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 remains of the Abbey can be found throughout the former precinct known as the Abbey Quarter. Reading Borough Council is currently developing an exciting plan for the Quarter that pulls together a number of important historic sites, buildings and structures under a single, co-ordinated approach. You can find out more about the project and the site's history on the Abbey Quarter webpages.
Some of the beautifully carved Romanesque stones from the Abbey 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 and can be seen in our Reading : People & Place Gallery. Both Henry I 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. In 2017 we will be updating our permanent Abbey display as part of the reinterpretation of the wider Abbey Quarter.
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