Monday 1 July 2024

Cleeve Abbey, Somerset.


Reconstruction of the Abbey courtesy English Heritage.
The entrance gate on the far lefthand side still stands, but the large church, top centre, no longer exists. Centre front is the refectory which exists together with its exquisitely carved angel ceiling. The buildings surrounding the cloisters still stand although not complete.
The main entrance to Cleeve Abbey is across this small bridge which sits above a crystal clear stream.   
Cleeve Abbey, a Cistercian Order, was founded in 1198 
The Latin inscription above the entrance arch to the gatehouse reads "Gate be open, shut to no honest person". The two gates, one on each side, were controlled by the Abbey Porter who handed out food or help to those in need. However, despite the welcoming words the entrance courtyard was strictly controlled by the porter. Above the entrance courtyard was a chapel and a guest house for the poor.
 Few people were allowed through to this side of the gatehouse.
This stone entrance stairway leads up to the Refectory.
Image of the Refectory courtesy English Heritage
The Refectories rare medieval tiled pavement floor has been removed to a state of the art protective shelter. Recently constructed, the building ensures that the tiles are protected for years to come. The tiles are thought to have been made in 127o in a Gloucestershire Tilery. They display a number of heraldic designs reflecting the importance of the abbeys attachment to their royal patronage enjoyed during the 13th century. 

The chevrons reflect the de Clare earls of Gloucester

The rampant lion denotes the earls of Cornwall
The three lions represent the kings of England
The double-headed eagle indicates Richard, 'King of the Romans"
The glory of the Refectory is this magnificent 'angel' oak carved ceiling.
There are twenty two projecting carved angels all connected by a carved vine trail. Each angel is supported by a corbel, decorated with an angel holding a shield. 
During the Middle Ages, Corrodians were pensioners who lived out their final years in monasteries or nunneries. They were usually well-to-do elderly lay people who paid or were sponsored for accommodation and food for the rest of their lives. The stipend itself was known as the Corrody.  A pensioner, one Edward Walker, spent his last years in the rooms above. He paid a total of £27, being the equivalent of £10,000 today. He was given bread, ale, meat and seven loads of wood per year for both himself and his servant. The abbey even cared for his two horses. This seems to be a far better deal than care for the elderly today. Currently it costs between £35,000 - £50,000 per year! 
The Chapter House - showing the Cloisters beyond
Traditionally this was where the monks met on a daily basis to discuss any outstanding business or difficulties. This photo portrays a sense of the room's faded beauty. 
These steps lead up to the dormitory from the cloisters. This entrance was known as the day stairs

The monastic dormitory at Cleeve is one of the finest remaining in Britain. This single large open room is where all of the monks would have slept. At one end, is a doorway to the latrines, and at the other end is a doorway leading to the night stairs. The stairs led directly into the church, enabling the monks to rise from their beds at 1.00am to visit the church for prays. 
We found a shady spot beneath the trees to eat our lunch, and were delighted to find ourselves being entertained by a large group of Swifts - Apus apus. They soared high above us like arrows shooting across the sky catching insects on the wing. Individual Swifts would dart away from the group and disappear into the top of the monasteries stone walls to their nests.

28 comments:

  1. Fascinating Rosemary. The Monks would have been cold in their long bedroom.

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    1. They must have been very hardy to survive the cold.

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  2. What a beautiful place, especially that wooden angels ceiling! Interesting info about elder care for the wealthy.

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  3. Impressive building and a stream always adds to the magic. Is it bubbling up through chalk as the bed of the stream there looks like some other type of harder stone.

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    1. Apparently it is known as the Washford river - it rises on the northern slopes of the Brendon Hills. However, it is little more than a stream when it passes through the Abbey's grounds. It continues its journey through Washford to Watchet which on the coast, and then flows out into the sea. The approximate length of the river from source to mouth is 10.50 miles.

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  4. What a wonderful building and another beautiful day as well.

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    1. Cleeve Abbey is a gem. Enjoying the weather, it is the right temperature for me with lovely skies.

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  5. Hello Rosemary, Another incredible place! When that almost-too-good-to-be-true refectory tile floor was removed, was a duplicate installed in the original building, or another type of floor?
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - no the Refectory is now very plain - the original wall painting is no longer visible and it has a wooden floor. Just the lovely angel ceiling remains.

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  6. Wow!!! That Angel Ceiling is beyond gorgeous! I love the stark unpainted purity of the oak. What a stunning view that ceiling is! Thank you for including the close-up details of the angel and corbels. I love the whole design! The other rooms of the monastery are also wonderfully revealing... and to think wealthy old people could be housed there emphasizes the class differences I suppose.... poor turned away at the door. We are no better in the modern age it seems. I love following your rambles through the countryside!!!

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    1. I was in awe when I first saw the angel ceiling.
      Maybe, I have not written the text clearly for which I do apologise, as the poor and needy were not turned away. Any person in need would be given food and shelter but only within the confines of the accommodation found in the gate house.

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  7. Well you get around to some interesting places from the looks of things. I'm a bit limited to around Oxfordshire, and Wales though I have been known to venture further. I've come across some corbels like you have shown and angels looking down but the oddest were elephants in one church. The tiles are another ting you see but are rare. You just got a new follower

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    1. Thanks for your comment Billy - we are very fortunate in this country to have so many interesting historical churches, filled with architectural treasures, that are freely available for us all to see and admire.

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  8. It looks a beautiful place and I do appreciate your commentary.

    A shady spot beneath the trees to eat your lunch sounds very nice and an added bonus to see a large group of Swifts.

    All the best Jan

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    1. Thanks Jan - the Swifts were a joy to see.

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  9. It’s especially wonderful to see the swifts taking advantage of this cherished old building, breathing life into it, in a manner of speaking. Have you by chance read “Swifts and Us,” by Sarah Gibson, an impassioned advocacy for swifts? If not you might consider putting it on your reading list. I think you might enjoy it.

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  10. A fascinating post. I do love abbeys and your photos are stunning. B x

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    1. Well worth a visit should you be in Somerset.

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  11. Dear Rosemary - Cleeve Abbey is fantastic. The medieval structure is nicely preserved in the beautiful layout and the ceiling with the beautiful oak carved angel and wooden beams is stunning. The dormitory made me imagine monks’ strict set of rules to follow, like getting up at 1:00 a.m. Other facts you wrote are also interesting.
    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - I imagine that the monks must have been extremely strong and fit - climbing up and down all of those steep stone steps day in and day out. When not at prayer they worked hard in their gardens, fields, and farms, and also created wonderful illuminated manuscripts. However, when they fell ill they only had herbal remedies.

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  12. Cleeve Abbey looks like a beautiful place to spend time absorbing the history and architecture of long ago. The angel ceiling is marvelous, and to think that the wood has lasted for so many centuries!
    Caring for the elderly in the monastery would be a better choice, I think, than what we do now. For so long churches and religious organizations cared for the poor and sick. Even here on our coastline, hospital boats run by missions provided the only health care for a number of decades, until the governments took over.

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    1. Many things that we have taken for granted across the years appear to be going backwards, especially help for the elderly.

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  13. Hello Rosemary,
    I had commented here, but perhaps you have comment moderation on. The wooden ceiling is wonderful and so well-preserved.
    Lorrie

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    1. Sorry Lorrie - we have just been away for a few days and I have just found it in spam - blogger has a mind of its own!

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