900th anniversary year of the foundation of Reading Abbey

The year 2021 saw the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Reading Abbey by King Henry I in 1121. In spite of the COVID 19 pandemic, a number of celebrations were held to mark the Abbey's nonocentenary.

Towards the end of 2021, the Friends secretary, John Painter, emailed the following summary of the anniversary year's events to members.

" The 900th anniversary year of Reading Abbey's foundation is nearly over. Despite COVID 19, we have managed to promote and support a good number of activities to celebrate this important milestone, centred on the Reading Water Fest 2021, on Saturday 19 June, which had the Abbey's 900th anniversary as its centrepiece. This was Reading Borough Council's first live public event for over a year, with free activities and music taking place in the Forbury Gardens, Abbey Ruins and Chestnut Walk, under COVID-controlled conditions, and with attendance booked in advance to control numbers. In total 4,000 people attended the day. The day started with the formal unveiling of a new sculpted head on the Abbey Gateway which, following a local competition, was the head of the last Abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon. The Friends of Reading Abbey, along with other heritage groups, had a stand in the South Transept of the Abbey where we had a promotional display and sold books by local authors; this was our first public activity since the March 2020 lockdown, and specifically for the event we commissioned the new Reading Abbey 900 badge. We are grateful to the Council and Living Reading for their proactive support of Reading Abbey 900 over the year. Photographs of the day are in the Look Back at Past Events page - see Links section below.

To coincide with the Water Fest we also launched a virtual town centre walking route, starting and finishing in the Abbey Quarter and taking in historic buildings on a circular route through Reading town centre. The route can be accessed via the Links section below.

Before the easing of lockdown in June, the Mayor of Reading in 2020-21, Councillor David Stevens, gave his support to promote Reading Abbey 900, and we worked with him to set up a series of six video talks on themes linked to Reading Abbey, which the Council has published on YouTube, and which can be accessed via the Links section. And in May the Mayor held a virtual auction for his charities, which raised £1,600 in funds for the Friends of Reading Abbey, for which we are most grateful.

The University of Reading held two events to support Reading Abbey 900. The History Department held a virtual day seminar on the anniversary day itself, Friday 18 June, on Reading and its Royal Abbey, with papers on a wide range of related subjects given by 12 speakers, all of which will be published in Reading Medieval Studies 2022; individual papers also cross-referred to virtual exhibitions on the Reading Museum and Berkshire Record Office websites. And on 28 September, the Archaeology Department hosted the University's first post-COVID public lecture, on the archaeology of Reading Abbey, by archaeologist and architectural historian Tim Tatton-Brown. A link to a video of the lecture is given in the Links section. The Department has also secured funding to support a three-year post-graduate research student, from October 2021, who will work in conjunction with Reading Museum on Reading Abbey.

The WEA held a Reading Abbey Day School in Reading on 16 October, including a walk round the Abbey Ruins, which was fully booked.

The Co-Fraternity of St James used Reading Abbey 900 to promote a number of local initiatives, including the St James's Way, a 68-mile pilgrimage trail running from Reading Abbey to Southampton which they are developing and signposting as part of the Camino Ingles, the historic pilgrimage trail from England to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, where the disciple St James the Great is buried. It is his hand that the medieval Abbey claimed as its greatest relic, and which made Reading Abbey the centre of English pilgrimage related to St James in the High Middle Ages. The Co-Fraternity also arranged for the mummified hand found in the Abbey Ruins in the 1780s by builders working on the new House of Correction (gaol) to be brought to St Jamesís RC church in Reading (from Marlow) for the celebration of the Feast of St James on 25 July this year. The Co-Fraternity have been working with the Friends, Reading Borough Council and Living Reading on the promotion of St Jamesís Way and pilgrimage in Reading, including the launch in July of a local pilgrimage trail around Reading and Caversham, starting at Reading Abbey. Links to information and a copy of the map are given in the Links section.

On 30 October, we held our first live Friends of Reading Abbey event, our AGM, which was followed by our Autumn Lecture by Dr Joanna Laynesmith, Research Fellow at the University of Reading, on Queen Elizabeth Woodville. This was attended by over 50 people.

Given the circumstances of 2021, we have had a very successful year, including live summer and autumn events, which is recorded for posterity in the Links below and on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/FriendsOfReadingAbbey/ "

Links to records of Reading Abbey 900th anniversary events


Photographs of the Water Fest and 900th anniversary celebration on 19th June are on the Look Back at Past Events page


Mayor of Reading - Video Talks

The Mayor of Reading , Councillor David Stevens, chose the Friends of Reading Abbey as one of his three Mayoral charities for 2020-21. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mayor was not able to show his support for the Friends through active participation in live events. Therefore we worked with the Mayor and his office on a series of video talks on themes related to Reading Abbey, which the Council published. Links to the six videos, all on Youtube, are given below.

The Mayor's first talk was in October 2020, with John Mullaney, local historian, author and Friend, filmed at Reading Museum, about the 'Coronation of the Virgin' capital in the Museum's Abbey collection.
The Mayor of Reading and John Mullaney  -  The Coronation of the Virgin Stone

The Mayor's second talk was in November, with John Painter, the Friends' Secretary, again filmed at Reading Museum, on The Royal Abbey of Reading.
The Mayor of Reading and John Painter  -  The Royal Abbey of Reading

The third talk was in December with Lindsay Mullaney, local historian, author and Friend, on the subject of her new book on Henry I, who died on 1 December 1135 and was buried in his Abbey in Reading on 5 January 1136.
The Mayor of Reading and Lindsay Mullaney  -  King Henry I, founder of Reading Abbey

A fourth talk was released during the 900th anniversary year, in May 2021. In this talk, the Mayor heard from the Museum Manager of Reading Museum, Matthew Williams, who spoke about the Abbey and its impact on a small town.
The Mayor of Reading and Matthew Williams  -  Reading Abbey and its impact upon a small town

A fifth Mayor's talk was released to coincide with the 900th anniversary weekend of 19th/20th June 2021. In this talk, the Mayor heard from the Bishop of Fulham, the Right Reverend Jonathan Baker, about the Reformation and Dissolution of Reading Abbey.
The Mayor of Reading and the Bishop of Fulham  -  The Reformation and Dissolution of Reading Abbey - Part I    ...   Part II

The sixth and final talk was released in September 2021. In this video, the chairman of the Friends of Reading Abbey, Dr Peter Durrant MBE takes the Mayor on a guided tour of "Reading Abbey: a gateway to the past".
The Mayor of Reading and Dr Peter Durrant  -  Reading Abbey: a gateway to the past


Link to the University of Reading 900th Anniversary of Reading Abbey page for Tim Tatton-Brown's lecture videos - a short summary and full lecture - and links to further resources.


Information about the St James's Way and pilgrimage in Reading is on Livingreading's website page Reading for modern pilgrims. The map is available on this website as a pdf file. Photographs of the launch of the local pilgrimage trail are shown on the Look Back at Past Events page.


The 900th anniversary town centre walking route can be seen at Reading Abbey 900 Walking Route