Could You Own a Piece of Reading History?

RESIDENTS will have the opportunity to learn more about the ambitious new Hidden Abbey Stones project at an upcoming public meeting on Friday 20 October.

The Hidden Abbey Stones Project (HASP) is an exciting new venture which aims to learn more about the lost and hidden stones of the Abbey that were removed following its dissolution in 1539. Many of the stones that once formed the Abbey still exist in Reading today, built into walls or houses or simply unrecognised in rockeries and flowerbeds.

By studying the composition and decorative style of many of these stones, it is hoped that the group will be able to reveal not just aspects of the Abbey’s architecture, but also speak of its life, musical tradition, art, and even the changing social and religious attitudes of the nation.

The meeting takes place at St James Church Roman Catholic Church, The Forbury, on Friday 20th October at 7.30pm. It will include contributions from the Right Rev Geoffrey Scott (Abbot of Douai Abbey), Toby Davies (Reading Between The lines), Dr Kevin Hayward (Reading University) and John Mullaney (one of the initiators of the project).

Entry to the meeting is free but ticketed. Tickets can be obtained by entering Hidden Abbey Stones Project Launch on Eventbrite or by using this link:

Councillor Sarah Hacker, Lead Councillor for Culture, and a member of the project’s steering group said:

“Many people across the town may have stones that once formed part of Reading Abbey in their gardens, but simply don’t realise they own a part of Reading’s history. The public meeting is a brilliant opportunity for residents to learn more about the project and the materials that were once part of one of the most important religious buildings in Europe.”

The project forms part of the ‘Hidden Abbey Project’, which has been set up to discover the full extent and significance of the Royal Abbey, founded by Henry in 1121, which was the final resting place of the king and his Queen Adeliza. The project won a Reading Cultural Award in the category Celebrating Reading’s Heritage in June 2017.

Notes for Editors:

The Hidden Abbey Project

The Hidden Abbey Project involves Reading Borough Council, the RC Diocese of Portsmouth and the Ministry of Justice, as the principal public landowners in the Abbey Quarter site, together with the Friends of Reading Abbey, Darlow Smithson Productions and Philippa Langley of Little Marilyn Productions Ltd.

The project is being taken forward by a Steering Group on which all of the above organisations are represented. Reading Borough Council will be the commissioning body for works associated with the project, although it will not itself provide any funding directly.

The first steps of ambitious project took place in June last year. It focused on the Abbey Church below ground, on land around St James Church, the Forbury Gardens and the Reading Gaol car park.

The work involved using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to locate the boundaries of the Abbey Church in its current modern setting. The site was surveyed to locate possible sites of archaeological interest for future investigation, including the Choir, where Henry was buried in front of the High Altar, and surrounding Ambulatory.

The work may be filmed by Darlow Smithson Productions, with a view to producing a television documentary. The project is also supported by Philippa Langley of Little Marilyn Productions Ltd – who helped find the remains of Richard III.

Henry I

Henry I, youngest son of William the Conqueror, founded Reading Abbey in 1121 intending it to be his burial place. He died in Normandy in December 1135 and was brought back for burial in January 1136.

His body was embalmed and sewn into a bull’s hide for the journey to Reading. Stormy weather in the Channel delayed the crossing to England by four weeks. His body was eventually brought up the River Kennet to the Abbey’s wharf.

Henry was buried in front of the High Altar, the most prestigious location for a burial. The tomb did not survive the destruction of the Abbey after the Dissolution in 1539. During 19th Century archaeological investigations a piece of carved stone was discovered, reused in the Abbey’s precinct wall. This may be part of a twelfth century sarcophagus. It is just possible, though it can never be proved, that this might originally have formed part of Henry’s tomb.

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Oscar Mortali

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