Day out: Hailes Abbey

3 Oct

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.

Oh, I wrote my undergrad thesis on pilgrimage routes through Europe, did I not mention that?  No worries.

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.

She would not have walked here, inside the cloister.

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.

Cleanliness and sanitation were important in Cistercian monasteries.  The drain still flows through the complex, bringing fresh water from the Cotswold hills through the kitchen and to the lavatory.

On the day of this visit, school children were walking through the monastery in Cistercian white robes, trying to imagine the life of a thirteenth century monk by walking in his footsteps.

A view no monk would have seen.  As I sit under gray skies on this cold fall day, I am warmed by the sight and memory of these yellow-gold flowers.

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.


9 Responses to “Day out: Hailes Abbey”

  1. Helen October 3, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Gorgeous! and what a fascinating thesis — we have friends in Gascony along the Santiago pilgrimage route, so beautiful. Would love to read you thesis one day!

    • Monique October 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

      Ooo, and I would love to walk the pilgrim trail to Santiago!

  2. competentmom October 3, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    Gorgeous photos as usual! I want to go there – and on a nearly 90-degree day (?!?).
    You probably would like going to northern Spain as well, visit la Costa Verde.

    • Monique October 3, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

      I know, it was a shockingly gorgeous day, months and months ago. I would love to go to Spain!

  3. satnavandcider October 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    A memorable day captured beautifully in words and images.

    • Monique October 3, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

      Thank you, Mme. Sat Nav!

  4. Aubrey Price Pettyjohn October 4, 2012 at 7:47 am #

    Lovely, Monique. Your photos made me sigh for sun and summer, but autumn is still my favorite season. 🙂 P.S. What an interesting thesis!

    • Monique October 4, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

      Thanks! In my limited experience, autumn seems like the best time of year, here in Camelot!


  1. And now for something completely different | Crumpets in Camelot - November 26, 2013

    […] into fantasy land, wringing my hands or gushing over being an American in the UK, going gaga over history, enjoying a good bakery, picturesque ruins, and a pretty close-up shot of a flower.  I never ever […]

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