Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Hailes, Gloucestershire

Ruined choirs

The ruins of Hailes Abbey are just across the lane from the small church in my previous post. The abbey was founded in 1246 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who was Henry III’s younger brother. Richard had the unusual additional title of King of the Romans, which was a sort of consolation prize because he had been elected Holy Roman Emperor by the German princes but his appointment had been rejected by the pope, who guarded jealously his power of veto over such appointments. Richard founded the abbey in thanks to God for surviving a shipwreck and it was home to a community of Cistercian monks. However, the abbey’s big boost came during the following generation, when Richard’s son, Edmund, gave it a phial of liquid that was said to be the blood of Christ.

It was Edmund’s donation in 1270 that made the abbey a major pilgrimage destination, second only in England to the shrine of St Thomas Beckett at Canterbury. The steady stream of pilgrims brought money to the abbey, and it was rebuilt in the 1270s, to create a very large complex. The place prospered until it was dissolved, like all England’s other monasteries, by Henry VIII in the 1530s. The foundations of the huge church can still be traced on the grass, as can fragments of the abbey’s domestic buildings such as the refectory, and several rows of arches still stand above the ground. Above is a photograph sourced on the internet that shows a little more of the site than I can see as I pass in the car on the way to our local farm shop.

When the abbey is open to the public, there’s much to see – including a good small museum explaining the history of the place and displaying some lovely fragments of carved stone that have survived the dismantling of most of the buildings after 1539. For now, it’s a lonely spot, one of the bare ruined choirs, as Shakespeare put it, where late the sweet birds sang.*

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* William Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXIII

Photograph of Hailes Abbey © Saffron Blaze, used under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 3.0


Joe Treasure said...

I'm so glad you're able to keep posting while travelling is restricted. What is it, by the way, about that line from sonnet 73 that is so particularly beautiful? Is it its multilayered quality? An aging man is like trees in autumn, which are like monastic ruins. Or would I like it just as much in any context?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joe: Posting seems to help in these difficult times – perhaps because I'm sharing some things that might take people's minds off the challenges of everyday life for a minute or two.

Sonnet 73? I think it *is* that multilayered quality, which also entails 'choirs' evoking monastic singers as well as buildings...and now there aren't even avian choirs. And also there is something plangent about the open vowel sounds of the phrase 'bare ruin'd choirs'.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Whilst being able to walk slowly round a ruined abbey/priory and examine what's left in detail - which you probably wouldn't have done if it had still been a living monastery - I can't help feeling what a monumental piece of cultural vandalism was committed - including the valuable libraries and a lot of medieval literature lost. Strange how so many sites which were deemed too valuable for Henry VIII's Thomas Cromwell to leave in the hands of these free corporations are empty spaces now, with only the songbirds for company.

Ashamed that the Cromwells/Williamses originated in this part of Glamorgan.