The Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Tewkesbury was a former Benedictine monastery but is now the second largest parish church in England. The Chronicle of Tewkesbury records that the first Christian worship was brought to the area by Theoc, a missionary from Northumbria, who built his cell in the mid 7th century near a gravel spit where the Rivers Severn and Avon join together. The cell was succeeded by a monastery in 715 but no evidence of it has ever been found. In 1087, William the Conqueror gave the manor of Tewkesbury to his cousin who founded the present abbey in 1092. Building the present Abbey church did not start until 1102 and is built of Caen stone imported from Normandy and floated up the River Severn.
It is one of the finest Norman buildings in the country; below the western twin towers is this very tall unique Norman arch which houses a 17th century stained glass window. In the High Middle Ages, Tewkesbury became one of the richest abbeys in the country. After the Battle of Tewkesbury in the Wars of the Roses on 4th May 1471, some of the defeated Lancastrians sought sanctuary in the abbey, but the victorious Yorkists, led by King Edward lV, forced their way into the abbey, and the resulting bloodshed caused the building to be closed for a month until it could be purified and re-consecrated. The only reason the abbey was saved from destruction during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, was because the people of Tewkesbury insisted that it was their parish church which they had a right to keep safe. They bought it from King Henry Vlll for the value of its bells and lead roof which the king would have had salvaged and melted down, leaving the structure to become a roofless ruin. The price paid to the king was £453 - £257,470 as of 2013.
This tower is also considered to be unique being the largest Romanesque crossing tower in Europe
There are 14 massive Norman pillars in the nave which date from the initial construction. Beautiful, elegant and unadorned they too are unique being the largest in the UK; each is over 9 m tall and 1.8 m in diameter. As with most ancient churches these plain pillars would once have been elaborately painted.
The north porch entrance
A peaceful green oasis in the Abbey grounds
where we enjoyed our evening picnic sitting on these benches before heading off to the theatre.
The medieval town of Tewkesbury wears its historical past along many of it's streets.
The date on the wooden shield in the top righthand corner reads 1664
Charles Dickens referred to The Royal Hop Pole in the Pickwick Papers
Touching Souls is the name of this sculpture at the front of the Abbey. It is an exact replica of the same sculpture in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Created by sculptor Mico Kaufman, it is cast in bronze and shows four children - native-American, European-American, African-American and Asian-American, sitting on the ground, legs outstretched, with the soles of their shoes touching. It is one of many links that bind the two places together.