An English Heritage site near Sudeley Castle and steps away from Hailes Church, Hailes Abbey is worth a visit in its own right or as part of a longer day of touring near Winchcombe. Formerly a Cistercian Abbey, home of the would-be miraculous ‘Holy Blood of Hailes‘ and internationally famed pilgrimage spot, Hailes Abbey was devastated by the dissolution of the monasteries and now remains as an evocative fairy-tale scaffolding on which to hang your imaginings of English medieval daily life in a large monastic complex.
Let’s just stick with the fairy-tale imaginings. Here we’re standing on top of the mound representing the shrine pilgrims would have once circled as they glimpsed the holy blood of Hailes relic. The entire abbey church is now simply a huge lawn, with walls and pillars remaining only as lines on the ground.
Really big lines on the ground. Margery Kempe walked here.
Here in the remains of the chapter house, you can sit on a ledge where monks would have rested hundreds of years ago. This day I enjoyed bright sunshine and nearly 90 degree weather — in the winter, monks would have sat silently, without heat. Across the cloister you can see remains of the west range — spaces for lay brothers and the cellarer’s stores.
Ahead the ‘day stairs’ to the dormitories — now going no-where — and the door to the warming house. This is the only room in the monastery (aside from the infirmary) which was allowed to keep a fire burning.
Straight ahead, the length of the refectory (where the brothers ate), and to the right the smaller warming room. To the left, the low walls lay out the kitchen. To the rear, beyond the cloister, the abbey church would have risen meters in to the sky, overshadowing the entire complex.
View from the bottom of the day stairs past the undercroft, vestry, chapter house, and parlor, then the door into the Abbey near the quire. No idea what I’m talking about? Here.
Up at Sudeley Castle, you can see more about the life and destruction of Hailes Abbey, including a description of a visit by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Anne’s supposed outrage over the relic of the blood and the subsequent investigation of the relic in London. It’s a story full of cynicism.
The museum offers free audio guides for self-guided walking tours of the site, keyed to numbered information plaques and completely worthwhile. Although a site like Tintern Abbey gives one a better sense of the layout of a Cistercian monastery, the beautiful isolation of Hailes Abbey is hard to surpass. The nearly inevitable gift shop has the usual sorts of items, but the typical small cafe is missing. However, a few hundred meters up the road you’ll find a small farm shop and a slightly doubtful restaurant. After eating there, I’d suggest collecting picnic food at the farm shop and having a dreamy picnic overlooking the fairy-tale ruins of Hailes Abbey.