Winchcombe Abbey - Long Lost
Winchcombe Abbey was originally built by Kenulf, King of Mercia, at the beginning of the 9th Century with accommodation for 300 people including the monks and their servants. Both Kenulf and his son, St. Kenelm, were buried in the abbey. By 992 A.D., the abbey had been re-established under Benedictine rule. St Benedict’s rule can be summed up in three words: ’pax’ (peace), ’ora’ (prayer), ’labora’ (work).
At its heyday, Winchcombe Abbey owned more than 25,000 acres, and, in the early 16thCentury, under Abbot Richard Kidderminster it had a reputation as a centre of learning akin to a little university.
This painting by Martin Podd shows the abbey as it would have looked next to St Peter’s Church at the end of the 15th Century. In 1539, the abbey was dissolved and the abbey buildings were passed to the Sudeley estate.The stones were used to enhance the castle; however, many local people must have taken building materials from the site, as carved pieces of stone can be seen all around the town. The pieces in the museum were given when the George Inn was converted to housing units.
Many of the monks would have worked at intellectual pursuits such as teaching and copying manuscripts, leaving lay servants to do the manual labour.
However, it was not an easy life. Their day revolved around eight canonical hours, so they had to attend a service every three hours, even during the night, as well as fitting in their own study and work to support the community.
Although the abbey was originally built in Saxon times, all the carved stones which can be seen in Winchcombe Museum, Sudeley Castle and around the town come from the rebuilding of the abbey after a fire in 1151.
The dissolution of the abbey caused great hardship in Winchcombe. Although the monks were given pensions, their numerous servants were left without work, and those who provided services for the abbey lost important customers. There was no-one to carry on the prosperous wool trade. The monks had provided food for the poor and medical care for the sick. The shrine of St. Kenelm in the abbey church had brought pilgrims to the town, and the once thriving market on the feast of St Kenelm on 17th July no longer attracted traders from further afield.
Winchcombe Abbey Timeline
798: King Kenulf of Mercia gave instructions for building an abbey at Winchcombe.
806: Winchcombe Abbey was dedicated by 13 bishops, the principal one being Wulfred, Archbishop of Canterbury
C992: the abbey was re-established under Benedictine rule.
1042–1066: During Edward the Confessor's reign, Winchcombe Abbey became one of the most powerful Benedictine monasteries in the country.
29 August, 1151: Fire destroyed much of the abbey and severely damaged Winchcombe.
1239: The re-building of the Abbey was completed.
1488: Richard Kidderminster was elected abbot. He continued in the post until 1527.
23 December, 1539: Winchcombe Abbey was surrendered to the crown and the monks were pensioned off. The Abbey buildings were quickly demolished and much of the stone re-used in other buildings.
You can see a short video presentation on the history of Winchcombe Abbey now - just click here
By studying the stones we can imagine what the abbey might have looked like.