Burial of King Henry I, 1136
Reading Abbey was founded in 1121 by King Henry I. The Abbey was one of northern Europe’s most prestigious religious and political centres, and one of the ten wealthiest monastic houses in England by the 14th century. It changed the shape of Reading, making it the most important town in the Thames Valley. After the Dissolution, in 1539, the buildings were used as a stone quarry and most of them rapidly disappeared.
Today the remaining romantic ruins are in the Forbury Gardens (currently closed for conservation work), and some of the beautifully carved stones have made their way into the Museum collections. Cloister capitals and other decorated stonework in have been retrieved from many sites in Reading and beyond. Both Henry and his wife were buried in Reading Abbey and although their tombs have disappeared, two small pieces of a twelfth century tomb chest in the Museum’s collection hint at how they might have been decorated.
Use the pages on the left to learn more about the daily life and fascinating history of this once-splendid Abbey. (The text on these pages is based on the 1988 Reading Museum and Art Gallery's Reading Abbey booklet written by then Keeper of Archaeology and Social History, Leslie Cram.)
You can also view a short podcast about the Abbey on the Museum's Youtube Channel.
This plan shows what remains of the Abbey today compared to the original layout of the site.
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Reading Abbey history podcast