Blog – Abingdon Abbey: St. Mary’s Abbey: Abbandun.

The Long Gallery at Abingdon Abbey.
By Claire Ward, CC BY-SA 2.0,


  • Abingdon
  • Oxfordshire
  • OSGB – SU 5005 9716
  • Scheduled Monument
  • Monument Numbers – 237919, 1311784


Abingdon Abbey is a Medieval Abbey, church and Benedictine Monastery, with a fortified gatehouse. The size of the site developed over time especially as it is located on the borders between Mercia and Wessex were there was regular conflict. The enlargement included the addition of cloisters, a refractory, dormitory and a kitchen.

In 1467 a fortified gatehouse was added to give protection to its inhabitants. The monarch at the time was Edward IV, representing the House of York – this was the of the Wars of the Roses. Where the Houses of York and Lancaster fought over the Crown. The Wars raged from 1455 until 1487, when Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and the Tudor, Henry VII took the Crown, changing the course of English history.

There are 136 Charters which were granted to the Abbey held in the Cottonian MSS.

Ælfric of Abingdon, was the son of a Kentish Earl whose first appointment in an ecclesiastical office was here at Abingdon Abbey. He later became Bishop of Ramsey from 991/993 to 1005.  He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 995 and held that seat, along with that of Bishop of Ramsey until his death in 1005. He was buried in Abingdon Abbey but later reinterred in Canterbury Cathedral. There is a grey area surrounding his appointment at Abingdon Abbey. Some sources say he was the Abbot however in the official list of Abbots for the Abbey his name does not appear.

Unknown date – Bishop Hrethun, Bishop of Leicester, renounced his title and moved to Abingdon. Later he acquired Privileges from the King and sought Confirmation from the Pope by travelling to Rome.

Legends associated with the site claim

  • the Abbey was founded by King Lucius and destroyed by the Emperor Diocletian.
  • Emperor Constantine was educated at the Abbey.
  • That 500 monks lived in the surrounding Bagley Woods.

As with all legends, myths and folklore, they all start with an element of truth which then evolves and is woven and changed many times over the years to best fit the thinking of the age or time it was told. The one I am most likely to see more of the truth in relates to the 500 monks living in Bagley Woods. In early times monks did have small cells in which they lived and prayed, so this legend holds greater weight than the others. But that is my personal point of view!

Remains of Abingdon Abbey.
Hurst. H. 1885. Ramble and Rides around Oxford. A. Thos. Shrimpton & Son.

Here is the timeline for Abingdon Abbey:

675                   Founded by Hean, or his nephew, or Cyssa, the Viceroy of Kinwine, King of the West Saxons, in the honour of the Virgin Mary, with 12 Benedictine monks.

675                   Hean was Abbot.

675                   After: The Foundation was confirmed by the Saxon kings Ceadwella and Ina.

c.675                 Church on site from this date measured 36.5m long, was furnished with apses on the eastern and western sides, included 12 small monks’ rooms with oratories, and was surrounded by a large wall.

c.680                 King Cyssa of Upper Wessex died and was buried at the site.

688                   Ceadwella was succeeded by Ina who confirmed the Foundation and built the Precinct walls.

772                   Abingdon suffered at the hands of Offa following Cynewulf’s defeat by Offa.

790                    Visited by King Offa II. He took one of the islands as a hunting ground and gave the Abbey other lands in exchange.

c.815-821         The monks were annoyed with the Royal Hunting Ground on their island and paid the Crown “120 pounds of gold and silver” to buy the island back. The King accepted the payment. (Preston, 1919).


The Monks Map of Abingdon Abbey.
On display at Abingdon County Hall Museum in Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England.
By Jonathan Bowen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


830                   Before: Abbots included, in order of service, Cumma, Hrethun, Aland, and Cynath.

871-899             During the reign of Alfred the Great the site was destroyed by the Danes. The king did not rebuild it but granted the land to others.

c.954                 Refounded: King Eadred instructed St. Ethelwold to refound the site after it was destroyed by the Danes. Ethelwolde was Abbot.

963                   Osgar was Abbot.

973-975             King Edgar undertook new building work on the site which included a chancel, apse, round tower as well as a bells alter.

977                   A porticus chapel was recorded on the north side of the site.

984                   Abbot Osgar died

985                   Edwin was Abbot.

989                   Wulfgar was Abbot.

993                   Wulfgar obtained Charters and Privileges from King Ethelred for the Abbey.

999                   King Æthelred grants lands in Berkshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and possibly Oxfordshire to the Abbey.

1008                 King Æthelred grants lands in Warwickshire to the Abbey.

1017                 Ethelwine was Abbot.

1030                 Siward was Abbot.

1034                 King Canute had a casket made for the Abbey of gold and silver which housed the relics of Spain’s St. Vincent.

1044                 Ethelstan was Abbot.

1048                 Sparhavoc was Abbot.

1050                 Sparhavoc was made Bishop of London and Ralph, a Norwegian relative of King Edward was Abbot.

1050’s               The Abbey received three grants of land in Berkshire and Oxfordshire by Edward the Confessor.

