheppey founded by St Sexburgha originally as a nunnery. Third oldest church in the UK founded in 664AD."

Mr Coles, 58, who is vicar of Finedon in Northamptonshire, wrote: "It is the Feast of St Sexburga. Sister of St Audrey, she appears whenever the nuns of Ely are threatened to poke their tormentors with pointy sticks. Here’s the street named after her at Sheerness."

The Rev Cindy Kent, herself a former pop star who sang with The Settlers, now takes services at the abbey. She joked: "The church isn't known for talking about sex in public but in this case I think we'll make an exception to talk about our saint. It is very nice of Richard to give us a plug."

By coincidence, the abbey is reopening this weekend after 14 weeks of relying on services streamed from Cindy's kitchen table.

Former Settlers' singer the Rev Cindy Kent
Former Settlers' singer the Rev Cindy Kent

She said: "We will be open for a public service of Holy Communion this Sundayat 11am. A series of safety checks have been carried out and pews marked off as out of bounds. Hand sterilisers are at the door and there is a one-way system in operation."

She added: "We have been thrilled at the huge response to our Facebook online streaming during lockdown. It has attracted large numbers who wouldn’t normally be present in our buildings.

"We don’t want to lose that so we will continue to stream as well as have a live congregation."

The service will not have hymns or allow the congregation to drink from the chalice. The abbey will also be open for private prayer on Wednesdays from 2pm to 4pm and Sundays from noon to 2pm.

Mrs Kent said: "This is a huge step forward and is in response to a number of people longing to get back inside the buildings which mean so much to them. With live streaming as well we are getting the best of both worlds, ancient spirituality combined with 21st century technology.

The Rev Richard Coles, formerly part of The Communards
The Rev Richard Coles, formerly part of The Communards

"The only thing I will really miss will be the hugs when we pass the peace!”

Minster Abbey or, to give it its full title The Abbey Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Sexburga (sometimes spelled Sexburgha), occupies the highest spot on the island and has been a place of worship for more than 1,400 years.

It was founded as a Benedictine nunnery by the widowed Queen Sexburgha of Ely in 664AD.

Sexburga, the eldest of four daughters of Anna, king of the East Angles, married Ercombert, king of Kent. After his death of 'yellow plague' she ruled the kingdom until their son Egbert took control and gave her land at Minster to found a nunnery for 77 'holy virgins.'

According to folklore she had a dream which made her move to Ely where she succeeded her sister Etheldreda as abbess in 679. She died on July 6, 700.

Minster Abbey on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: John Nurden
Minster Abbey on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: John Nurden

Sexburga left Sheppey in the hands of her daughter Ermenilda who went on to marry Wulfhere, king of the Mercians, and succeeded her mother at Ely in 699.

Sexburga was later canonised and eventually shared the dedication of Sheppey with St Mary.

With no stone on the Island, building material for the abbey had to be hewn at Boughton Monchelsea near Maidstone and transported down the River Medway and the Swale.

The abbey was burnt down by invading Danes in 855 but later rebuilt.

Following the Norman invasion of 1066, King William the Conqueror partly rebuilt the church and priory and allowed nuns from Newington to take up residence.

The St Sexburga window in Minster Abbey, Sheppey
The St Sexburga window in Minster Abbey, Sheppey

It remained impoverished until Archbishop de Corbeuil rebuilt it between 1123 and 1139 as an Augustine nunnery using stone imported from the same quarry in Caen, France, used by Canterbury Cathedral.

The abbey was dissolved in 1539 by Henry Vlll and along with Davington Priory near Faversham, now owned by Bob Geldof, came into the possession of Sir Thomas Cheyne, a favourite of Anne Boleyn.

He died in 1558 and is buried there along with Sir Robert de Shurland who owned Shurland Hall in Eastchurch.He is featured in the Ingoldsby legend of Grey Dolphin about his trusty steed which he beheaded after a witch predicted it would be the death of him.

A year later it is said he stubbed his toe on the horse's skull half buried on the beach and died from an infection.

The church was restored by the Rev William Bramston in 1881 and is now a Grade 1 listed building featuring the famous de Northwode brasses from 1330 which are on show on the floor near the choir stalls.

Tomb of Sir Robert de Shurland at Minster Abbey, Sheppey. Picture: John Nurden
Tomb of Sir Robert de Shurland at Minster Abbey, Sheppey. Picture: John Nurden

The old abbey gatehouse still stands and has been turned into a museum.

There will also be live streaming from its sister church Holy Trinity in Sheerness on its Facebook page at 10am on Tuesdays. The church will be open for private prayer until 1pm.

Holy Trinity, Queenborough, will be open from noon to 2pm every Thursday.

Engraving of Minster Abbey, Sheppey from Ireland's History of Kent, Vol 4, 1831, drawn by TM Baynes and engraved by H Adlard
Engraving of Minster Abbey, Sheppey from Ireland's History of Kent, Vol 4, 1831, drawn by TM Baynes and engraved by H Adlard

Read more: Stories from the Isle of Sheppey here


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