The name ‘Mottisfont’ is probably derived from the Old English motes funta, meaning ‘spring near the confluence’ or ‘spring of the moot’ or possibly ‘spring of the stone’ (from the Old English motere: sonte). Plentiful water and fish, good communications and fertile land protected from the worst weather made this an ideal setting for the religious community which flourished here from 1201, providing hospitality for the pilgrims that its sacred relics attracted.The original building was a priory, founded by William Briwere in 1201. He was a trusted adviser to Richard the Lionheart, King John and Henry III, and he was one of the barons who signed the Magna Carta. At the dissolution of the Monasteries the priory was acquired by William Lord Sandys, who converted it to a house.By the right inner corner of the Abbey wall is a niche where a portion of what might be an arch original to the old monastic abbey remains. Nestled in here is a mosaic of an angelic figure kneeling in prayer. This is the ‘Angel of Mottisfont’, and far from being an ancient icon it is the work of a Russian artist, poet and lover named Boris Anrep. When Boris returned to St Petersburg from England at the start of the First World War he became a leading light of that group of poets led by Nikolai Gumilyov and his wife Anna Akhmatova. The two fell in love and carried on an affair while Anna’s husband was serving with the cavalry. At the war’s end, of course, came the Revolution. Anrep had decided to return to England to live, Anna could not bear to leave Mother Russia. Despising and loving him at the same time, she wrote two entire collections of poems dedicated to him. They each continued with very convoluted love lives, but never met again.
Boris, however, prospered in England, was taken up by society, and for many years up to his death carried on a secret love affair with Maud Russell – of Mottisfont Abbey and the model for the angel. They made a pact that they would each be buried below one of the blue cedars that line the avenue here, but this did not happen. Mrs Russell lived alone at the Abbey until the mid 1980’s. Anrep became known for his monumental mosaics at the National Gallery, St Sophia’s Cathedral, the British Museum, Westminster Cathedral and the Bank of England. Being close to the Bloomsbury Group, he was a noticeable figure in London social and intellectual life from 1912 up to the mid-1960s. More at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Anrep