1052                 Ordic was Abbot.

1058                 Siward was made Bishop of Rochester.

1065                 Ealdred was Abbot.

1071                 Abbot Ealdred was removed from office and sent as a prisoner to Wallingford Castle. Ethelhelm was made Abbot.

1073                 Englewinus, Bishop of Durham, was imprisoned at the Abbey, and apparently starved to death.

1084                 Rainold was Abbot.

1087                 Domesday: The Abbey held lands in Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.


Seal of Abingdon Abbey.
Public Domain.


1087-1097          Between: There was a dispute between the Abbey and a Royal Forester. This was dealt with by William II.

1087                 Prince Henry spent Easter at the Abbey.

1091-1120          Abbey church was enlarged.

1091                 The tower of the church collapsed.

1091-1538          An ecclesiastical establishment.

1093                 Robert D’Oilly, tutor to Henry I, was buried at the Abbey.

1097                 Molbert was the Administrator of the Abbey.

1097-1100          The Abbey fell out of favour with William II, therefore no Abbot was appointed until after the King had died.

11th C                Late: A porticos chapel was recorded on the east side of the site.

1100                 Faricius (a physician) was Abbot. He rebuilt the church nave and other buildings using material bought in from Wales.

1100                 Molbert was the Administrator of the Abbey.

1100                 The cloister, Chapter House and dormitory were pulled down.

1101                 Faricius was called upon by Henry I to attend his wife, Matilda, as she gave birth to her daughter Aethelice.

1117                 Vincent was Abbot.

1117-1121          The Abbey lay vacant even though an Abbot had been appointed.

1121                 Henry I visited the Abbey

1121-1131          Abbot Vincent obtained a Charter from Henry I.

1100-1135          During: Ansfrida de Seacourt, mistress of Henry I died and was buried at the Abbey.

1121-1130          Between: A Gust Hall was constructed by Abbot Vincent.

1130                 Ingulf was Abbot.

1132                 Princess Mary, daughter of Edward III and wife of John de Montfort, Duke of Brittany, died and was buried at the Abbey.

1132/35             Fulk FitzRoy, illegitimate son of Henry I and Ansfrida de Seacourt, died and was buried at the Abbey.

1158                 Walkelin was Abbot.

1158-1164          During: Privileges of the Abbey were attacked by the local people but later resolved.

1164                 Godfrey was Abbot.

1176                 Roger was Abbot.

1184                 Alfred was Abbot.

1189                 Hugh was Abbot.

12th C                Matilda, Henry I’s Queen celebrated the Feast of Assumption at the Abbey.

1218-1304          The Chronicle of the Monastery of Abingdon was written.

1219                 The Convent was responsible for accepting guests to the Abbey.

1221                 Robert de Henreth was Abbot.

1227                 The grounds were enclosed with the addition of a hedge and a ditch.

1229                 Wood from the Abbeys Forest at Shaw was used for the defences of Oxford including Oxford Castle during riots.

1232                 Pope Alexander IV gave the Abbot and Convent permission to wear caps.

1234                 Luke was Abbot.

1241                 John de Blosmeuil was Abbot.

1245                 Following a visit by Robert de Carevill the Abbey was instructed to increase charity given to them by receiving visitors and treating them according to their rank in society.

1255                 Henry III stayed at the Abbey

1256                 William de Newbury was Abbot.

1258                 Henry III visited the Abbey.

1260                 Henry de Fryleford was Abbot. Henry III visited the Abbey.

1261                 Henry III visited the Abbey.

1262                 Richard de Henred was Abbot. Henry III visited the Abbey.

1265                 17 May: The Abbey tower was damaged when struck by lightning during a storm.

1274                 Abbot Richard de Henred attended the Council of Lyons, with the Kings permission.

1276                 Edward I stayed at the Abbey for a few days.

1281                 Edward I stayed at the Abbey for a couple of days.

1289                 Nicholas de Coleham was Abbot. He built the church of St. Nicholas just outside of the western Abbey gate.

1290                 July: The General Chapter of the Benedictine Monks of England was held at the Abbey.

1292                 Nicholas de Tewing was granted sustenance for life at the Abbey by Edward I.

1296                 An officer of Edward I was sent to the Abbey to be looked after for the rest of the year. This also included his grooms and 2 horses.

1306                 Richard de Clive was Abbot.

1315                 John de Sutton was Abbot. The King’s Clerk, Edward de l Beche., was granted a pension at the Abbey.

1318                 The Abbey was in financial hardship.

1321                 The Nunnery was not happy with the new Abbot, John de Sutton, and they complained to the Pope.

1322                 John de Cannynges was Abbot.

1327                 The Abbey was attacked. Buildings were set on fire, the monks beaten, servants killed, goods stolen, and prisoners held there were freed.

1327                 Late in the year: Edward III appointed Gilbert de Ellesfeld and Thomas de Loudry as custodians of the Abbey.

1329                 Robert de Garford was Abbot.

1329-1330          The Abbey granted various old Crown servants life substance from the Abbey.

