Tewkesbury’s Benedictine Heritage

The Fitzhamon Lecture, April 2019; Professor Joyce Hill – a report by Revd. C.E. Whitney

It was a great pleasure for the Friends to welcome Professor Joyce Hill, formerly Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University and now Professor Emeritus. Although her specialist areas were Old and Middle English Language and Literature, particularly in the tenth and eleventh centuries, she was also extremely knowledgeable about the Church in England in that period. This had clearly been helped by her personal faith and numerous contributions to Anglicanism that had been recognised by her appointment as a Lay Canon of Ripon Cathedral.

Professor Hill proved to be a delightful, warm and engaging lecturer who captivated her large audience of more than 80 for an hour in the Abbey Parish Hall without using any notes. Her numerous illustrations ranged from the frontspiece of the Regularis Concordia (pictured right), that she referred to as the ‘Foundation document’ of the late Anglo-Saxon Benedictine reform of the tenth century, through to delicate line drawings taken from the same period.

Professor Hill discussed the reasons for the Benedictine reforms that were concocted and directed by Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury, Aethelwold Bishop of Winchester – then the country’s capital – and also Bishop Oswald of Worcester who also held the Archbishopric of York. The aims were twofold. First to improve and expand the number of monasteries and, through rising standards of education, secondly to improve the quality of training for parish clergy through using the monasteries effectively as training colleges. In all this the bishops were enthusiastically supported by the then monarch, King Eadgar. Chastity, humility and obedience were the three key vows of Benedictine monks and parish clergy were also to be encouraged in this. They were to follow the eighth century Rule of Chrodegang that was developed for secular clergy, later superseded by the Rule of Aachen, both based on the Rule of St Benedict.

Although during the earlier Anglo-Saxon period it was almost certain that Deerhurst was the minster from which clergy were sent to minister to the area in and around Tewkesbury, Professor Hill felt it was probably during the tenth century Benedictine reforms that the Tewkesbury Minster evolved. The subsequent development of the Minster into a glorious Abbey with a complement of nearly 60 monks was one of the last, if not the last, of the great Norman monasteries in this country. Indeed its establishment was perceived as the “… fulfilment of the (Benedictine) Rule and of Liturgical practice …” by Professor Hill.

The vote of thanks for a very fine lecture was led by the Friends’ Vice-Chairman, Dr. Andrew Crowther.

A copy of the illustrated booklet which accompanied the lecture can be viewed and downloaded from this link.

C.E. Whitney