Britannia Architecture: Shrewsbury Abbey

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Some Architectural Details of Shrewsbury Abbey in Shropshire
Edited David Nash Ford


Norman Church Half Survives

Shrewsbury Abbey Reconstruction

Of an original 302 foot long Norman cruciform church (which would have looked something like Wimborne Minster), there is now remaining only the western portion: an aisled nave, 123 feet long, with western tower and north porch. The chancel, nave roof and unfinished transepts date from a major Victorian restoration of 1886. Such modern additions to the church, by Pearson, are of considerable dignity and importance.

Of the six bays of the nave, the two western ones were remodelled in Gothic style during the fourteenth century; those in the east are Norman. The broad piers, half-way down, probably mark the division between the monks' and the townspeople's portions. The rood screen will have stood here and the pulpitum, Shrewsbury Abbey Interiorone bay further east. The west door and much of the west wall is also of Norman date. The tower, which is a fourteenth-century addition, has a very large Perpendicular west window. The heraldic glass is a two hundred year old replica of the original. Above it, on the exterior face, is a mutilated image of a king, said to be Edward Ill.

The church is full of monuments, many of which have been brought from churches in the town (particularly St. Chad's and St. Alkmund's) and some from Wellington. A judge (north aisle) and of a warrior-turned-hermit (south aisle) are worthy of examination, as are the altar-tombs at the west end of the north aisle. The effigial monument to the founder, Roger de Montgomery, sits in a prominent position in the south aisle, though it was erected a hundred years after his own time. Opposite, stands what are believed to be the scant remains of St. Winifred's Shrine: a piece of niched screen work and a carved panel depicting figures of SS. John the Baptist, Winifred and Beuno.

Refectory Pulpit The monastic buildings were on the south side, now traversed by a major road. The foundations of some have been traced by excavations, including the west wall of the chapter house with its apsidal end. The west range was the domain of the cellarer and Buckler's drawings of 1813 clearly show some medieval structures still attached to the church at this point. Two quadrangles are recorded to have existed, the larger being that of the cloister buildings, the smaller containing the abbot's lodging and other offices. "This, with what may have been the guest hall, was removed in 1865, for railway purposes." Much had already gone by 1836. Further south-west of the church, a portion, which is always called the "Old Infirmary," remains in a mutilated state as the home of the "Shrewsbury Quest" Visitor's Centre. It appears to have been a waterfront storehouse and part of the guest accommodation. Alongside, the remains of the guest-hall kitchen were discovered in 1987.

The only other remaining monastic relic (besides the cloister doors into the nave) is the refectory pulpit, that very pretty structure which stands by itself amongst the parked cars on the other side of the road. It shows, in front, a three-sided oriel approached by steps from behind. On the panels below the windows are images of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Annunciation, St. Winifred, and St. Beuno. Within, the centre boss of the vaulting has the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John.

Edited from M.R. James' "Abbeys" (1925).

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