In the year 1000, Slepe, later to become known as St Ives, was an ordinary fen-edge village sited on a river crossing, between Hemingford upstream and Holywell downstream. It’s name means “Muddy”, and the only significant thing about it was that the whole parish was part of the Ramsey Abbey estates.
Ramsey Abbey had been founded in 969 by Ailwyn Earldorman of East Anglia and Oswald who was Archbishop of York. It so happened that Oswald was related to the wife of Athelstan Mannessone a local wealthy landowner in Slepe and she in turn was mother of Eadnoth a monk at Worcester. Eadnoth was brought to Ramsey Abbey by Oswald, and became it’s first Abbot on Oswalds death in 992
Eadnoth during his Abbacy, was keen to increase the estates of the Abbey, and during his time Ramsey received large donations of land from a few influential families, One of these donations was from the Mannessone family. Athelstan (Eadnoth’s father ) died in 986 leaving a will, which left his land in Slepe to his youngest daughter (Eadnoth’s sister) Alfwenna, with the provision of reverting to Ramsey Abbey if she died without heirs.
A complicated three sided dispute followed, one of the parties being Ramsey Abbey and another being a priest called Osward, who was related to Alfwenna. It was finally resolved and Ramsey Abbey gained outright 10 Hides of land at Slepe. This block of land combined with 10 Hides adjoining at Woodhurst and Oldhurst formed the largest holding of Ramsey Abbey at that time, and at Domesday (1086). Some land at Chatteris was also left to Ramsey, which enabled Eadnoth to establish a nunnery there, where he installed his sister Alfwenna as it’s first prioress. (ref 17)
The year 1001 marks a major change to the fortune of Slepe, this was the year that a villager while ploughing uncovered a stone coffin, which contained a human skeleton and religious tokens. He and his companions summoned the leading men in the community , the bailiff who was a monk and the steward who was the smith. It was thought that the bones were of some holy man, because of the valuable items buried with him. So they sent for Abbot Eadnoth.
That same night, a shining figure appeared in a dream to the smith and told him that he was bishop Ivo. He told the smith that in the morning he was to go back to the place that they had discovered the coffin and dig up the bones of his two companions. The smith did nothing. On the second night he had the same dream. But still he did nothing. On the third night he dreamed that the angry saint had fastened his leggings very tightly to his legs , so when he woke up he could not stand or walk.
This time he told the Abbot about the dream. The Abbot himself helped to uncover St Ivo’s two companions, and the remains were translated to Ramsey Abbey with a great procession. St Ivo and his two companions were buried with great ceremony in front of Ramsey Abbey’s sanctuary and pilgrims were encouraged to pray at his shrine.
In 1087 Herbert de Losinga was appointed the new Abbot of Ramsey and set about developing his property at Slepe. To him it became obvious that Slepe was better positioned geographically than Ramsey, it lay on an important river crossing with good access north and south. Because of this he realised, that pilgrims would find it easier to visit a shrine at Slepe than to make the difficult journey to Ramsey. It was decided that Ramsey Abbey would keep the bones of St Ivo, whilst the bones of the saint’s two companions would be returned to Slepe and reburied there in a Chapel built to commemorate their discovery.
Legend has it, that when the bones were reburied, a spring of water from their shrine started to flow. To this spring was attributed healing properties, which no doubt helped to increase the influx of pilgrims. A small priory was also built to house the two or three monks who looked after the shrine. (ref 18)
In 1110 Henry 1 granted a Charter for an annual fair at Slepe, this fair lasted eight days.