Reading Abbey 900

Reading Abbey was founded in 1121 and is celebrating its 900th anniversary throughout 2021 

The Abbey was one of the wealthiest and most important monasteries of medieval England. Today, the remains of the Abbey can be found throughout the former precinct known as the Abbey Quarter in the heart of Reading, sharing the site with the Victorian Reading Prison buildings. It is a site of huge archaeological and historic importance.

900 Years  of History

Reading Abbey Ruins RBC 023 webReading Abbey was founded in 1121 by King Henry I, youngest son of William the Conqueror. He intended it to be his own burial place and memorial, and although he died in France, he was buried in Reading before the Abbey’s High Altar in 1136. In its heyday, the Abbey was one of the largest monastic sites in Europe. It was closed in 1539 as part of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and it suffered greatly in the following years. The Ruins that survive were re-opened to the public in 2018 following major conservation work.



Reading Abbey Gateway RBC 032 webOne of the original Abbey gateways survived and has also been conserved. In 1785, as part of its subsequent life as a girls’ boarding school, it was home to 10-year old Jane Austen. Nowadays, it is a part of the experience offered by Reading Museum, serving as a Victorian Schoolroom experience.  The neighbouring former Victorian prison is best known for its most famous inmate - Oscar Wilde.  During his imprisonment in the late 19th century, he wrote one of his seminal works, De Profundis, and he later published The Ballad of Reading Gaol ‘inspired‘ by the years he spent inside the prison. Wilde fans can walk the perimeter of the former Gaol site, and alongside the River Kennet, where the Wilde Gates mark his connections with Reading.

Henry I, youngest son of William the Conqueror, founded Reading Abbey in 1121 intending it to be his burial place. He died
in Normandy in December 1135 and was brought back for burial in January 1136. His body was embalmed and sewn into a bull’s hide for the journey to Reading. Stormy weather in the Channel delayed the crossing to England by four weeks. His body was eventually brought up the River Kennet to the Abbey’s wharf.

Reading Abbey Ruins RBC 022 webHenry was buried in front of the High Altar, the most prestigious location for a burial. The tomb did not survive the destruction of the Abbey after the Dissolution in 1539. During C19th archaeological investigations a piece of carved stone was discovered, reused in the Abbey’s precinct wall. This may be part of a twelfth century sarcophagus. It is just possible, though it can never be proved, that this might originally have formed part of Henry’s tomb.


A Heritage Lottery Funded £3.1 million conservation project, Reading Abbey Revealed, conserved the Abbey ruins, restoring access to this fabulous historic site in 2018 having re-interpreted its historic importance for the twenty- first century. 





Visiting the Abbey Ruins 

Reading Abbey Ruins RBC 263 webThe Ruins are open everyday from dawn to dusk. Many people enjoy a self-guided visit to the Ruins. Pick up a leaflet from Reading Museum, which should be the start of your visit, and look round the Story of Reading Galleries to find out more before you explore. There are also information panels dotted around the Abbey Quarter and Abbey Ruins.  

Visit Reading Abbey Quarter>>>

Group visits>>>

Visit Reading Museum>>>

Watch our introductory film to a visit to Reading Abbey>>> 

Join the 900th celebrations on 19 June 2021>>>







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