Cratendune (or vallis Cracti) is a village only known from a history compiled at the end of the twelfth century for Ely Cathedral in celebration of foundation of the original abbey, traditionally dated five hundred years earlier. This book, the Liber Eliensis, didn’t give a precise location for the site and so it has remained lost, although several likely archaeological sites have been identified.
The Liber Eliensis history outlines the foundation of the first church in the area as a building built in 607 AD at the village of Cratendune, about a mile from Ely, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The date of the church’s foundation is probably a miscopy by a scribe as the church was said to have been built by Æthelberht of Kent on the insistence of St Augustine, who died in 604. The settlement of Cratendune was apparently an old one, with signs of Roman occupation, but it was lost or abandoned around 650 AD. History records that the church itself was destroyed by or for Penda of Mercia, a known pagan. There is no tradition of people returning to the village between the loss and the compiling of the history.
Modern academics have put forward Cratendune as a candidate for the Drowned Lands process as defined under the Celtic Interpretation school of thought. Evidence is purely circumstantial but the points raised in the argument for this suggestion are:
- There is no tradition of returning to the village and the description of the village’s location are vague, as if it could not be located or accessed. It is theorised that Drowned Lands cannot be accessed due to the boundary between our reality and the Otherworld expanding, somewhat like a lake lying on the land.
- It was common for Christian missionaries and founders of churches to use previously existing sites of pagan worship in order to both convert the locals and prevent said worship continuing. It is rare for a church itself to be or become a waypoint due to the level of work involved in construction. However, the early Anglo-Saxon churches were generally wood and a pre-existing waypoint may not have been disturbed. If the new church congregation were particularly devout, they could perhaps unwittingly strengthen the Otherworld connections and encourage the boundary to expand.
- The connection with Penda and, most importantly, his paganism suggests that the loss of Cratendune was considered unnatural. The Otherworld boundaries had withdrawn enough through much of the Blessed Isles by the time of the Domesday Book in the late eleventh century that many of its effects could be dismissed as pagan magic. This suggests that Penda may be a later explanation, given that he was not known for the destruction of Christian sites and allowed Christianity to be preached throughout his lands, despite not converting himself.