One of the most important East Anglian monasteries, it was founded in 1103 by Roger Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk, and dedicated to Our Lady. In the 13th century, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in a vision to locals requesting the addition to the site of a Lady Chapel. During its construction, the old statue of her on the site was discovered to have a hollow in its head concealing saints' relics, and became a magnet for pilgrims.
It housed the tombs of the Howard dynasty, of Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and of other early Tudor Dynasty officials. Even this could not save the priory from the Dissolution of the Monasteries and, on its closure in 1540 (it was one of the last priories to be dissolved), the Howard tombs were removed to St Michael the Archangel, Framlingham.
Its ruins (including the lower walls of the church and cloister, along with the impressive shell of the priors' lodging and, reached by a pathway from the main site, an almost complete 14th-century gatehouse) are open to the public as an English Heritage site. The priory and gatehouse are Grade I listed buildings. The ruins are reputedly haunted and were the subject of an episode of the television series Ghosthunters.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, another Grade I listed building, is 300 metres to the south.
- Historic England. "Remains of Priory of Our Lady of Thetford including Prior's Lodging (Grade I) (1297875)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
- Historic England. "Priory Gatehouse (Grade I) (1195946)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
- Historic England. "Remains of Priory of St Sepulchre (Grade I) (1195947)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
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