This tour was originally created by Sam Denniss (external link) and then amended by Sue Ward.
Wymondham Abbey Tour
Welcome to this virtual tour of the Abbey. While it cannot replace the sensations of actually being there, it will introduce you to some of its history and some of the artefacts that mark various points in the Abbey’s evolution. You might also like to follow Paul Brittain’s Google Maps walk (to the left of the tour text), which will augment the information given here and which will enable you to see the Abbey from all sides.
Double underlining indicates additional information and images available by hovering, clicking, or tapping.
In 2015 the HLF funded extensions to the Abbey were opened. There are now two beautiful spaces for mission and ministry, a shop, a small servery and an exhibition about the Abbey’s 900 year history of service to the community of Wymondham. The extensions were originally conceived to facilitate the then current focus of schools on visiting places of historical, geographical, scientific or local interest, but almost as soon as the buildings were open the National Curriculum was changed.
Do enjoy the virtual tour.
The sources for this tour can be found here along with our acknowledgements.
This has been the site of Christian worship for some one thousand four hundred years. Wymondham was an important and prosperous town from very early times situated as it is between two other major centres of trade and commerce: Thetford and Norwich on what is now the A11 London to Norwich road (this road ran through Wymondham town until relatively recently). Wymondham has retained its size in relation to those other two parishes and gives an indication of how important and large an estate, or manor, this was in the early Anglo-Saxon period. As the centre of such a large manor, Wymondham would have had its own church, probably a minster served by several priests, large by Anglo-Saxon standards but would have fitted easily into the new Norman structure; in fact, easily within the nave.
William d’Aubigny (d. 1139) gave money and lands in his commissioning of the priory in Wymondham. Having been founded as a Benedictine house in 1107, it took about sixty years to complete the church. Construction began with the monastic church at the far eastern end of the site and now almost completely lost, taking about twenty years to build. This was the most important part of the whole monastic complex, the place where the monks’ prayers would have the effect of ‘charging the battery’ at the high altar, and a favoured place for burials for that reason. It is unknown what parishioners used as a church while these works were in progress; presumably the original church would have been usable for at least this early period.
As a study, it is hard to find one as fascinating as that of the great monastic age of the medieval period. The skill and ingenuity employed in the construction of these masterpieces in stone are awe inspiring. The grandeur of the original priory, and later the abbey, can be guessed at by what remains of the nave, the remains of the rear window opening of the Chapter House, and the ruined tower. The vast sums of money invested (and it was an investment, albeit a spiritual one) by one man into this building amazes. Just shipping the stone over from Caens was extremely costly (as it would be now) – the same stone used in the construction of the cathedral at Norwich. Looking at the north aisle from the outside, we must acknowledge that driving force that motivated the whole parish of the fifteenth century to invest in this large addition to the church for their use. The new bell tower at the western end resolved the centuries-long contention over bell ringing when the parish again joined forces to enhance their church later in the fifteenth century. From the other side, near the ha-ha, we see that same urge to invest in their church by the parish with the construction of the larger south aisle in the sixteenth century. The latest additions to the Abbey are the two extensions that stand in the places of the chapels of St Margaret (north) and St Benedict (south). Both are built following similar designs to that of the Hostry at Norwich Cathedral, whereby the fabric of the buildings is not damaged by the addition and they can be removed without causing harm. So, from the oldest to the newest; let’s go in and see more of the material and spiritual evolution of the Abbey church.