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Tewkesbury had been a centre for worship since the 7th century, becoming a priory in the 10th. The present building was started in the early 12th century. It was unsuccessfully used as a sanctuary in the Wars of the Roses. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries it became the parish church for the town. George Gilbert Scott led Restoration in the late 19th century. The church and churchyard within the abbey precincts includes tombs and memorials to many of the aristocracy of the area.
Oddo and Doddo, brothers and Dukes of Mercia, Saxon founders of Tewkesbury Abbey. Latin titulus above: Oddo : Doddo duc(es) duas Marciorum et primi fundatores Teokburie ("Oddo & Doddo two Earls of the Marches and first founders of Tewkesbury"). Each knight is in armour and bears in his hand a model of a church. Both are supporting a shield (affixed to a pomegranate tree) bearing the attributed arms of themselves and of the Abbey Gules, a cross raguly or. Tewkesbury Abbey Founders Book, folio 8 verso, Bodleian Library, Oxford
The tall Norman arch of the facade is unique in England
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.
Robert Fitzhamon was wounded at Falaise in Normandy in 1105 and died two years later, but his son-in-law, Robert FitzRoy, the natural son of Henry I who was made Earl of Gloucester, continued to fund the building work. The Abbey's greatest single later patron was Lady Eleanor le Despenser, last of the De Clare heirs of FitzRoy. In the High Middle Ages, Tewkesbury became one of the richest abbeys of England.
After the Battle of Tewkesbury in the Wars of the Roses on 4 May 1471, some of the defeated Lancastrians sought sanctuary in the abbey. The victorious Yorkists, led by King Edward IV, forced their way into the abbey; the resulting bloodshed caused the building to be closed for a month until it could be purified and re-consecrated.
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.
The bells merited their own free-standing belltower, an unusual feature in English sites. After the Dissolution, the bell-tower was used as the gaol for the borough until it was demolished in the late 18th century.
The central stone tower was originally topped with a wooden spire, which collapsed in 1559 and was never rebuilt. Restoration undertaken in the late 19th century under Sir George Gilbert Scott was reopened on 23 September 1879. Work continued under the direction of his son John Oldrid Scott until 1910 and included the rood screen of 1892.
Flood waters from the nearby River Severn reached inside the Abbey during severe floods in 1760, and again on 23 July 2007.
1375 - Edward Despenser, Lord of the Manor of Tewkesbury, is remembered today chiefly for the effigy on his monument, which shows him in full colour kneeling on top of the canopy of his chantry, facing toward the high altar
1395 - Robert Fitzhamon's remains were moved into a new chapel built as his tomb
The tower is the largest Romanesque crossing tower in Europe.
The bells at the Abbey were overhauled in 1962. The ring is now made up of twelve bells, hung for change ringing, cast in 1962, by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough. The inscriptions of the old 5th and 10th bells are copied in facsimile onto the new bells. The bells have modern cast iron headstocks and all run on self-aligning ball bearings. They are hung in the north-east corner of the tower, and the ringing chamber is partitioned off from the rest of the tower. A semitone bell was added (Flat 6th) also cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1991, this is numbered 5a making the total 13 available to campanologists.
The Old Clock Bells are the old 6th (Abraham Rudhall II, 1725), the old 7th (Abraham Rudhall I, 1696), the old 8th (Abraham Rudhall I, 1696) and the old 11th (Abraham Rudhall I, 1717). In St Dunstan's Chapel, at the east end of the Abbey, is a small disused bell inscribed T. MEARS FECT. 1837.
The Abbey bells are rung from 10:15am to 11:00am every Sunday except the first Sunday of the month (a quarter peal). There is also ringing for Evensong from 4:00pm to 5:00pm, except on the third Sunday (a quarter peal) and most fifth Sundays. Practice takes place each Thursday from 7:30pm to 9:00pm.
The market town of Tewkesbury developed to the north of the abbey precincts, of which vestiges remain in the layout of the streets and a few buildings: the Abbot's gatehouse, the Almonry barn, the Abbey Mill, Abbey House, the present vicarage and some half-timbered dwellings in Church Street. The Abbey now sits partly isolated in lawns, like a cathedral in its cathedral close, for the area surrounding the Abbey is protected from development by the Abbey Lawn Trust, originally funded by a United States benefactor in 1962.
The Abbey possesses, in effect, two choirs. The Abbey Choir sings at Sunday services, with children (boys and girls) and adults in the morning, and adults in the evening. Schola Cantorum is a professional choir of men and boys based at Dean Close Preparatory School and sings at weekday Evensongs as well as occasional masses and concerts. The Abbey School Tewkesbury, which educated, trained and provided choristers to sing the service of Evensong from its foundation in 1973 by Miles Amherst, closed in 2006; the choir was then re-housed at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, and renamed the Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum.
For the most part, worship at the Abbey has been emphatically High Anglican. However, in more recent times there has been an acknowledgement of the value of less solemn worship, and this is reflected in the two congregational services offered on Sunday mornings. The first of these (at 9.15am) is a Parish Eucharist, with modern language and an informal atmosphere; a parish breakfast is typically served after this service. The main Sung Eucharist at 11am is solemn and formal, including a choral Mass; traditional language is used throughout, and most parts of the service are indeed sung, including the Collect and Gospel reading. Choral Evensong is sung on Sunday evenings, and also on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday during the week. A said Eucharist also takes place every day of the week, at varying times, and alternating between traditional and modern language. Each summer since 1969 (with the exception of 2007 when the town was hit by floods) the Abbey has played host to Musica Deo Sacra, a festival combining music and liturgy. Photography in the Abbey is restricted.
^Harper, John (May 1986). "The Organ of Magdalen College, Oxford. 1: The Historical Background of Earlier Organs, 1481-1985". The Musical Times, Vol. 127, No. 1718. Musical Times Publications Ltd.: 293-296. JSTOR965479. (accessed via JSTOR, subscription required)
^ Henry Laurd, ed. "Annales de Theokesberia" in Annales Monastici, 5 volumes (London: 1864-9) 1:44. "MCII: Hic primum in novum monasterium ingressi sumus" - "1102 A.D.: This was the first year we entered the new monastery".
^ abcdefghiDavid Knowles, et al, The Heads of Religious Houses, England and Wales: Volume 1, 940-1216, revised edition (Cambridge, U.K.: 2001) pp. 73, 255-256.
^ abcdefWilliam Page, Victoria County History of Gloucester, Volume II (London: 1907) pp. 62-65.
^Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online (ODNB), "Robert Fitz Haimon" by Judith A. Green.
^ abcdefgDavid M. Smith, and Vera London, eds. The Heads of Religious Houses, England and Wales: Volume II, 1216-1377, (London: 2001) pp. 73-74.
^ James Bennett, The History of Tewkesbury (London: 1830) p. 118.
^ abcdefghDavid M. Smith, ed. The Heads of Religious Houses, England and Wales: Volume III, 1377-1540, (Cambridge, U.K.: 2008) pp. 73-74.
^Archived 24 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine John Le Neve, et al., Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 8, Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford and Peterborough Dioceses (London: 1996) p. 40.
^Note: Photography is permitted in the Abbey but requires purchase of a day permit. Photography is not permitted, however, during services or within the sanctuary of the altar and is not permitted for publication or commercial gain without written permission of the vicar or churchwardens. See: "Discover Tewkesbury Abbey" pamphlet and Tewkesbury Abbey Camera/Video Permit
Morris, Richard K. & Shoesmith, Ron (editors) (2003) Tewkesbury Abbey: history, art and architecture. Almeley: Logaston Press ISBN1-904396-03-8