Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday's Spotlight - The Jewel of the Crown


In last week's blog I wrote about the secular attractions of Malmesbury as experienced during a visit there with Pam, Ruth and John. This week I'd like to introduce you to its real jewel; the ecclesiastical side of the town.


Malmesbury Abbey is at the centre of the town and can be seen from miles around. However, the bit you can see now is about one third of the size of the monastic Abbey built in the seventh century. That early Abbey contained the second largest library in Europe and was one of the leading seats of learning in that continent.

The Abbey was completed in the 12th century and one of its outstanding features, which can still be seen today, is the carving on and in the entrance porch illustrating various Bible stories.

The spire of the Abbey was taller than that of Salisbury Cathedral but in 1500 it was destroyed by a violent storm, along with two thirds of the nave and transit. Then in 1550 the tower also fell, destroying the three Western Bays of the nave. In all about half of the building was lost.

Henry VIII dissolved the monastery there but a rich merchant bought the building from him and gave it to the town as its parish church. The destroyed part of the building was demolished with the nave being given an altar and the damage part walled off.


The flying monk, who built himself a primitive hand glider, has a memorial window in the building. The story has it that in the 11th century he jumped from the tower, glided for a few yards and landed roughly breaking both legs. He's lucky it wasn't his neck!  There is a window in the Abbey depicting this foolish fellow but it's not easy to find and you may have to seek directions from one of the friendly voluntary guides on duty there.


The first person to be killed by a tiger in England is also buried in Malmesbury Abbey churchyard and her grave can still be seen today. We kept a wary eye out for Tigers but it must have been a bit too cold for them because we didn't spot any.


Today in the main nave, up in the arches, you can see an observation box; the sort of thing that the BBC might put in place if it was broadcasting a service there. I was as puzzled by this as I was by the townhouse with its three-storey tower but I did discover the answer for the existence of this rather strange addition.  It was for visiting relatives of the monks, who were not permitted to take part in the service from the nave.

I'm still trying to discover why that town house has this three-storey tower built into its roof. Please, any ideas you may have for its usage -- even if they're absolute guesses and not the right reason -- then do submit them into the comments for this blog.

The town also has a small Roman Catholic church, situated in its centre. A nice quiet building, tastefully decorated and very peaceful. Another church well worth visiting, even if you only want to spend a few minutes of peace and quiet.


vilterietje said...

so history lessen for this week is finished, great story! love, riet :)

PeterB said...

Jo Riet,

Glad you enjoyed the lesson. I'll be setting the exam in about four weeks!!!