Tewkesbury Abbey, situated on the confluence of the rivers Severn and Avon, is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in the UK. It survived through centuries almost untouched. It is the second largest parish church in England, even larger than 14 of the country's cathedrals. The 12th century tower of the Abbey, is the largest in England at 45m (148ft) tall. 14 great Norman columns dominate the nave, each more than 9m (30ft) high and 2m (7ft) in diameter, which makes them the tallest such supports in the country.
The Chronicle of Tewkesbury records that the first Christian worship was brought to the area by Theocus, a missionary and a hermit from Northumbria, who about 655. built his cell near a gravel spit where the Severn and Avon rivers join together. The cell was succeeded by a monastery in 715, but nothing remaining of it has been identified. Danish raids were apparently responsible for the destruction and abandonment of this monastery, and it was almost three hundred years later before the vast Norman abbey was founded here
The Abbey was founded in 1087 by nobleman Robert FitzHamon, one of the most powerful barons of the new Norman Regime in England. He died before its completion and was buried in the Chapter House which stood just south of the South Transept. His patronage was continued by his son-in-law, Robert FitzRoy, the illegitimate son of King Henry I. Built to house Benedictine monks, the Norman Abbey was near completion when consecrated in 1121. Because of its rich patrons, Tewkesbury Abbey became one of the richest monasteries in England. Around 1340, the original timber vaulted roof of the nave was replaced by the splendid lierne-vault.
THE BATTLE OF TEWKESBURY
After the Battle of Tewkesbury in the Wars of the Roses on May 4 1471, some of the defeated Lancastrians sought sanctuary in the abbey, but the victorious Yorkists, led by King Edward IV, and his brothers, Clarence and Gloucester, forced their way into the abbey, and the resulting bloodshed caused the building to be closed for a month until it could be purified and re-consecrated. In the centre of the choir, Edward, Prince of Wales, the only son of King Henry VI, was buried. He was the last of the Lancastrians and there probably never was any sort of monument erected to him. He was killed either during the disastrous Battle or, as popular legend says, was murdered immediately afterwards.
It was built in the early 17th century for Magdalen College, Oxford and spent a brief period, during the Commonwealth, at Hampton Court Palace where it was played by the poet, John Milton who was Cromwell's Latin Secretary. The Abbey purchased the organ some hundred years later.
THE DISSOLUTION OR MONASTERIES
After the dissolution of monastries in 1540, most of the claustral buildings and the Lady Chapel were quarried for their materials but the Abbey Church was saved. The parishioners collected £453 (thatís how much melting the bells and the lead roof would have brought to the king) and bought the church.