900 years old in 2002!
Benedictine monks founded Tewkesbury Abbey in 1092 and the town hosted many special events to commemorate the occasion.
Unlike most abbeys during the Dissolution, the church was not destroyed by King Henry VIII. Instead, it was bought outright by the local townspeopel for £453. It therefore remains full of Norman features, medieval effigies and fine stained glass.
The abbey has the world's tallest Norman tower and many impressive tombs. The town is midway between Worcester and Gloucester, so try to see the cathedrals there as well if you're in the area.
You can ring the Abbey office on 01684 850 959 or visit www.tewkesburyabbey.org.uk. The Abbey is open 7.30am-6pm daily (open a bit later on Sundays, shut a bit earlier in winter).
A lovely abbey ......in a flood plain.
No...the abbey isn't tilting. I think I was. :-(
I've been to Tewkesbury several times in the past but long ago. So a chilly post-Christmas excursion for a proper look-round seemed a good idea.
Tewkesbury Abbey is huge..as big as many of our cathedrals. Although there has been a church on site for 1200 years, the present building dates from the early 1100s and was consecrated in 1121 (you can still see the consecration crosses scratched into the stone of the entrance porch) The Abbey was originally the church for a large Benedictine monstery. Amazingly, it survived Henry Vlll's Dissolution ....the people of Tewkesbury bought it from him for the princely sum of £453!
Inside there are wonderful architectural details, tombs, chantry chapels, Medieval stained glass and a very welcoming feeling. There is even a 17th-century organ which was reputedly played by John Milton (poet, 'Paradise Lost').
More pictures and info on the Abbey and its interior in the travelogue.
But the Abbey is not the only reason for visiting Tewkesbury. In 1964 The Council of British Archaeology listed it amongst 57 towns "so splendid and so precious that the ultimate responsibility for them should be of national concern".....because it is stuffed full of the most wonderful Medieval (and later) architecture.
Walking the streets is sheer delight: little late-Medieval timber-framed cottages, Stuart town houses, Georgian terraces...they are all there, their rooflines tipsily displayed, some of their windows blocked (there was, once, a 'window tax' so people blocked off their unnecessary windows to avoid it), some still black-and-white but those more recently renovated restored to their correct cream and brown colours....all still lived in and used.
Tewkesbury lies at the confluence of the Rivers Severn and Avon. Both are large rivers so it has always been prone to flooding ....a curse and a blessing, for the regular floods have ensured that the town has kept the same shape (more or less) as in Medieval times. Any new build has to be further out, away from the most obvious flood risk.
Mind you, that doesn't mean that flooding is now unusual. The picture here (on the BBC news site) shows what the floods of 2007 looked like.....and you can see that those pre-Medieval monks really did know the best spot to build their abbey!
Tewkesbury is also the site of an important battle in the Medieval 'Wars of the Roses'. It happened in 1471 and is rather too complicated for me to explain. If you are interested, you can read about it on the Battlefields Trust site and on the local re-enactment society's site There is a waymarked battle trail around the town.
If you can find the time whilst you are visiting the UK, or if you live here, Tewkesbury and the area around it is well worth visiting. There are lots of very pleasant hotels and b&bs, and a wealth of other interesting villages nearby....including the Cotswolds and many, many prehistoric sites.
During my brief visit (December daylight hours being very short) I took myself to the tiny village of Deerhurst, less than 5 miles away, where I was stunned to find not only Saxon chapel dating from at least 1056 but also a beautiful Saxon minster church, with foundations dating back in parts to the 7th century.......yes, that's 600 AD! Fortunately VT has Deerhurst in its database, so I'll be writing about these two very special and very precious buildings separately.
In the Abbey..........
The nave was completed in 1121, and the chancel added in the 1300s. The chancel windows remain unchanged.
Each of the massive Medieval roof bosses (used to 'tie' the roof beams together) is beautifully carved but, of course, difficult to see as they are so high up.
But for the 1851 Great Exhibition a plaster cast of each boss was made, and they are now ranged around the abbey. Although not painted as the originals, they nevertheless form an impressive monument to the skill of the Medieval woodcarvers.
Many of the bosses represent scenes from the Nativity, with various musicians playing Medieval instruments.
This 14th-century painting is in the chantry of Edward, Baron le Despenser, who died in 1375. The ceiling of the chantry is the earliest example of fan vaulting.
This intricate and elaborate ceiling is found on the Warwick (or Beauchamp) chantry, erected in 1430 by Isabella, Countess of Warwick as a memorial to herself and her two husbands.
Recent restoration uncovered some of the original Medieval colours.
When it was completed the chantry was considered 'the fairest in England'.
This great Norman arch, on the west front of the abbey, is the largest in the UK. A masterpiece of Medieval stonework.