Recent discoveries of
underground caverns below the town indicate that
Cavershams name may imply just what it
sounds like: Caves Home.
The Cell of Austin Canons,
from Notely Abbey in Long Crendon (Bucks), who
had their living at Caversham, did not have an
official rank but the establishment was often
known as Caversham Priory. It was founded
in 1162, when Caversham Church was given to
Notely Abbey by Walter Giffard, 1st Earl of
Buckingham, who owned the manor. As Keeper of
nearby Windsor Castle, he probably spent quite a
lot of time here, even though he owned vast
estates all over the country.
It appears, however, that the
Shrine to Our Lady of Caversham in the Chapel of
St. Mary at the Priory may have existed prior to
the foundation of the monastic cell and was later
incorporated within it. Prince Robert, Duke of
Normandy brought back a relic of Our Lords
passion from the Crusades in 1106 and through the
widow of his companion, Countess Agnes of
Buckingham, he gave it to the Caversham Shrine.
Our Lady of Cavershams Shrine was one of
the great pilgrimage centres of Britain during
the Middle Ages. In the worship of the Virgin
Mary, it was second only to the great shrine at
Walsingham (Norf). It was centred around a
wonderful jewel-encrusted crowned statue of the
Virgin, but it also housed an important
collection of relics: There was the spearhead
that pierced Christs side on the Cross (and
described as the principal relic of the Realm)
which may have been that given by Duke Robert,
though it was said to have been brought to
Caversham by an angel with one wing (probably a
statuette which held the relic); then comes a
piece of the rope with which Judas hung himself,
and the knives that killed Saint-King Edward the Martyr (which may have been brought from Readings
Saxon nunnery) and King Henry VI.
Pilgrims visiting the shrine,
from the south, would first find a stopping place
on Caversham Bridge, at St.Annes Chapel. It
has long gone, but similar Bridge Chapels are
still to be seen at Bradford (Wilts), St. Ives
(Hunts), Wakefield (Yorks) & Rotherham
(Yorks). Also at the top of Priest Hill was St.
Annes Well, which was said to cure many
afflictions. It was lost for many years, but
restored early this century.
The Chapel of Our Lady of
Caversham may have moved to be within the walls
of St. Peters Church in later years. It was
finally suppressed in 1538. Its original site is
generally thought to have had the Old Rectory,
alias Caversham Court, built upon it. Built
around two courtyards, its beautiful
timber-framing led to its nickname of the Striped
House. It had a 1638 staircase, with bullet
holes from a Civil War attack, and an elaborate
decorated plaster ceiling. Both survived an
almost total rebuilding programme by Pugin (1840)
under the patronage of the great brewing Simonds
family; but the house only lasted about a hundred
more years and the area is now a public park.
A small Norman font or stoup,
now in St. Peters Church, was found buried
in the Old Rectory Gardens and may have come from
St. Marys Chapel. The North Aisle of
St.Peters has a roof not designed for its
present location, which may have come from Reading Abbey.
During the Civil War Siege of Reading, when
King Charles I had
his headquarters at Caversham Park,
his Royalist troops stationed a cannon on top of
the Church Tower. The parliamentarians quickly
blew both it and the steeple to smithereens.
See also Caversham Hamlets.
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