A SPARKLING new jewel was added to the crown of Lewes with the official opening of Priory Park.
It was the culmination of a two-year restoration project at the medieval ruins of the Priory of St Pancras.
The £800,000 scheme has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and English Heritage.
The priory has been acclaimed by HLF as “one of the most important historical buildings in south-east England”, and on Saturday it was described as “much more exciting than Stonehenge”.
Speakers at the opening ceremony were Baroness Andrews of Southover, Chair of English Heritage, Paul Hudson, Chair of HLF SE England Committee, and Lord Renton of Mount Harry.
Baroness Andrews paid tribute to the hard work and dedication of the Lewes Priory Trust under its President John Lawrence.
“This is a great day for Lewes - and one we’ve waited 500 years for,” she said.
Lewes Priory was the first and the greatest of the Cluniac sites in England and ranked as one of our great national monuments, she said.
Mr Hudson said the repairs to the fabric of the ruins, improved public access and improved interpretation of the site was an exemplary project that enabled people to embrace and understand their heritage.
Former MP Tim Renton said the project was a remarkable one and something the people of Lewes should cherish. “This is much more exciting than Stonehenge,” he said.
Thousands of people flocked to the site for the opening and for the spectacular Summer Fayre, with a medieval theme, organised by Southover Bonfire Society.
Sy Morse-Brown, Chairman of Lewes Priory Trust, said: “It was a truly memorable occasion and shows that Lewes has taken Priory Park to its heart as a wonderful public space and a major cultural and tourist attraction in the town. Our efforts to bring the monument to life have been amply rewarded.
“It should also be said that we owe an enormous debt to Lewes Town Council which leases the site to the Trust to manage. Its continued financial support and encouragement have helped us to stick to the task. We are especially grateful to Mayor Micheal Turner who during his term of office has officiated at all our significant events and marked the Grand Opening as his last engagement of a successful year.”