The first monastery at Wenlock was founded by Merewald, one of the Magonsaete Royal family, in the seventh century. He made his daughter, Milburga, the first Abbess in about 690AD. The monastery died out during the Anglo-Saxon period.
After the Norman conquest, a church was founded and soon after Earl Roger de Montgomery made the church into an Abbey and Cluniac Priory. The Abbey became extremely rich and powerful, owning much land and holding great political power in the region.
The remains you can visit today of the Church and Chapter House date back to the 13th century. The property is administered by English Heritage who have prepared an audio-tape tour which guides you about the ruins, while telling you about the history of the Priory. Don't miss the wonderful topiary (hedges and bushes cut into shapes of animals).
On 26th may 1101 St. Milburga's remains were discovered near to the Priory by monks. They took her bones and put them in front of the High Altar of their new church. The veracity of their find is uncertain. If your church had a saintly relic, it became a place of pilgrimage which ensured its future wealth. Many visitors would come to the church and the local gentry would bestow goods and land on the church in return for the blessings of the Saint. The cult of St. Milburga grew and many stories were told of her good deeds and exploits.
One story tells of her crossing the River Corve to escape from an unwelcome suitor. After she had crossed the river the waters rose dramatically, making certain the suitor could not follow.
In another version of "And the Water gushed Forth", Milburga was riding an ass which stumbled and fell, injuring itself. Milburga brought forward the waters to heal the beast.
It is not known when she died but records show that the nunnery survived until 874 when it was sacked by invading Danes.
St. Milburga's Well at Stoke St. Milborough
The Godstoke of the story is now called Stoke St. Milborough, in honour of St. Milburga. It is a small village on the slopes of Brown Clee, Shropshire's highest hill. You can still visit her well there, but I make no promises as to its healing powers.
Wenlock Edge is a narrow unbroken wooded escarpment (a ridge with a steep slope on one side and a gentle slope on the other), along which Milburga must have travelled often. It runs from Much Wenlock to Craven Arms in the heart of south Shropshire.
The fossil-rich limestone strata were laid down about 330 million years ago as the sediment of the tropical sea that lay above. If you look carefully into the Wenlock Limestone you can find many fossil shells and corals. The Limestone has been quarried for many years as a supply of building stone for the surrounding districts.
There are many stories of the Edge and today there is a yearly Festival of Story Telling held at Stoke barns. Two of the most famous stories are fixed to landmarks along the Edge.
The Major's Leap (map ref. SO 592980) is said to be where major Smallman, a royalist in the English Civil War, jumped off the Edge on horseback to an almost certain death to escape his pursuers.
At Ippikin's Rock (map ref. SO 569965) a robber Knight, Ippikin, and his ferocious gang were imprisoned in a rock fall which blocked the entrance to their cave hideaway. Beware! Lights can be seen at night coming from the cave and Ippikin lays in wait to throw inquisitive searchers to their doom.