Malmesbury Abbey

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The main entrance (the South Porch) seen from the graveyard. This picture shows the modern extent of the Abbey

Malmesbury Abbey, at Malmesbury in Wiltshire, England, is a religious house dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It was one of the few English houses with a continual history from the 7th century through to the Dissolution of the Monasteries.[1]

History[edit]

In the later seventh century, the site of the Abbey was chosen by Maidulbh, an Irish monk who established a hermitage, teaching local children. Toward the end of his life (late seventh century), the area was conquered by the Saxons.[2] Malmesbury Abbey was founded as a Benedictine monastery around 676 by the scholar-poet Aldhelm, a nephew of King Ine of Wessex. The town of Malmesbury grew round the expanding Abbey and under Alfred the Great was made Burh,[3] with an assessment of 12 Hides.

In 941 AD, King Athelstan was buried in the Abbey. Æthelstan had died in Gloucester in October 939. The choice of Malmesbury over the New Minster in Winchester indicated that the king remained an outsider to the West Saxon court.[4] A mint was founded at the Abbey around this time.[5]

By the 11th century it contained the second largest library in Europe and was considered one of the leading European seats of learning. The Abbey was the site of an early attempt at human flight when, during the early 11th century, the monk Eilmer of Malmesbury attached wings to his body and flew from a tower. Eilmer flew over 200 yards (200 m) before landing, breaking both legs. He later remarked that the only reason he did not fly further was the lack of a tail on his glider. The 12th-century historian William of Malmesbury was a member of the community, and it is mentioned in the Domesday Book [6]

The Domesday Survey says of the Abbey:

In Wiltshire: Highway (11 hides), Dauntsey (10 hides), Somerford Keynes (5 hides), Brinkworth (5 hides), Norton, near Malmesbury (5 hides), Brokenborough with Corston (50 hides), Kemble (30 hides—now in Glos.), Long Newnton (30 hides), Charlton (20 hides), Garsdon (3 hides), Crudwell (40 hides), Bremhill (38 hides), Purton (35 hides); (fn. 127) in Gloucestershire: Littleton - upon - Severn (5 hides); (fn. 128) and in Warwickshire: Newbold Pacey (3 hides).[7][8][9]

These lands were valued at £188 14s. in all and were assessed as 3 knights' fees.

The current Abbey was substantially completed by 1180. The 431 feet (131 m) tall spire, and the tower it was built upon, collapsed in a storm around 1500 destroying much of the church, including two thirds of the nave and the transept. The west tower fell around 1550, demolishing the three westernmost bays of the nave. As a result of these two collapses, less than half of the original building stands today.

An early-20th-century engraving of King Athelstan's tomb

The Abbey, which owned 23,000 acres (93 km2) in the twenty parishes that constituted Malmesbury Hundred, was closed at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 by Henry VIII and was sold, with all its lands, to William Stumpe, a rich merchant. He returned the abbey church to the town for continuing use as a parish church, and filled the abbey buildings with twenty looms for his cloth-weaving enterprise.[10] Today Malmesbury Abbey is in full use as the parish church of Malmesbury, in the Diocese of Bristol. The remains still contain a fine parvise which holds some examples of books from the Abbey library. The Anglo-Saxon charters of Malmesbury, though extended by forgeries and improvements executed in the abbey's scriptorium, provide source material today for the history of Wessex and the West Saxon church from the seventh century.

During the English Civil War, Malmesbury is said to have changed hands as many as seven times, and the abbey was fiercely fought over. Hundreds of pock-marks left by bullets and shot can still be seen on the south, west and east sides of Malmesbury Abbey walls.

Today much of the Abbey survives, with the ruined parts still joined onto the complete structure. The existing third of the nave remains in use as an active place of worship.

Abbots[edit]

Name Appointment Died Notes
Maidulbh[11] 673 Irish hermit and Founder of Malmsbury.[12]
Aldhelm 639 709 First Old English writer in Latin, scholar and Poet.
Eaba ??? known only from a letter to Lullus
Ethelhard,[13] A signatory to a charter of 749
Cuthbert attended Clofeshoh council in 803.
John Scotus Erigena Was murdered by his pupils.[14]
Alfred of Malmsbury 999
Ælfric of Eynsham[15] 974 1010 Known for building work and his prophecy of the Viking sacking of Malmsbury.
Æthelweard[16]
Cineweard[17]
Beorhtelm[18][19]
Beorhtold[20]
Beorhtwold.[21] Sold off portions of the abbey lands.[22]
Eadric[23] c1012[24]
Wulfsine 1034 [25]
Æthelweard II [26]
Ælfwine almost nothing is known of him.[27]
Beorhtwold II 1053 A man of bad character who collapsed and died during drunken orgy in the town.[28]
Beorhtric appointed 1053 1067 removed by William the conqueror
Turold of Fécamp 1067 moved by William I to Peterborough in 1070.
Warin of Lyre (Évreux) 1070 1087 spent much of his time at court squandering the abbeys resources.[29]
Godfery[30]
Eadwulf A monk of Winchester,[31] expelled by Roger of Salisbury.
Roger of Salisbury 1118
John of Malmsbury 1139 1140 appointed by King Stephen after he took the abbey during the Anarchy[32]
Peter Moraunt 1141 1159 obtained a bull of Pope Innocent II
Gregory 1159 1168
Robert 1172 1176 A physician to Henry II
Osbert Foliot.[33] 1176 1182
Nicholas deposed for running into debt 218
Robert of Melûn 1189 1206
Walter Loring 1206 1222 Signed Magna Charta,[34] received Papal Bull from Innocent III
and gained permission from King John to demolish the Malmsbury Castle.[35]
John Walsh 1222 1246
Geoffrey, sacristan [36] 1246 1260 A monk of Malmesbury
William of Colerne 1260 1296
William of Badminton 1296
Adam de la Hoke, a monk of Malmesbury
Adam by John of Tintern 1349
Simon de Aumeney 1348 1361
Walter de Camme 1362 1396
Thomas Chelworth 1396 1424
Roger Pershore 1424 1434
John Bristow 1434 1456
Johna Andever 1456 1462
John Ayly 1462 1480
Richard Frampton 1480 1515
Richard Camme 1515 1533
Richard Selwyn Surrendered the Abbey to Henry VIII in 1539.

