Reading Abbey

From Academic Kids

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Reading Abbey

Reading Abbey is a large, ruined abbey in Reading, Berkshire, founded by Henry I in 1121 "for the salvation of my soul, and the souls of King William, my father, and of King William, my brother, and Queen Maud, my wife, and all my ancestors and successors".

Contents

History

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Reading Abbey and the River Kennet

Following its royal foundation, the abbey was established by a party of monks from the French abbey of Cluny, together with monks from the Cluniac priory of St Pancras at Lewes in Sussex. According to the twelfth century chronicler William of Malmesbury, the abbey was built on a gravel spur "between the rivers Kennet and Thames, on a spot calculated for the reception of almost all who might have occasion to travel to the more populous cities of England". The adjacent rivers provided convenient transport, and the abbey established wharves on the River Kennet. The Kennet also provided power for the abbey water mills, most of which were established on the Holy Brook, a channel of the Kennet of uncertain origin.

When Henry I died in France in 1135 his body was returned to Reading, and was buried in the front of the altar of the then incomplete abbey. Other royal persons buried in the abbey include parts of Empress Maud, William of Poitiers, Constance of York, and Princess Isabella of Cornwall, among others.

Because of its royal patronage, the abbey was one of the pilgrimage centres of medieval England, and one of its richest and most important religious houses, with possessions as far away as Herefordshire and Scotland. The abbey also held over 230 relics including the hand of St. James. The song Sumer is icumen in, which was first written down in the abbey about 1240, is the earliest known four part harmony from Britain. The original document is held in the British Library.

The abbey was largely destroyed in 1538 during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. The last abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, was subsequently tried and convicted of high treason and hung, drawn and quartered in front of the Abbey Church. After this, the buildings of the abbey were extensively robbed, with lead, glass and facing stones removed for reuse elsewhere.

Remains

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View from the site of the monks dormitory looking towards the chapter house

The inner rubble cores of the walls of the major buildings of the abbey still stand, and in recent years have been conserved and stabilised. These are now freely accessible to the public as part of Forbury Gardens, a city centre park, and are the scene for various outdoor performances in summer.

The inner gateway of the abbey survives intact, albeit heavily 'restored' in the Victorian era, and now stands adjoining the Reading crown court and a large commercial office building, overlooking Forbury Gardens. Similarly the abbey's hospitium survives, and after various uses has now been incorporated into a recent office development.

The abbey school, Reading School, (which was founded in 1125) institutionally survives as a state grammar school.

External links

Sources

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