Sunday 2 March 2014

Don't Blame It (All) On The Reformation!

I was thrilled to get an email from the Reverend Ian this weekend introducing himself as a retired Anglican (Episcopal priest) who is researching the lost Benedictine abbey of Abingdon, just south of Oxford in England and preparing a lecture for a local historical society on the abbey church. It was fascinating to read that the origins of the Bendictine Abbey extend as far back as 675AD. A second abbey was subsequently built when the Bishop of Winchester was Ethelwold (who introduced the Benedictine Rule to England). A later Norman rebuilding took place circa 1100-1170 and considerable development until the church was destroyed in 1538 at the time of the Reformation and Dissolution of abbeys. Abingdon was one of the ten wealthiest monasteries in England. But it was when the townsfolk rioted against the abbey in 1327 that they made off with over 60 copes and numerous other vestments. Given that Opus Anglicanum was at its peak before the Black Death in 1349, the Abingdon copes must have been something like the Bologna Cope. Given that such riots occurred in many parts of the country prior to the Black Death, then perhaps it is this period that saw the greatest depredation of the fabulous works of Opus Anglicanum. It would be interesting see further research in this area now. So what, then, was lost in the Reformation? The Reverend Ian informs us that in 1450 an abbot ordered 45 copes from an Oxford maker in 1450 (15 red cloth of gold with blue and gold orphreys and 30 white with red orphreys!) so it would appear that they could still command the finest craftmanship of any generation. Now all that remains of the abbey is a grass sward where the church stood and fragmentary remains of the library. The image above is taken from the breath-takingly beautiful Abingdon Missal and below is the ceiling from St Helen's Church, Abingdon.

1 comment:

  1. It must have been a very wealthy abbey. Those copes must have cost a fortune to order all at once.
    Regards Phillipa in NZ