Britain is home to many a famous abbey. The word “abbey” actually refers to a Catholic monastery or convent – usually operated under the spiritual authority of an Abbot. When divorce-hungry King Henry VIII denounced the Catholic Church in the 1500s, he also ordered the dissolution of all monasteries in England, Wales and Ireland. After stripping the estates of their valuables, the Crown either sold off the property or gifted it to loyal nobility. The only actively religious thing left about the properties was the name.
These are some Abbeys that have stood the test of time.
1. WESTMINSTER ABBEY
Located in the heart of London, Westminster Abbey has been the site of royal weddings and its fair share of funerals. Most recently, it captivated the eyes of hundreds of millions when it hosted the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Westminster is also the go-to site for royal coronations; it was featured in the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech where King George VI must speak publicly during his coronation. More a tourist attraction than functioning house of worship, Westminster also holds the tombs of such luminaries as Chaucer, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens and the ashes of Rudyard Kipling and Sir Lawrence Olivier.
2. BOLTON ABBEY
The Bolton Abbey monastery was under construction when the axe of dissolution came down from Henry VIII, and the building was never finished. The estate was passed down through the Dukes of Devonshire, until the 11th Duke gave it to the Chatworth Settlement Trustees. The ruins are now open to the public to tour. The estate earlier served as the inspiration for Wordsworth’s poem “The White Doe of Rylstone.”
3. GLASTONBURY ABBEY
In its prime, Glastonbury Abbey was second only to Westminster in its wealth. After the dissolution, however, it was stripped bare and left for ruin. Located in Somerset, Glastonbury Abbey is believed by many to be the mythical Avalon where the famous sword-from-the-stone Excalibur was forged and where King Arthur died from battle wounds. It had long been rumored Arthur was buried at the Abbey, but in 1191 monks decided to confirm suspicions by excavating the rumored spot. Sixteen feet below the ground they found two bodies – the bodies are believed to be those of King Arthur and his queen, Guinevere. They were later reburied in the Abbey Church where they remain to this day.
4. BATTLE ABBEY
The bloody 1066 Battle of Hastings left many Anglo-Saxons dead and the Normans victorious. As penance for the slaughter, William the Conqueror promised the Pope he would build an abbey on the site of the battle. Though he died before construction was complete, King William’s pledge was ultimately kept in the form of Battle Abbey. It was almost completely demolished by the 16th-century dissolution, gifted to a friend of the king and converted into a private home. Battle Abbey Estate would end up with the Webster family for multiple centuries, though many parts were sold off or fell into disrepair. In the 1970s, the Webster family put the whole thing up for sale and it was bought by the British government.
5. FOUNTAINS ABBEY
Fountains Abbey is so important it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike many of its peers that were met with ruin by King Henry’s dissolution, Fountains remains to this day one of England’s biggest and best-preserved Cistercian abbeys – an order marked by austere living and deferential architecture. The estate is like a living timeline, with landscaping and various buildings spanning the 12th to 18th centuries.
The 18th century restored Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, England, was formerly an Augustinian priory. Converted to a domestic home following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it is now best known as the ancestral home of Lord Byron
ancestral home of the Poet, Lord Byron. Newstead became the Byron family seat in 1540 but Lord Byron sold the property in 1818.
7. ROMSEY ABBEY
Romsey Abbey in Hampshire, England.
Romsey Abbey survived from demolition by Henry VIII after his final break with Rome in the late 1530s. The nuns left but the townspeople were allowed to buy the building for £100 to be used as their parish church.
They later demolished the extra aisle built for them because the Abbey was already too big for them. There were then centuries of neglect, particularly in Cromwell’s time and by 1742 at least 40 windows were bricked up.
In the 19th century, under the ministry of the Rev Edward Lyon Berthon, a renaissance of the Abbey began that has continued to this day. It is the biggest parish church in England.
8. ST. AUGUSTINE’S ABBEY
During the rest of Henry’s reign, St Augustine’s Abbey was held by the Crown with some of its buildings converted into a royal residence. The royal residence was used occasionally by the royal family as late as the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, during which the buildings were leased to a succession of noblemen. The abbey underwent dismantlement until 1848. Since 1848, part of the site has been used for educational purposes and the abbey ruins have been preserved for their historical value
9. LACOCK ABBEY
Lacock Abbey in the village of Lacock, Wiltshire, England, was founded in the early 13th century byEla, Countess of Salisbury, as a nunnery of the Augustinian order. The Abbey remained a nunnery until the suppression of Catholic institutions in England in the 16th century. It then served as a residence for the nobility, and was fortified and occupied by the Royalists during the English Civil War. During the 19th century, it served as the residence for William Henry Fox Talbot, an important pioneer in photography. It is now the property of the National Trust. Throughout the life of the Abbey, many architectural alternations, additions, and removals have occurred, including the removal of the original church building in the 16th century.
10. KIRKSTALL ABBEY
Kirkstall Abbey is a ruined Cistercian monastery in Kirkstall north-west of Leeds city centre in West Yorkshire, England.It was founded c.1152. It was disestablished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under the auspices of Henry VIII.
Kirkstall Abbey was acquired by Leeds Corporation as a gift from Colonel North and opened to the public in the late 19th century. The gatehouse became a museum.