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Waverley Abbey

England's First Cistercian Abbey (in Surrey, England)






The River Wey slides peacefully under the now disused medieval bridge which was the main entrance to Waverley Abbey, the first Cistercian Abbey to be established in England. 


Waverley was the second daughter of the Abbey of  L'Aumone in Normandy.  Like many Cistercian abbeys it was founded (in 1128) "far from the concourse of man" on a boggy but beautiful site on the River Wey (near Farnham in Surrey) at the initiative of William Gifford, the Bishop of Winchester.  Both William and his successor Henry de Blois (brother of King Stephen) facilitated the transfer of large tracts of land to the new abbey and granted it many privileges.   By the end of the 11 hundreds it had mothered six daughter abbeys and yet still had 70 choir monks and 120 lay brothers in residence, and in the first 30 years of the 1200s a great new abbey church was built after the first one was damaged by floods.


Then, like the Cistercian movement generally, it peaked out and began a slow decline so that by the time that good old Henry VIII got his hands on it 300 years later in 1536, there were only 13 choir monks left.


Since then it has been a quarry for building materials, with a brief moment of fame as the inspiration for the novel "Waverley" written (anonymously) by Sir Walter Scott (who at the time needed cash and can be said to have invented the "pot boiler" genre with this work!).


Today all that is left are some walls and the ends of the two dormitories (one for choir monks - unusually on the ground floor rather than on top of the chapter house, the other for lay brothers).  But it is a beautiful "Cistercian setting", well kept (though not well signed) by English Heritage, and there is enough there to imagine how it worked if one knows the standard Cistercian site plan.  And there is lots of peaceful grassed space - great environment for a picnic.



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Link to other books on the Cistercians and their Beautiful Abbeys

The end of the lay brothers' wing on the west side of the (absent) cloister and seen through a gap in the south wall of the (absent) church. The upper floor would have been their dormitory, and the lower vaulted area their refectory.  See below also.

Looking along the south wall of the church to the south transept and the next door chapter house or possibly chapel (below).  The grassed space would have housed the cloisters (which were reportedly still there at the end of the 1600s).

Oddly, the site has also become a destination for WWII artefact spotters.  These so called dragon's teeth, designed to discourage tank travel, are just behind the end of the choir monks' dormitory.   The military apparently also destroyed quite a few of the remaining abbey walls which were obstructing the field of fire around the tank trap.  How someone worked out that invading German tanks were likely to  head for this particular wood will remain a mystery.


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