On Saturday the weather gods handed down sunshine and stillness, and so after lunch I spent an hour wandering round our local ruins, trying to catch the best of the light. We take them for granted, of course, these ruins. They are practically on our doorstep, a few minutes walk past the Linden Field and down the Cutlins where the sheep are presently grazing. Even before you get there you can glimpse the ragged elevations of the 13th century priory church through the Corsican pines, the old sandstone with its strange quality of luminosity, no matter the weather.
The ornate Norman arches you can see in the header photo date from c1145 (I’m standing in what was once the cloister to take the photo) and this is the entrance to the Chapter House, the monks’ meeting room. The building to the immediate right, is now a private house, long known as The Abbey, but once containing the monks’ infirmary and dormitory. You can also glimpse the rooftops of the later and very grand Prior’s Lodgings beyond it (late 1400s). (You can see more about them at Going behind the scenes at Wenlock Abbey.)
The less imposing doorway to the left of the archways leads to the library. This is not the original entrance but was added after the Dissolution when the priory remains were used as farm buildings. Above it soars the remains of the south transept, once part of one of the most imposing monastic edifices in all Europe. It’s hard to imagine the full scale of it now. Not only did Henry VIII’s dissolving crew do a good job in 1540, but the good citizens of Wenlock were quick to repurpose all that well cut stone. Most of the oldest houses in the town doubtless have some monastic stonework in them somewhere.
This view from St. Michael’s Chapel (the Prior’s private place of worship) shows the southern edge of the church nave. The church originally extended to the far wall just in front of the trees (107 metres/350 feet). The stone stumps are the remains of gigantic columns, a matching arcade to the north side (out of shot). The remains to the right of the columns belong to the south transept. See next photo.
St. Michael’s Chapel right, south transept centre, north transept left. And still it is hard to grasp the original scale of the place. The roof of the nave would have risen way above the south transept, the church forty years in the building.
But now I’ve lingered too long. The shadows are gathering. My presence here feels like intrusion. Time to head home.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
More about the priory’s history in an earlier post HERE. And for an account of Henry James’ visit to The Abbey see When Henry James Came to Wenlock.
Lens-Artists: Doorways This week Tina gives us doors and doorways as the Lens-Artists’ theme. Please pop over to see her ever impressive work, and don’t forget to visit the other Lens-Artists.