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St. Andrew's Church

Aerial Photograph of St. Andrew's Church (1959)

Soham is associated with a premier saint quoted in the annals of English Church history. He was St. Felix (meaning happy or joyful). In 613 AD Sigebert, the exiled son of Redwald, the first Christian King of East Anglia, succeeded his brother Earpwald as King. Sigebert, who had been converted to Christianity in France brought with him to East Anglia, Bishop Felix of Burgundy, who was later consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury as the ‘Apostle of the East Angles’. Felix is renowned as a great missionary and became the first Bishop of the East Angles. King Sigebert allowed him to establish his see at Domnoc, or Dommoc-ceastre.

There has always been uncertainty about the location of Domnoc, many historians believe it to be what was once the seaside port of Dunwich in Suffolk, which is now lost to the sea, but modern research has revealed that Domnoc may in fact be Soham. Domnoc had been a Roman station and, besides the advantage of its port, its walls may still have been strong enough to afford some protection for the new Bishop. It was, moreover, connected with the interior by ancient roads.

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St. Felix is said to have founded a monastery at Soham around 630 AD and was consecrated by Archbishop Honorius in 631 AD. According to the chronicler of the times his episcopate was full of happiness for the cause of Christianity and the admirable historian, Bede, described his work with an allusion to the good omen of his name. Bede wrote that St. Felix "delivered all the province of East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness. As a pious cultivator of the spirited field, he found abundant faith in a believing people. In no part of England was Christianity more favourably introduced".

Bede continues: "He (St. Felix) did not fail in his purpose and like a good farmer reaped a rich harvest of believers. He delivered the entire province from its age-old wickedness and infelicity and brought it to the Christian faith and works of righteousness, and in full accord with the significance of his own name, guided it towards eternal felicity".

An important feature of his mission was the combination of education with religion by means of a school such as existed at Canterbury in connection with the house of SS. Peter and Paul. This school, for which Felix provided teachers "after the model of Kent" was probably attached to the primitive East Anglian Cathedral but its actual location is not known.

"He had the see of his bishopric appointed him in the city Domnoc, and having presided over the same province with pontifical authority for seventeen years, he ended his days there in peace." Whether this was in Soham or Dunwich we cannot be certain. St. Felix died on the 8th March 647 AD and is represented as a Bishop with three rings on his right hand.

For 200 years the monastic settlement at Soham thrived until around 870 AD when the Danes made their destructive progress across the region, they destroyed the Abbey, stealing its treasures, killing the monks and burning the buildings to the ground.  The Abbey was never rebuilt, and the actual site remains a mystery, although, in 1120 AD, William de Malmsebury records that the ruins here were still visible.
Except for traces of Saxon masonry in the Norman Church of St Andrew, no physical evidence for the Abbey survives above ground.  Stone remains may well have been exported to assist in the rebuilding of the more easily defended monastery of St Etheldreda at Ely, which was brought down at the same time.

St Felix's remains were later removed by a monk named Etheric to Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, and there solemnly enshrined by Abbot Ethelstan circa 1030 AD.

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