Cotswolds

Tewkesbury Abbey, Tewkesbury

This grand cathedral-like abbey has sat at the heart of the historic riverside town of Tewkesbury for over 900 years. Its remarkable tower, which dominates the skyline, has been described as one of largest and finest Romanesque towers in the country. As well as being a place of worship, Tewkesbury Abbey is a fascinating place to visit for those who admire historic architecture. 

Work started on the present building in 1102, to house a group of Benedictine monks relocating from Dorset. By the time the abbey was consecrated in 1121, it was almost completed. The east end of the abbey was remodelled in the 1400s, during which period the seven impressive stained-glass windows were installed in the quire. These are among some of the best examples of 14th Century glass in Europe and depict various local earls and kings, as well as different prophets and figures from the Bible.

As well as its Medieval stained glass, the abbey is also home to a fine collection of Victorian and modern stained glass. The most recent stained-glass windows can be seen in the Chapel of St Catherine and St John the Baptist. Their spectacular designs were created to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the monks’ arrival and were inspired by the Benedictine motto “to work is to pray”. Seeing the sun cast multicoloured shards of light through these windows and along the abbey’s nave is quite the sight to behold.

In the same century that the first glass was installed, the War of the Roses raged in England – an infamous war between the Houses of Lancaster and York. In fact, one of the war’s most influential battles, the Battle of Tewkesbury, took place only a short distance from the abbey in 1471. During this battle, the 17-year-old son of the Lancastrian King Henry VI, Prince Edward, was killed. He was later buried in the abbey, and although the exact site of his burial is unknown, there’s a commemorative brass plaque that reads: 

"Here lies Edward, Prince of Wales, cruelly slain whilst but a youth. Anno Domini 1471, May fourth. Alas, the savagery of men. Thou art the sole light of thy Mother, and the last hope of thy race."

After the 16th Century Dissolution of the Monasteries, the townsfolk of Tewkesbury purchased Tewkesbury Abbey for £453 to be used as their parish church. Its valuables had already been seized and placed into the coffers of Henry VIII – although Henry did decide to then kindly sell eight bells back to the parish for a mere £142. Over time the bells have been recast and grown in number, leaving a ring of twelve bells today. Two of the oldest bells date from the 17th Century, still ringing out their tunes as clock bells 400 years on. 

Another interesting feature in the abbey is its magnificent organ, named the Milton Organ because the poet John Milton allegedly played it. Originally built in 1631 for Magdalen College, Oxford, it enjoyed a brief spell at Hampton Court Palace before being sold to Tewkesbury Abbey in 1736. There’s also a Victorian organ, known as the Grove Organ, which was built in 1885 for the Inventions Exhibition. After careful restoration projects, both are still in working condition and are still played to this day. 

Finally, one of the best things to do in the dog-friendly Tewkesbury Abbey is to take a guided tour. Abbey tours can be prebooked ahead of arrival, and tower tours are also available. The largest Norman church tower still in existence, the abbey’s tower measures 45 meters in height and affords magnificent views over the town (please note, these do not run all year round). Guidebooks are available to purchase in the abbey’s shop and there are also children’s guides available so that all generations can learn about the history of the abbey in a fun, interactive way. 

While you’re in Tewkesbury, don’t miss the opportunity to explore this Medieval town.  It is one of the few places in the Cotswolds area to see black and white half-timbered buildings. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants within walking distance, as well as delightful opportunities to walk along the Rivers Severn and Avon. 

A view of Tewkesbury over the water with traditional houses

Tewkesbury Abbey is currently open from 8.30am until 4.30pm each day. Check their website for opening times and services as these can vary. Donations are gratefully accepted. 

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our luxury cottages in the Cotswolds here.

Church Street, Tewkesbury GL20 5RZ | 01684 850 959 | www.tewkesburyabbey.org.uk

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