"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Tewkesbury Part 2: The Abbey

There has been a church on the site of Tewkesbury Abbey for 1200 years and the present building is 900 years old. Around 715 a monastery was founded and around 1087 building of the present abbey began. It was consecrated in 1121. The abbey buildings survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540 due to people of the town buying the church from Henry VIII for £453 (being the cost of the lead and bells). It is one of the largest parish churches in the country being of cathedral proportions.

This beautiful tree on the Abbey lawns is a Copper Beech and must look spectacular in the Summer.

There are quite a few of these stone carvings propped up around the sides of the Abbey walls. This one represents an Angel playing the bagpipes.

Our Lady Queen of Peace statue by Anthony Robinson

Various tombs and monuments. I wish now I had taken more photos of the information boards around the Abbey. I thought I would be able to get information on various features from the Guide Book I bought. Its a beautifully illustrated souvenir but unfortunately there is not a lot of info on the chapels, font, pulpit, monuments etc.

Tomb of Hugh Le Despenser died 1326.

Tomb of Robert Forthington, Abbot of Tewkesbury 1232-1254

Tomb of Alan, Abbott of Tewkesbury 1187-1202. He came to Tewkesbury from Canterbury where he had edited letters relating to the controversy between Archbishop Thomas Becket and King Henry II which tell us most of what we know about the events leading up to the tragic murder of Becket in 1170.

A word of warning (Pete if you read this post and ever visit Tewkesbury take heed!! :) )

Lady Chapel

The Pulpit

The Font

Norman Pillars and Vaulted Ceiling. The Pillars are over 2 metres in diameter and would have been plastered and decorated with patterns in Medieval times.

Blue and red lierne vaulting (the ceilings were beautiful).

Recent renovation of the ceiling of the Warwick or Beauchamp Chantry (built in the early 15th century by Isabel Beauchamp as a memorial for both herself and her 2 husbands) has revealed some of the Medieval colours.

Stained Glass

The Abbey is famous for its Medieval Glass but there are splendid examples of Victorian and modern glass.

Jesus Blessing Children (Victorian)

The Pharisee and The Republican (Victorian)

The next 2 modern windows are probably the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen - I wish the photos did them justice! They were made by Tom Denny and placed in the Chapel of St John the Baptist and St Catherine to commemorate the 900 year anniversary of the arrival of monks at Tewkesbury.They are entitled "Work" and "Prayer" from the Benedictine motto "to work is to pray".

Edit - Apologies just realised I posted 2 photos of the same window! so have added the correct picture below!

One of the windows representing Christ's Miracles - this one the Loaves and the Fishes - Feeding the 5000

Changing Water to Wine

Jesus Walking on the Water

Robert Fitzhamon and 3 major successors (Medieval)


When I was buying a photography pass I picked up an interesting book on the Abbey's misericords. Misericords are wooden ledges on the underside of a seat containing a carved bracket where, in Medieval times, frail or elderly monks could lean during the long services.

The carvings often have a secular theme, for example, of rural life or traditional customs.

Unfortunately, not many of the misericords were on display. I did pick up a few of the seats but to be honest the seats wouldn't stay up unless you held them (not easy when trying to take a photograph in a cramped space) and I wasn't 100% sure I should be in the choir stalls anyway!

I am not sure what the carving in the first image represents - as I couldn't find it in the book!

The next carving is an example of crude medieval wit. So, if you are of a sensitive nature, it might be best not to read the next sentence although I have tried to word it as politely as I can!
This naked human figure has its bottom exposed in a gesture of contempt. It appears to be "breaking wind" which in medieval times was associated with the devil and the sulphurous smell of hell. An alternative interpretation would be that it was meant to keep the devil out.

This misericord shows 2 hybrid creatures/monsters. On the left is a biped with clawed feet and a snarling head. The one on the right combines a bird's body with 2 human legs.

Green Man

I have mentioned before how fascinated I am by the Green Man and I know several of you are also fans! so I was particularly excited that the Abbey actually has a "Green Man Trail" with over 50 to find! The website and leaflet do suggest you take along binoculars and a torch to find the figures as most are up in the roof (which is very high). Well, there was absolutely no way I was going to walk round flashing a torch at the roof rafters but I did take binoculars which I had very foolishly decided to leave in the car!! Consequently, and, much to my huge disappointment, I couldn't make out any Green Men at all. Once D arrived back from his Severn Hams walk I more or less frogmarched him into the Abbey, ignoring all his protests, and told him he had to try and get some Green Man photos using the zoom on the bridge camera.

This first one is actually outside on wrought iron gates

and this is the only one we found :( Mainly because after 5 minutes of looking D had had enough!

If we visit again (B and E are keen to go to see what they were missing) I'll take my binoculars and borrow the bridge and spend as many hours as are necessary finding some more. I did come home with a Green Man mug though :)

There is some interesting information in the Trail leaflet - there are apparently four types of faces. A foliate face where the face becomes leaves; a disgorging face where leaves sprout from the mouth; a bloodsucker face with branches/leaves growing out of eyes, mouth or ears and a Jack in the Green face with a head peeping out of a frame of leaves.

Many of the gilded bosses (carved blocks where stone ribs of a vaulted ceiling join) were composed of heads of mythological type figures - here's a few more taken with the Canon bridge

Are these more Green Men?

And just a few more showing how well the zoom coped with the stained glass windows.

