A drive down the Western midlands of England will take you in one day past a whole series of beautiful Abbey churches–some now Anglican cathedrals, some parish churches and some ruins.
Worcester, Gloucester, Hereford, Shrewsbury and Tewkesbury are just a few.
Tewkesbury Abbey dominates the small market town of Tewkesbury. Like many of the old Abbey churches that have become parish churches it is the size of a small cathedral itself. The Anglicans have preserved it beautifully and it’s a real treasure.
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 Severn and Avon rivers join together. The cell was succeeded by a monastery in 715, but nothing remaining of it has been identified.
In the 10th century the religious foundation at Tewkesbury became a priory subordinate to the Benedictine Cranbourne Abbey in Dorset. In 1087, William the Conqueror gave the manor of Tewkesbury to his cousin, Robert Fitzhamon, who, with Giraldus, Abbot of Cranbourne, founded the present abbey in 1092. Building of the present Abbey church did not start until 1102, employing Caen stone imported from Normandy and floated up the Severn.
At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the last abbot, John Wakeman, surrendered the abbey to the commissioners of King Henry VIII on 9 January 1539. Perhaps because of his cooperation with the proceedings, he was awarded an annuity of 400 marks and was ordained as the first Bishop of Gloucester in September 1541. Meanwhile, the people of Tewkesbury saved the abbey from destruction. Insisting that it was their parish church which they had the right to keep, they bought it from the Crown for the value of its bells and lead roof which would have been salvaged and melted down, leaving the structure a roofless ruin. The price came to £453.
Here is a Video of the Tewkesbury Abbey choir singing the beautiful hymn The Day Thou Gavest Lord Has Ended.