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Tewkesbury Abbey

The Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Tewkesbury[?], Gloucestershire, is the second largest parish church in England.

The Abbey Chronicle records that the first Christian worship was brought to the area by a missionary, Theoc, from Northumbria, who built his cell in the mid-7th century near 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 subordinate to Cranbourne in Dorset, and in 1087 William the Conqueror gave it to his cousin Robert Fitzhamon, who, with Abbot Giraldus of Cranbourne, founded the present abbey in 1092.

One of its most distinguished abbots was Alan, the biographer of Thomas a Kempis

Construction time-line:

  • 23 October 1121 -- the choir consecrated
  • 1150 -- tower and nave completed
  • 1178 -- large fire necessitated some rebuilding
  • ~1235 -- Chapel of St Nicholas built
  • ~1300 -- Chapel of St. James built
  • 1321-1335 -- choir and chapels rebuilt
  • 1349-59 -- tower and nave vaulted
  • 1400-1410 -- cloisters rebuilt
  • 1438 -- Chapel of Isobel (countess of Warwick) built
  • 1520 -- Guesten house completed (later became the vicarage)

After the Battle of Tewkesbury in the Wars of the Roses on May 4 1471, some of the defeated Lancastrians sought sanctuary in the abbey, but the victorious Yorkists, led by King Edward IV, 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. In the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1539 the people of Tewkesbury saved the abbey from destruction: Insisting it was their parish church, which they had the right to keep, they bought it for the value of its bells and lead roof (which would have been salvaged and melted down if it was destroyed): 453. The central stone tower was originally topped with a wooden spire, which collapsed in 1559 and was never rebuilt. What remains is one of the finest Norman buildings in Britain.

Famous graves in the abbey

  • 1107 -- when the abbey's founder Robert Fitzhamon died in 1107, he was buried in the chapter house while his son-in-law Robert fitzRoy (an illegitimate son of King Henry I), Earl of Gloucester, continued building the abbey
  • 1375 -- Edward Despenser, Lord of the Manor of Tewkesbury, is remembered today chiefly for the effigy on his tomb, which shows him in full color kneeling on top of the canopy of his chantry, facing toward the high altar
  • ~1395 -- Robert Fitzhamon's remains were moved into a new chapel built as his tomb
  • 1471 -- a brass plate on the floor in the choir marks the grave of Edward, Prince of Wales, the son of King Henry VI and end of the Lancastrian line, who was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury - the only Prince of Wales ever to die in battle.
  • 1477 -- the bones of George, "Butt of Malmsey" Clarence, (brother of Edward IV and Richard III) and his wife Isabelle (daughter of Richard "the Kingmaker" Neville) are visible behind a glass window in a wall behind the high altar
  • <1539 -- the cadaver tomb Abbot Wakeman had built for himself (Image) is not actually a grave, because he was not buried there
  • Also buried in the abbey are several members of the Despenser, de Clare and Beauchamp families, all of whom were generous benefactors of the abbey.



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