Had to show those lovely Denny windows again!

Part of the East Window which contains rare Medieval glass.

Sorry for such a long post and so many photos if you've made it this far!!

Some of the photos are a bit "iffy" I am afraid - my Olympus isn't a fan of indoor photography and using the flash often makes things darker! I do sometimes up the intensity of the flash but its very hit and miss - if you don't do it enough the photos are still too dark and turn it up too high and they are over-exposed!

On the subject of the Green Man - there was an interesting piece on tv this afternoon on one of those awful day-time programmes (Flog It?) on late afternoon. The show visited Southwell Minster which has THE most superb stone carvings in the Chapter House depicting foliage (all botanically correct) AND many Green Men. There is also a very rare example of a Green Woman. I'd heard of Southwell before but its now gone to the top of the list of places to visit.

2nd Edit - Found another Green Man - you might be able to make it out - one of my photos very heavily cropped!


Margaret Adamson said...

Yes along post but a very interestingone with photos to show us many aspects of this wonderful Abbey. The stain glass window are awesome asare the ceilings. Even the Abbey flower decorations are lovely. Thanks for showing us this magnificnet building. Have a great weekend.

Countryside Tales said...

It looks a beautiful place to visit and I would also have been on the trail of the Green Men. Have been to southwell minster too- you will love it, a fantastic building. :-)

Ragged Robin said...

Margaret Adamson - Thanks very much Margaret - so glad you enjoyed the post. A really beautiful Abbey and I so wish I could have spent longer there - so much to see!

Countryside Tales - Thanks CT :) Just had a look at google maps - Southwell is only about an hour and a half from here :)

SeagullSuzie said...

I love the statue Our Lady Queen of Peace, find it rather spooky looking, but beautiful all the same.

Ragged Robin said...

SeagullSuzie - Thanks Suzie. I wish I'd got a better photo of the statue - in fact, I nearly didn't include it. I agree with you about the beauty/spookiness.

David Turner said...

A fascinating looking place RR, and thank-you so much for this insightful tour of this former abbey church. Beverley Minster, which is also supposed to be one of the largest parish churches in England, was also saved by the townspeople from Henry VIII and one can only be glad that these beautiful buildings were lucky enough to survive both the tyranny of the Tudors & the later Puritans.

The stone carvings and monuments are stunning, with a nice of mix of medieval & contemporary, but of course special mention has to go to the stained glass, as you say the "Work" and "Prayer" windows are simply glorious in the truest sense of the word. I also really like the high windows & vaulting in the east end, which I at least think you have captured beautifully.

Many thanks again and kindest regards to all :-)

Ragged Robin said...

David Turner - Hi David - Thank you so very much for your lovely comment.

That is very interesting to read about Beverley Minister and the similar story. Its a church I would very much like to visit.

I often think of you when I photograph stained glass so was so pleased you liked the photos. Paul on Twitter said one of the Denny windows was reminiscent of sunshine in a woodland glade which I thought was a beautiful description.

I do hope you and family are well David and it won't be long before you are back in your newly renovated cottage. I've just checked your blog in case you had posted and it hadn't been updated on my timeline but it appears to have disappeared. Please let me know if you start a new one or go back to Wordpress as I really do miss your wonderful posts and photos.

With very best wishes Caroline :)

amanda peters said...

Another lovely place, all those stained glass windows are wonderful, and it would be fun to go back and try and find all the Green man.
Amanda xx

David Turner said...

That is a beautiful description, the left hand window almost looks like a bluebell wood when I look at it again :-)

I do keep a diary type blog (link on my profile) but I am sure you must all be getting fed up with me changing my blog all the time (I know I am!!). However at least I only have the one now ;-)

Kindest regards :-)

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Thanks very much Amanda. I do hope we can return - its always the same I miss so much on an initial visit as I have only a short amount of time to look round!

David Turner - Yes, I thought it was a lovely description too :)

Thanks so much for the information re: the diary type blog (have found it now and will add it to my Blog List. I am so glad you are still blogging. I have ups and downs with blogging and started a new one just on the garden earlier this year and am now thinking I would have done best just to keep to the one!

Best wishes. Caroline

Deb said...

What a beautiful church and such an interesting post, especially about the Green Men(and woman).:-)

Millymollymandy said...

Tewkesbury looks like a beautiful town to visit with many interesting things to see, and I'm glad you had the chance to visit the Abbey as well. Lots of beauty there too. :-)

amanda peters said...

Hope you don't mind RR, but noticed David has left a comment, I to have missed your blog David, will go over and check you out..
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Deb - Thanks so much - glad you enjoyed :)

Millymollymandy - Thanks so much. So pleased you enjoyed. I can't believe we've never been before. Amazing the places you can have fairly close and yet never visited!

Amanda Peters - Hi Amanda - so glad you spotted David's comment and have discovered his new blog. I've been catching up on some of his news today :)

Pete Duxon said...

RR can't think why you thought of me!! I have been to Tewkesbury Abbey a few times over the years .. not been for a while though.

did you go to the old baptist chapel??

Ragged Robin said...

Pete Duxon - lol :) That episode from Lapworth is forever engraved in my mind :)

No, sadly, didn't have time for the old Baptist chapel. Its opposite the John Moore museum I think and you can entry via them.

Still hoping to go back with the whole family so might have time to do things we missed. Though can't see family wanting to visit the chapel :(