what to read
|Click to go to
from the Guide to Reading Abbey by
Brian Kemp and Cecil Slade
The abbey was founded by King Henry 1 in 1121 and was settled by Benedictine monks of the Cluniac order from Cluny in France and Lewes in Sussex. The first monks arrived on 18 June 1121 and nearly two years later received their first abbot, Hugh of Amiens. In 1125 came the king's foundation charter conveying to the monks a generous endowment of lands, churches and privileges. Henry's generosity probably stemmed in part from a desire to establish a rich abbey which would be his final resting place, and indeed the king was eventually buried there in January 1136.
|Being a royal abbey, Reading was often visited by English kings and queens, and from time to time witnessed events of national importance within its walls. Among the best known are the marriage of John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster in 1359 and the publicising of Edward IV's hitherto secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in September 1464. Parliament met more than once in the abbey, most notably in 1453 when the monks' refectory provided a suitably large hall for its main session.
After a life of 418 years the abbey came to an end in 1539. The last abbot, Hugh Faringdon, refused to surrender the monastery to Henry VIII. He was tried and convicted of treason for denying the king's newly acquired headship of the Church in England and for maintaining that the pope was still its head.
After his execution on 14 November the monks were expelled and the abbey became Crown property. The abbey church was not required for the town's worship, since Reading had three medieval parish churches (St Mary's, St Giles'and St Laurence's) which fully satisfied its needs, and so the process of destruction began immediately, with the removal of the bells and of the lead from the roofs. Soon the walls were used as a quarry for fine stone for building and other projects in Reading and the neighbourhood. Some of the other monastic buildings were maintained as a minor royal residence until damaged beyond repair in the Civil Wars of the seventeenth century. Eventually, in the nineteenth century, most of what remained of the abbey was acquired by Reading Corporation and opened to the public. In 1985 a major programme of conservation was initiated to ensure the preservation of the ruins for this and future generations.
Copyright Friends of Reading Abbey