Roystone Cave and Hermitage

Posted by: Richenda at Wednesday August 27, 2008 in

From one project to the next! With Shrines finished, I am now beginning to transcribe Rotha Mary Clay’s book Hermits and Anchorites of England .

Stumbling around the bookshelves turned up something interesting on 13th century Knights Templar Royston Cave and Hermitage. I’m including a little bit more information, a tragic story, and a few pictures, here.

According to S. Baring-Gould, and his Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe, the Royston hermitage was likely occupied up to the time of the Reformation. At that time, though, the subterranean cavern was filled in with dirt. The cave was rediscovered during an 18th century renovation project, and the local townsfolk dug it out in hopes of finding treasure. Mr. Beldam of the Royal Society of Antiquaries turned up about 1852 to check it out, finding the bell-shaped cave:

“The cave is bell-shaped, and from the floor to the top of the dome measures 25½ feet. The bottom is not quite circular, but nearly so, and in diameter is from 17 feet to 17 feet 6 inches. A broad step surrounds it, 8 inches wide and 3 feet from the floor. About 8 feet above the floor a cornice runs round the walls cut into a reticulated or diamond pattern two feet wide. Almost all the space between the step and this cornice is occupied with sculpture, crucifixes, saints, martyrs, and subjects not easy to explain. Vestiges of red, blue, and yellow are visible in various places, and the relief of the figures has been assisted by a dark pigment” (from page 224-5).

They believe it had originally been—

“…an ancient shaft….But in medieval times the puticolus [porticus] was enlarged and converted into a hermitage, and a hermit is known to have occupied it till the eve of the Reformation, for in the Churchwarden’s book of the parish of Bassingborne, under the date 1506, is the entry, ‘Gyft of 20d. recd. off a Hermytt depting at Roiston in ys pysh’” (from page 225).

Most of the rest that Baring-Gould has to say follows here:

…[Dr.] Stukeley was quite convinced that Royston cave was the oratory of the Lady Rohesia, daughter of Aubrey de Vere, who succeeded her father in 1088, but there exists not evidence that she ever lived at Royston. The place takes its name from Rohesia, daughter of Eudo Dapifer.

“In 1537, says Froude, while the harbours, piers, and fortresses were rising in Dover, ‘an ancient hermit tottered night after night from his cell to a chapel on the cliff, and the tapers on the altars before which he knelt in his lonely orisons made a familiar beacon far over the rolling waters. The men of the rising world cared little for the sentiment of the past. The anchorite was told sternly by the workmen that his light was a signal to the King’s enemies’ (a Spanish invasion from Flanders was expected), ‘and must burn no more ; and when it was next seen, three of them waylaid the old man on his way home and threw him down and beat him cruelly.’ [footnoted as History of England, vol. iii. p. 256.]
“The following notice appeared in the Daily Express of 9 th June 1910. ‘A subterranean chamber with a spiral staircase at one end and a Gothic roof has been discovered at Greenhithe. It is believed to have been a hermit’s cell.’”

Gould goes on to say, on page 227,

“I do not recall any harsh words of the departed hermit. After the Reformation it was felt that a factor in life was gone that could be ill spared.”

And here are the pictures of Royton I promised you:

Sculpture in Royston Cave, Representing S. Christopher and other Saints, men in armour and ladies (facing page 220). (Photo by R. H. Clarke, Royston.) Large Size Image here.

Sculpture in Royston Cave, S. Catherine, the Crucifixion, the Five Wounds, and sundry enigmatical figures (facing page 222). (Photo by R. H. Clarke, Royston.) Large Size Image here.

Royston Cave, A section. The entrance with steps at the side is a modern addition (facing page 226). (Photo by R. H. Clarke, Royston.) Large Size Image here.

S. Baring-Gould’s Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe, published by Seeley and Co. Limited, 38 Great Russell Street, London, in 1911,

For more information, see the Royston Cave"> website.

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