November 10 – A visit to Tewkesbury Abbey

A few church micros on the way home

Hi from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

Today we decided to visit Tewkesbury Abbey which is a short drive from Cheltenham. On the way, we called at St James the Great church in Stoke Orchard. It was just a little church and we did not go in but we found the cache quickly. We also found another cache at a Methodist church.

As we approached Tewkesbury from the south we came to the A38 Stonehills roundabout where there was a spectacular sculpture which overlooks the original battlefield of The Battle of Tewkesbury. The Battle of Tewkesbury and those who fought and died in it, are now commemorated by a spectacular oak sculpture named ‘The Arrivall’. The sculpture consists of two timber-framed horses. One a mounted knight, known as Victor, who represents the victorious Yorkist forces of King Edward IV and is located on the roundabout. Across the carriageway he faces the riderless horse Vanquished who represents the Lancastrian forces. His head is bowed in defeat and exhaustion from the battle. Both have lances, from which pennants swing gently in the breeze. On 4th May 1471 the Lancastrian army, led by the Prince of Wales, Lord Wenlock and the Duke of Somerset, was defeated by the Yorkists, led by Edward IV, Richard of Gloucester and George, Duke of Clarence. This was a pivotal battle in the Wars of the Roses. Edward, Prince of Wales, was buried in the choir of the Abbey and although the exact site of his burial is not known there is a brass plaque of commemoration in the floor of the choir.

 Tewkesbury Abbey is world-renowned for being one of the UK’s greatest examples of medieval architecture. Its striking Norman tower and long nave have dominated the Tewkesbury skyline for nearly 900 years. The Christian foundations in the town can be traced back to the 7th century when Theoc, a missionary from Northumbria settled in the area. A monastery followed in 715. The history of the Abbey at its current site starts in the 10th century when Abbot Geraldus travelled with a group of monks from Cranborne in Dorset to establish a new monastery at Tewkesbury. It was consecrated in 1121 and Tewkesbury Abbey thrived for many years until the time of The Reformation when, in 1540, the monastery was dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII and most of the monastery buildings were lost. But the Abbey itself survived after being saved by the townsfolk of Tewkesbury. They paid £453, the price of the lead on the roof and the metal in the bells, to buy their parish church and saved the magnificent building for future generations. Today much of the Abbey remains unchanged from the early 12th century: the Nave Pillars, Norman tower and West front. The East End of the Abbey contains original medieval windows, a Quire clerestory and number of chapels. In the 19th century, fine stained glass was installed in the Nave and at the West End. The most recent stained glass consists of two windows created by Tom Denny in 2002 to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the arrival of the Benedictine monks from Cranborne. The theme of the windows is Laborare est Orare – To Work is to Pray – which comes from the Rule of St Benedict, the laws by which Benedict’s followers lived. I have only recently been introduced to Tom Denny’s work but it is fabulous and very recognizable. 

Everything about the Abbey is wonderful so it is hard to know where to start. The ceiling of the nave has a Lierne vaulted ceiling with ceiling bosses with many angelic figures. In the Beauchamp chantry chapel, there is an amazing fan-vaulted ceiling. The vaulted ceiling of the choir depicts the “Sun in Splendor”.

There are tombs including that of Hugh Despenser who died in 1326 and Alan, Abbot of Tewkesbury Abbey from 1187 – 1202, the Wakeman cenotaph from 1549, wall monuments and ledger stones. The octagonal font has a tall wooden canopy and an 8 shaft sandstone base. The Brass Eagle lectern has the four evangelists around the base and was presented to the Abbey in 1878. There was a canopied statue of Richard de Beauchamp, 1st Earl of Worchester who was killed at the siege of Meaux in 1421 and an octagonal marble pulpit. There are artworks like the copy of Raphael#s’s “Madonna del Passeggio” and the Salviati mosaic of Christ enthroned in the Apsidal Chapel which was made around 1897.

As well as all this there is a wonderful wooden rood screen with the fabulous Holy Rood above it. The High Altar has an amazing altar frontal In 1992 two contemporary works of art were purchased for the Abbey by The Friends of Tewkesbury Abbey – the altar in St Catherine’s Chapel “I am that I am” by Bryant Fedden and the statue behind the High Altar “Our Lady Queen of Peace” by Anthony Robinson.

The highlight for me was the Tewkesbury Triptych in the St Edmund’s Chapel made in 2013. This stunning religious icon in three parts took the artist Silvia Dimitrova four years to plan and two years to complete. It represents 29 main characters including some of my favourites like St Edmund, King Oswald, St Dunstan, St James the Great, St Wulfstan, St Botolph, St Etheldreda, St Kyneburga, St Thomas a Becket and St Margaret of Scotland. It is a wonderful work and it is not the first time we have come across her work as we also saw some in Wells Cathedral.

The stained glass windows are also fabulous and the Abbey is famous for the medieval stained glass in its seven quire windows among the outstanding survivors of 14th-century glass in Europe. They show Robert Fitzroy, Gilbert de Clare, Hugh Despenser II and Robert Fitzhamon, King David and four prophets, King Solomon and four prophets, The Last Judgement,  King Rehoboam and four prophets,  King Abijah and four prophets, William de la Zouche and three de Clare earls. Also, the Abbey possesses a fine collection of Victorian stained glass which chronicles the life and deeds of Jesus. In one window there is the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ descent from the cross.

We spent most of the day at the Abbey. I took the tour while Mike took photographs and then we went around the Abbey again talking about what we had learned and seen. I always like to take a tour as I get more information that way. After we finished in the Abbey we went outside to complete the Tewkesbury Abbey multi. We collected the numbers and did some sums and went out into the garden to find the cache. We looked for ages and we were lucky that there were not too many people about so we were left to look in peace. However, we could not find the cache and eventually we gave up. But then I saw that there was a church micro for the abbey too so we collected the numbers for the geocache from around the exterior of the Abbey and walked to the final at a rather sad place.

On the way home, we did a church micro at Ashchurch. We were able to visit the church as they were expecting a large group of bellringers who arrived just after us. The walls are being held up by two huge buttresses on the inside of the building that is very unusual. We could not find the name we needed for the multi initially as Mike saw the name Anthony Bowles, not John. We walked around the cemetery but on the way back we looked again in the first place we had looked and there it was a nice easy find.

We visited St John the Baptist church in Oxenton just before the churchwarden closed the church for the night. We were surprised to find some wall paintings even though they were barely visible. We went outside to look for the cache but despite finding various hint objects we could not find the cache.

We stayed at an Airbnb in Cheltenham over a garage. It was very newly finished but as the roof was slope it had a few problems. The bed was a futon and very close to the ground which made getting in and out very difficult. The microwave was on the ground which made it hard to use. Still, the room was warm, the internet fast and good pressure in the shower.