Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire – St Mary the Virgin

We finished the day (Sunday 26 May) by going to Tewkesbury Abbey – the parish church of St Mary the Virgin – for Solemn Evensong and Benediction. The Abbey is at SO 891324, with a posh noticeboard, and a website – http://www.tewkesburyabbey.org.uk/. There are lots of things I could have photographed, but on this occasion writing a blog was not my primary reason for going! Last time we came was with the St Matthew’s choir about a year and a half ago – on that occasion I wasn’t here to blog either. I must go back and buy the guidebook! They do have an excellent sheet they hand to visitors, a time line and a what to see. It also lists their services, has a letter from the Vicar reminding us “As you walk round the Abbey using this guide you are invited to explore not only the history of this beautiful building but your own pilgrimage through life”, and pointing out that a £10 donation becomes worth £12.50 with gift aid (in churches were we often seem grateful for a handful of coins, it is good to see a bit more sense).

Work began on the church in 1087 and it was consecrated in 1121 by the Bishop of Worcester assisted by four others (bishops are like buses …). In 1102 the Benedictine monastery is founded by Abbot Giraldus who comes with 39 monks from the Abbey at Cranborne in Dorset. The East End was re-modelled in the 1400s when the Norman wooden ceiling was replaced by Lierne vaulting, the Despenser, Fitzhamon and Beauchamp chantries are built, and the stained glass is installed. The Battle of Tewkesbury, 4 May 1471, a pivotal battle of the Wars of the Roses, must have caused difficulties.

At the Dissolution the townspeople purchased the church for £453. 19 years later the lead covered wooden spire blew town – bet they wished they hadn’t bought it. Gilbert Scott led a major restoration in 1875. In 2021 it will be 900 years since its consecration – we must go back for the party.

The service was sung by the Cabot choir from Bristol They were extremely good – and the clergy and servers knew what they were doing with incense, sacrament and everything else. As someone who was raised a Baptist, I can’t say that Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is really part of my spiritual life, but I like worship done well – and this certainly ticked that box. It was a privilege to be there. “O thou the central orb” by Charles Wood is worth listening to.

As you can see, looking up is stunning – note the sun, an emblem of the House of York (they won the Battle of Tewkesbury). I didn’t look down and see the brass plaque marking the burial of Edward, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales. I love the altar frontal. The High Altar is made of Purbeck marble, and was hidden in plain sight during the time of Cromwell by being sawn in half and laid on the seats in the Porch. I didn’t note which Chantry was which.

I liked this triptych with King Edmund and his wolf on the front row.

I think this is the so-called Wakeman cenotaph. John Wakeman was the last Abbot. He received a pension in 1539, and then was created the first Bishop of Gloucester in 1541 (I wonder if he returned the pension?). The style of the cadaver is dated a century earlier than the good Bishop. 

Two modern windows, designed by Tom Denny in 2002, mark the 900th anniversary of the Benedictines coming to Tewkesbury. The windows depict Benedict’s rule- “To Work is to Pray”. According to the Gloucester Cathedral site https://www.gloucestercathedral.org.uk/history-heritage/architecture/stained-glass/the-twentieth-and-twentyfirst-century–6538.php  there is a lot of his work in this area.

Enjoy these lovely carvings.

The sun was shining as we left. We dined in a pub just across the road, and drove back to our Stables residence.

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