Other burials[edit]

See also[edit]

Images[edit]

The Abbey in the 14th century. Only the brightened area is now used, following collapses of the spire and West Tower
The fine parvise over the south porch
Interior of the Abbey, showing the unusual watching-loft projecting above the nave.
The Abbey interior. The ruined area lies beyond the blank wall rising above the altar

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ S.E. Kelly, editor, 2005.Charters of Malmesbury Abbey In series Anglo-Saxon Charters (Oxford University Press)
  2. ^ Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo Saxon England, page 209.
  3. ^ Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo Saxon England, page 209.
  4. ^ Sarah Foot, ‘Æthelstan (893/4–939)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2011
  5. ^ Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo Saxon England, page 209.
  6. ^ Barbara Yourke, Wessex Passio.
  7. ^ V.C.H. Wilts. ii, pp. 125-7.
  8. ^ Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i, 165.
  9. ^ 'House of Benedictine monks: Abbey of Malmesbury', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (1956), pp. 210-231. Date accessed: 30 April 2014.
  10. ^ D. A. Crowley, ed. Victoria History of Wiltshire XIV: Malmesbury Hundred, (Oxford) 1991.
  11. ^ Meidulf, William of Malmesbury :265.
  12. ^ Maidulbh founded the monastery as a hermitage and taught local children including Aldhelm.
  13. ^ De Gestis pontificum Anglorum.
  14. ^ Caribine, Deirdre, Great Medieval Thinkers, John Scottus Eriugena (Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 14 .
  15. ^ De gestis pontificum Anglorum, ed. N(icholas) E. S. A. Hamilton, Rolls Series, 1870, p. 406.
  16. ^ William of Malmesbury: Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, The History of the English Bishops : Volume I: Text and Translation: Volume I: 411.
  17. ^ B.M., Cott. MS. Vit. A. X.
  18. ^ William of Malmesbury: Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, The History of the English Bishops : Volume I: Text and Translation: Volume I: Text and Translation page 683.
  19. ^ B.M., Cott. MS. Vit. A. X.
  20. ^ William of Malmesbury: Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, The History of the English Bishops : Volume I: Text and Translation: Volume I: Text and Translation page 683.
  21. ^ House of Benedictine monks: Abbey of Malmesbury', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (1956), pp. 210-231. Date accessed: 30 April 2014.
  22. ^ William of Malmesbury: Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, The History of the English Bishops : Volume I: Text and Translation: Volume I: Text and Translation page 258.
  23. ^ Gest. Pont. 411; Æthericus in B.M., Cott. MS. Vit. A. X.
  24. ^ Cod. Dipl. ed. Kemble, no. 719.
  25. ^ Gest. Pont. 411.
  26. ^ 'House of Benedictine monks: Abbey of Malmesbury', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (1956), pp. 210-231.
  27. ^ 'House of Benedictine monks: Abbey of Malmesbury', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (1956), pp. 210-231.
  28. ^ From: 'House of Benedictine monks: Abbey of Malmesbury', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (1956), pp. 210-231. Date accessed: 30 April 2014.
  29. ^ vir efficax: Gest. Pont. 425.
  30. ^ William of Malmesbury: Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, The History of the English Bishops : Volume I: Text and Translation: Volume I: Text and Translation page 271.
  31. ^ Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 42.
  32. ^ Leland, Collect. ii, 272.
  33. ^ 'House of Benedictine monks: Abbey of Malmesbury', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (1956), pp. 210-231. Date accessed: 30 April 2014.
  34. ^ Magna Charta translation, Barons at Runnymede, Magna Charta Period Feudal Estates, h2g2, King John and the Magna Carta.
  35. ^ Bernad Hodge, A history of Malmsbury (Friends of Malmsbury Abbey, 1990).
  36. ^ B.M., Cott. MS. Faust. B. VIII, f. 142a.

References[edit]

  • Smith, M Q: The Sculptures of the South Porch of Malmesbury Abbey: A Short Guide, 1975

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°35′05″N 2°05′54″W / 51.5847°N 2.0984°W / 51.5847; -2.0984