It was disappointing to find that it's no longer possible to wander around the Abbey ruins because of safety issues due to the unstable condition of the stonework. It seems a pity that the ruins are in this state as I can remember the site was open not so long ago and public events took place on the grassy lawns. However, the walk by the river and the public garden was a pleasant one.
This old print from the River Kennet side of the site shows how impressive the Abbey must have been in its day and the x shows the area of the present ruins which included the chapter house and the monks' dormitory.
Reading Abbey was founded in 1121 by Henry I and became one of the largest and wealthiest abbeys in England which included the manors and churches in Reading. The original dedication was to St. Mary and St. John the Evangelist and St. James was added in 1164 when the Abbey became an important place of pilgrimage. St James' emblem of a scallop shell began to appear on Abbey seals in the early 13th century. The Abbey brought trade and contributed to the development of the town, but there were often disputes between the town's leaders over this as the Abbot had much power in the area as the Lord of Reading. On a positive note Reading Abbey is probably best known for having had the earliest copy of a manuscript for a six-part musical rota or round written about 1260 composed in the Wessex dialect of Middle English 'Sumer is Icumen in' (better known as 'The Cuckoo Song'). A large stone plaque of the notation was placed on the Abbey Ruins wall. It must still be there with other plaques depicting some of the important events in its earlier history.
I had to view some of the stone plaques from the outer gardens with the aid of the small pocket digital camera's zoom lens which is not very powerful.
Robed Figure - Elisabeth Frink, DBE, RA
|Roses and ivy growing on the walls|
The brick tower to the extreme right is part of Reading Prison which is now a remand prison.
The unusual sculpture is the work of a Danish sculptor, Jens Flemming Sorensen. Apparently his work in materials such as granite, bronze and marble often include obelisks or spheres. Humans seem to be breaking out of these spheres.
Being locked out of the Abbey Ruins I reflected on the fate of the monks at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries as they were cast out into the streets. The last Abbot, Blessed Hugh Faringdon, was hanged, drawn and quartered at the nearby Abbey Gatehouse.
The Abbey Gatehouse was restored in the 19th century by Sir George Gilbert Scott. In the 18th century it had housed an educational establishment and the novelist, Jane Austen, attended the Reading Ladies' Boarding School there.
|The Abbey Gatehouse and the Forbury (Abbey forecourt area) which is now a municipal garden|
This memorial cross on a grassy mound in the Forbury Gardens reads 'To the memory of Henry Beauclerc King of England who founded Reading Abbey on June 18 1121 and was buried before the High Altar on Jan 4 1136'