1332                 William de Cumnor was Abbot.

1334                 Robert de Thame was Abbot.

1336                The site was inspected and reconfirmed by Edward III.

1361                 Peter de Hanney was Abbot.

1361                 Princess Margaret, daughter of Edward III and wife of John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, died and was buried at the Abbey.

1380                  The site was inspected and reconfirmed by Richard II.

1390                 Visited by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay.

1391                 Dating to: The painting on the ceiling of the Lady Chapel.

1401                 Richard de Salford was Abbot.

1409                 Pope Alexander V granted important Privileges to the Abbey.


The grant of Privilege to the Abbey.
Slatter. J. 1881. A sketch of the History of the Abbey of Abingdon. Berkshire Archaeological and Architectural Society.


1415                 John Dorset was Abbot.

1421                 Richard Boxore was Abbot.

1423                 Abbot Richard Boxore was attending a University in order to improve his Christian Knowledge.

1423                 Parliament granted formal consent to the site during the minority of Henry VI.

1427                 Thomas Salford was Abbot.

1428                 Ralph Hamme was Abbot.

1435                 William Ashendon was Abbot.

1440                 The Market Cross, standing 15.5m tall, was erected in front of the Abbey gate.

1467-1499          Gatehouse dates from.

1468                 John Sante was Abbot.

1496                 Thomas Rowland was Abbot.

1504                 Alexander Shottisbrook was Abbot.

1508                 John Coventry was Abbot.

1511-1512          Thomas Pentecast (alias Rowland) was Abbot.

1538                 Dissolution of the Monasteries: Thomas Pentecost, the last Abbot, signed the surrender of the Monastery to Henry VIII. It was recorded as being the 6th wealthiest Monastery in the land.

1645                 Attacked by the forces of King Charles during the English Civil War.

1644                 The Market Cross, which stood in front of the Abbey Gate was destroyed by Parliamentarian forces.

1810                 One of the ranges of the Abbey was demolished.

1922-1923          Excavated.

1934                 Saxon cemetery discovered at the site.

1963                 Field Investigation.

1980                 Excavated.

1991                 Watching Brief.

1994                 Excavated.

1997                 Photogrammetric Survey.

1998                 Evaluated.

1998                 Watching Brief.

1998                 Management Survey.

1999                 Watching Brief.

View from Abingdon Lock of the watercourse to the Abbey cut by the monks between 955 and 963.
By Motmit at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,


References and Bibliography.

Aston. M. 2009. Monasteries in the Landscape. Amberley Publishing.

Cook. J. 1882. England, Picturesque and Descriptive: A Reminiscence of Foreign Travel. Porter & Coates.

Emery. A. 2006. Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300–1500: Volume 3, Southern England. Cambridge University Press.

Halliwell. J. O (ed). 1844. The Chronicle of the Monastery of Abingdon: From 1218-1304, from the Original MS. in the Public Library at Cambridge. University of Chicago.

Harvey. B. 1993. Living and Dying in England 1100-1540: The Monastic Experience. Clarendon Press.

Hudson. J. (ed). 2007. Historia Ecclesie Abbendonensis: The History of the Church of Abingdon, Volume I. Clarendon Press.

Huneycutt. L. L. 2003. Matilda of Scotland: A Study in Medieval Queenship. Boydell Press.

Hurst. H. 1885. Ramble and Rides around Oxford. A. Thos. Shrimpton & Son.

Kerr. J. 2007. Monastic Hospitality: The Benedictines in England, C.1070-c.1250. Boydell & Brewer.

Keynes. S 1983. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: The Abingdon Chronicle, A.D. 956-1066 (MS. C, with reference to BDE). D. S. Brewer.

Keynes. S. 2005. The Diplomas of King Aethlred ‘the Unready’ 978-1016. Cambridge University Press.

Parker. J. 1885. The Early History of Oxford: 727-1100. Clarendon Press.

Preston. A. E. 1919. Sutton Courtney and Abingdon Abbey. Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Archaeological Journal, 25. Available at

Rumble. A. R., Yorke. B., Karkov., & C. E., Lewis. C. 2014. Edgar, King of the English, 959-975: New Interpretations. Boydell & Brewer.

Shirley. K. L. 2004. The Secular Jurisdiction of Monasteries in Anglo-Norman and Angevin England. Boydell Press.

Slatter. J. 1881. A sketch of the History of the Abbey of Abingdon. Berkshire Archaeological and Architectural Society.

Snook. B. 2015. The Anglo-Saxon Chancery: The History, Language and Production of Anglo-Saxon Charters from Alfred to Edgar. Boydell Press.

Stevenson. J. (ed). 1858. Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon. Longman, Brown, Green.

Timbs. J. 1870. Abbeys, Castles, and Ancient Halls of England and Wales: Their Legendary Lore, and Popular History. By John Timbs · Volume 2. Fred Warne & Co.

Tyson. D. 2010. Power Corrupts! An Anglo-Norman Poem on The Abuse of Power. In Chris Given-Wilson (ed). 2010. Fourteenth Century England. Volume VI. Boydell Press.

Wallace. W. 1893. Life of St. Edmund of Canterbury. K. Paul & Trench.


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