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Tewkesbury Abbey



Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire, England, derives its name from Theoc, a hermit of early times, to whose memory a monastery was dedicated by the dukes of Mercia in the eighth century. In 980 it became a cell of the Benedictine Priory of Cranborne, in Dorset-shire; but having grown in wealth and importance after the Norman Conquest, and being richly endowed by FitzHamon (a cousin of the Conqueror) it became an independent abbey in 1103. Gerald was the first abbot, and the magnificent church—the largest in England, after Westminster, of abbey churches not now used as cathedrals—was completed and consecrated in 1123. FitzHamon, with his son-in-law Robert, Earl of Gloucester, was regarded as its second founder; and their descendants, the De Clares, Despencers, and Beauchamps, remained closely associated with it almost until the Dissolution. The tombs of many of them are still to be seen in the church. The Annals of Tewkesbury from the Conquest (1066) until 1263 are extant, and contain valuable notes on the national history, but little of interest about the abbey itself. During the thirteenth and succeeding centuries Tewkesbury was constantly receiving new endowments in lands and money, and became one of the wealthiest of English monasteries, its income at the Dissolution being set down at £1600 (equal to more than ten times that amount in modern money). The great battle of Tewkesbury on May 4, 1471, between Yorkists and Lancastrians, was fought in the very precincts of the abbey; and many of those who fell, including Henry VI's only son, were buried in the church.

Sixty-eight years later the last abbot, John Wakeman, surrendered the abbey to Henry VIII. Wakeman himself was handsomely pensioned, and in 1541 became first bishop of the newly-erected See of Gloucester. The abbot's house was preserved intact; most of the remaining monastic buildings were destroyed as "superfluous"; but the magnificent church was subsequently sold by the king to the parishioners of Tewkesbury, and was thus saved from destruction. It measures 317 feet long by 122 across the transepts, and the massive central tower is 132 feet high. The pillars and triforium of the nave and the lower part of the choir belong to the original Norman church; the splendid groined roof, replacing the original Norman ceiling, and apsidal choir with chevet of surrounding chapels (closely resembling Westminster Abbey), date from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The choir windows contain some fine old stained glass. The whole church underwent careful restoration under Sir Gilbert Scott (1875-79), and four years later the restoration committee was enabled to repurchase what remained of the monastic buildings.

D. O. Hunter-Blair.








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