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The ruins of Thetford Priory are a short walk from the town centre. Thetford was one of the largest, richest and most important monasteries in East Anglia. It was founded in 1103 by Robert Bigod, the 1st Earl of Norfolk, a close friend of William the Conqueror, though building continued until sometime in the 1170s and alterations took place throughout the priory’s life. A gatehouse, probably the most impressive ruin remaining, was added in the 14th century.
In 1248, the Prior of Thetford, Stephen, was stabbed by a fellow monk and died just outside the west door of the church.
Thetford enjoyed a considerable degree of financial success thanks to a statue of the Virgin Mary, which was reputed to have miraculous powers and which attracted pilgrims by the drove. For 400 years, it was also the buriual place of the earls and dukes of Norfolk.
The priory was dissolved by Henry VIII’s commissioners in 1540, though the Prior’s Lodging continued as a private house for another 200 years.