These images are from a very battered 1655 etching showing the Cursus Cerve -the deer line, a historic boundary line across Thanet caused in legend by the course of St Domneva’s deer.

St Domneva, also known as Domne Eafe/Domne Éue/ Æbbe/Ebba/Eormenburg, lived in the seventh century. After her twin brothers, claimants to the Kent throne, were murdered, she was offered wergild (blood money) by her remorseful uncle King Ecgberht of Kent, who had been persuaded by his reeve, Thunor, to have them killed. Domneva asked for land, rather than money, as compensation because she wanted to establish an abbey: specifically, she requested as much land as her pet hind could run in a course. Ecgbehrt agreed and according to the legend, the deer ran across the then Isle of Thanet from Westgate to Minster. When the deer was half way across the island, Thunor tried to stop it running: at that moment, the earth opened up and swallowed Thunor at a place from then on known as þunores hlæwe (Old English 'Thunor's mound'). It’s thought that this might have been a means of asserting the early Christian church on the kingdom of Kent, and Thunor represented Thor and the burial of pagan idols.

Domneva built an abbey at Minster in Thanet, where the deer course ended. Her daughter was St Mildred (Mildrith) who succeeded her mother as Abbess of Mister Abbey. The line caused by the course of the deer later became known as St Mildred’s Lynch and was believed to be an ancient ridge, although it may have been created to divide the manors of Monkton and Minster. Even by the eighteenth century it had disappeared, eroded by farming practices.

This map is a copy of an early fifteenth century map by Thomas Elmham, now in Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

And hio ða swa dyde þæt hio þæt wergeld geceas þurh Godes fultum on ðam iglande þe Teneð is nemmed: þæt is þonne hundeahtatig hida landes þe hio ðær æt þæm cyninge onfeong. And hit ða swa gelamp þa se cyning and hio Domne Eafe ærest þæt land geceas, and hi ofer þa ea comon, þa cwæð se cyning to hire hwylcne dæl þæs landes hio onfon wolde hyre broðrum to wergilde. Hio him andsworode and cwæð þæt hio his na maran ne gyrnde þonne hire hind utan ymbe yrnan wolde, þe hire ealne weg beforan arn ðonne hio on rade wæs. Cwæð þæt hire þæt getyðed wære þæt hio swa myceles his onfon sceolde swa seo hind hire gewisede. He ða se cyning hire geandsworode and cwæð þæt he þæt lustlice fægnian wolde. And hio ða hind swa dyde þæt hio him beforan hleapende wæs, and hi hyre æfter filigende wæron, oðþæt hi comon to ðære stowe þe is nu gecwedon Þunores Hlæwe. And he ða se Þunor to ðam cyninge aleat, and he him to cwæð, ‘Leof, hu lange wylt ðu hlystan þyssum dumban nytene, þe hit eal wyle þis land utan beyrnan? Wylt ðu hit eal ðære cwenon syllan?’ And ða sona æfter þyssum wordum se eorðe tohlad.

(Old English source, an eleventh-century text which is edited in M. J. Swanton, ‘A Fragmentary Life of St. Mildred and Other Kentish Royal Saints’, Archæologia Cantiana xci (1975), 15-27).

cursus cerve