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St. Abban
(5th Century)
(Latin: Abanus; English: Avon)

Abban's background is disputed. Some say he was an Irish missionary, others that he was a secular Briton, the son of a wealthy consul at the Court of High-King Vortigern. Whatever his origins, he is said to have been present at Stonehenge during what was supposed to have been an Anglo-Briton Peace Conference around AD 456. In later years, the occasion become known as the "Night of the Long Knives" because the Saxons massacred all the British nobility gathered there. Abban was one of the few to escape alive. He fled North across the Wiltshire and Berkshire Downs, until he reached the relative safety of the upper Thames Valley. The slaughter he had witnessed so horrified him that Abban decided to settle there and devote his life to prayer. the local King was impressed by his devotion and granted him large tracts of land around Sunningwell. Here, on Boar’s Hill, he built himself a little hermitage, and lived humbly on nuts and berries. At first there was no fresh water, but, in answer to Abban's prayers, a spring miraculously appeared outside his door. Soon the place became well known as "Abban's Hill", and many men came to seek his advice and join him. They built a little chapel to St. Mary on the hill where sixty quire monks lived keeping a continuous round of services. But Abban's followers grew so vast in numbers that five hundred other monks are said to have lived like him, by their labours, as hermits in the surrounding woods, returning to the chapel only on Sundays and at festivals. It all got too crowded for Abban. He descended from the hill and left for Ireland to seek deeper solitude.

In reality, Abban never existed. He was invented to explain the name of Abingdon, a major medieval monastic town near Boar's Hill. This was actually named after St. Aebbe of Minster-in-Thanet, the Queen of Magonset, whose kingdom - based on Herefordshire - once stretched out towards the Thames. She also has a church dedicated to her in Oxford. Abban's supposed Irish roots probably stem from the fact that there were two Irish saints of this name active two generations later.

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