The Founders’ Book: A Medieval History of Tewkesbury Abbey

Think of a Founders’ Day as a day that belongs to the founders of one of the many great institutes around the world many of which are steeped in history, often rich and colourful, that is celebrated annually by the descendants or alumni of the original founders. Initial thoughts of a ‘Founders’ Day’ often conjure up images of memorials to the high and mighty or sports days or other activities, but all focused on celebrating the events that brought a community together.

That sense of rich, even bloody, celebration of history is never more apparent this year with the marking of the 900th anniversary of the consecration of Tewkesbury Abbey: bloody as it coincides with the 550th of the Battle of Tewkesbury, during the War of the Roses in 1471.

To mark these historic events,Tewkesbury Abbey Publications (in conjunction with The Friends of the Abbey) has produced a limited edition Founders’ Book that incorporates a facsimile of the original Latin Chronicle parchment manuscript written by the Benedictine monks who occupied the abbey shortly before Henry V111 brought about the dissolution of monasteries in 1536. Within the book and preceding the Chronicle is the Latin Charter of William Fitzrobert, second Earl of Gloucester, listing the privileges he granted to the abbey.

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Friends’ Festival 4th July 2021

It is with huge disappointment and not a little frustration that, following the Government’s decision to extend the current lockdown restrictions beyond the date of Friends’ Festival, we have been obliged to modify the arrangements for the day. Though we realise that this will cause a great deal of regret, we are conscious that we must hold the event in Covid-secure conditions and comply with current regulations.

To that end the revised arrangements will be as follows:

10.30 Festival Sung Eucharist with our guest preacher, Bishop Bob Evens

After the service there will be a brief intermission to allow for the setting up of the Abbey to accommodate the rest of the proceedings. At this time members of the congregation may need to leave their seats to “stretch their legs”, but we must ask that you return to the same seat(s) that you’ve previously occupied. Some members may wish to join us just for the AGM and book launch and we will ensure that they are found seats that have previously been unoccupied.

12.00 noon (approx) The Friends’ 2021 AGM, conducted in the nave of the Abbey

12.20 pm (approx) The launch of The Founders’ Book facsimile, with Professor Susan Powell, Professor Julian Luxford and Dr Adrian Ailes.

At the end of the Book Launch you will be invited to leave the Abbey in due order. We profoundly regret that it will not be possible to hold the drinks reception that we had planned as the number would inevitably have exceeded the statutory 30.

Nevertheless, everyone is invited (if the weather is kind to us) to bring a picnic and eat it in the Abbey grounds. Please remember that you must not gather in groups larger than 30 and must continue to observe social distancing.

The formal part of Friends’ Festival will conclude after the picnic. There will be no afternoon tea. There will, however, be a service of Sung Evensong at 5.00 pm to which everyone is cordially invited.

Despite these reduced celebrations we hope that everyone will have a thoroughly enjoyable time.

The Sung Eucharist and the Book Launch will be live-streamed on the Abbey’s YouTube Channel which can be accessed via this link.

The Fitzhamon Lecture 24th April 2021

‘Hallowing God’s House in 1121: the consecration of the abbey church at Tewkesbury’
Professor John Harper, by Zoom video conference

Theulf, bishop of Worcester, consecrated the new abbey church at Tewkesbury on 23 October 1121. This lecture explores the likely order and ritual of the rite of dedication of the church on that occasion. Much of the Norman building survives, and there is good knowledge of what was changed in later centuries. That provides one side of the story. The other side can be found in surviving books of the kind that Theulf will have used on this occasion: two pontificals, bishop’s books which contain the rite of dedication of a church and were written in the later eleventh century, have associations with Worcester. Of course, much of the detail has to be imagined – but then the study of the past always requires imagination; nevertheless, it is possible to establish much that happened at the liturgy on that important day.

During the past decade, John Harper’s research has explored the relationship of medieval churches and the liturgy, asking what was the experience of worshipping in a cathedral, monastery or parish church? His current work is focused on the emergence of the highly influential liturgical Use of Salisbury Cathedral in the period 1075–1225. He is emeritus director, The Royal School of Church Music; emeritus professor, Bangor University; and honorary professor, University of Birmingham.

Places are limited so please book early by requesting the video link from

Friends’ Zoom Lecture

Saturday 13th March, 7.30pm

Dr Andy Moir, dendrochronologist, will be speaking about his recent project tree-dating some of the town’s ancient buildings, including the Abbey. Booking is required in order to obtain the Zoom meeting link and details – click here to book by email. This is a free event but donations to the Friends of Tewkesbury Abbey will be welcome. It is hoped that a recording of the talk will be available on this website for a short period afterwards.

Friends’ Zoom lecture

28th November 2020 saw the Friends venture into something new! Not being able to meet together for most of the year, the Friends turned to the virtual world and hosted an online lecture.

The Dean of Hereford, and former Vicar of Tewkesbury Abbey, the Very Revd Michael Tavinor, gave a fully illustrated and entertaining lecture to some 80 ‘virtual attendees’ logging in from around the world. His subject was ‘Tewkesbury and Hereford – Compare and Contrast’ with topics ranging from history, buildings and library to events, local characters and famous visitors.

The lecture was a great success, with many able to attend who are usually unable to travel to Tewkesbury, and so this type of event is sure to feature in future Friends’ programmes. For a short period of time the lecture is available to view on this website – click here!

A Day in the Loft

On a cold and damp day in November 2019 I was able to explore some of the hidden spaces in the Abbey. The weather did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. If you would like a glimpse of the medieval roof spaces of this 900 year old building, without climbing all the steps, you can follow my story here – “A Day in the Loft”. Along the way you can see more of the work the Friends do for the upkeep of the fabric of the building. I hope you enjoy reading about a hidden aspect of the Abbey.

The tale of the Knitted Monks …

Congratulations to Rachel for her winning submission to the Young Friends’ Lockdown Story Writing Competition!

The clock struck 13 as the knitted monks came to life.

The Abbey was silent except for St Faith’s Chapel where the knitted monks began to move. This was the one day each year when the clock struck 13 giving the monks the power to come alive for 1 hour to go on a magical pilgrimage. This magic makes everything look different. The Abbey is transformed to look like how it used to be in Monastic times, with colourful paint depicting scenes from the bible everywhere. The stone pillars become covered in colour, the tombs are decoratively painted, and the ceiling is now alive with colour.

If you want to know what happens next … click here

Friends’ Spring Report

April and May are usually very busy months for the Friends, putting everything together for the Annual Friends’ mailing. Things had to be revised this year – the uncertainty over whether the Friends Festival, AGM and other events could go ahead, being unable to access the Abbey for photographs and printing, and not being able to gather the usual team for putting things together led to it all being scaled back rather and a different timescale to work to.

But a Spring Report was produced and delivered, albeit in early summer! The closed Abbey doors on the front cover are rather poignant in the current situation. The report can be accessed for online viewing or pdf download via this link.

Further Cancellations

It is disappointing, but not surprising, that under current circumstances it is impossible for the Friends to meet on the first Sunday of July for the customary Friends’ Festival and AGM or to have the now traditional excursion on the following day. Council therefore recently passed a resolution to cancel Friends’ Festival and to postpone the 2020 AGM indefinitely. We very much hope to be able to hold the latter before the end of the year. A mailing to all Friends will be sent out at the beginning of June.