Picture by Philip Pankhurst
A former Benedictine Abbey Church, consecrated in 1121, it is reputed to be the second largest parish church in England, larger than fourteen cathedrals, and has the highest Norman tower in the country. It has a massive crossing tower that is unique and only Westminster Abbey has more church monuments. There are stain glass windows all around.
The present Abbey was consecrated in 1121 by the Bishop of Worcester, at which time the Abbey was in the Worcester Diocese.
The Benedictine Monks arrived here from Cranborne, Dorset in 1102. Since that time, the buildings have been changed considerably, particularly in the 16th century when the Dissolution of the Monasteries took place. The townsfolk then saved the Abbey from ruin by buying it for £453 and it remains their parish church. The Nave, Transepts, Tower, and Choir remain intact as originally built. It originally had a spire but this collapsed in 1559, twenty years after the monastery was dissolved.
Photo by Philip Halling
There is leaflet available (75p), that guides you around the many examples of green men featured in the abbey, although aimed at younger visitors this could be interesting to many more.
A brass plate on the floor in the centre of the sanctuary marks the grave of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, the son of King Henry VI and the end of the Lancastrian line, who was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury (1471) - the only Prince of Wales ever to die in battle.
West Front Image by Tom Pennington
The Chronicle of Tewkesbury records that the first Christian worship was brought to the area by Theoc, a missionary from Northumbria, who built his cell in the mid-7th century nearby on a gravel spit where the Severn and Avon rivers join together. The cell was succeeded by a monastery in 715, but nothing remaining of it has been identified.
In the 10th century the religious foundation at Tewkesbury became a priory subordinate to the Benedictine Cranbourne Abbey in Dorset. In 1087, William the Conqueror gave the manor of Tewkesbury to his cousin, Robert Fitzhamon, who, with Giraldus, Abbot of Cranbourne, founded the present abbey in 1092. Building of the present Abbey church did not start until 1102, employing Caen stone imported from Normandy and floated up the River Severn.
Robert Fitzhamon died at Falaise in Normandy, in 1102, but his son-in-law, Robert FitzRoy, the natural son of Henry I, who was made Earl of Gloucester, continued to fund the building work. The Abbey's greatest single later patron was Lady Eleanor le Despenser, last of the De Clare heirs of FitzRoy. In the High Middle Ages, Tewkesbury became one of the richest abbeys of England.
After the Battle of Tewkesbury in the War of the Roses on 4 May 1471, some of the defeated Lancastrians sought sanctuary in the abbey, but the victorious Yorkists, led by King Edward IV, whose son had been killed in the battle, forced their way into the abbey, and the resulting bloodshed caused the building to be closed for a month until it could be purified and re-consecrated.
Tewkesbury was in the news recently with major floods in the area, but the abbey church was shown to be clear of the water on the last bit of remaining dry ground. The water did however enter a part of the abbey, and had done previously in another great flood in 1760.
You can see the large church building, a most impressive and interesting building, part of the exterior of the south wall that was clearly the inside of part of the abbey cloisters, and beyond the east end of the church and the markings where a larger part had extended at one time. It has, inside, huge round stone pillars, similar to Gloucester Cathedral not far away. Compare the photos we have her with Gloucester Cathedral to see the similarities.
Stain glass windows are all around, and clearly visible. The view that you frequently see is one from the south east, taken from a nearby car park across open ground between. Another view that is often used is one from across the river with the river in front, buildings and abbey church behind, there are bridges and a footpath to get you to this point. There is quite a lot more to photograph in Tewkesbury, including boats, wildlife on the two rivers, bridges, and quite a lot of older buildings in various styles.
This is very near to us, and I have looked around and photographed the outside, but put off paying the fee to photograph the inside until I had the time to spend half a day there and get everything, including stain glass windows. So far I have not had the time, although in theory with all the wet days we have had I could have used one of these. Its probably just another one of those situations where if its local it gets overlooked. I have also noticed a number of photographers at several cathedrals that charge £3 for a photo permit, while here where its £7, I have not seen any, so probably by being too greedy their revenue is far smaller than it would be if they had charged a lower amount.
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