There are many legends about how Abingdon Abbey was first set up. The most popular one says a
hermit called St. Abban started things just after the
Britain. This story was made up so that the Abbey could claim it was the oldest
in the country.
The Abbey was really built by a local Saxon Prince called Hean in AD 675. His sister set up a nunnery at St. Helen's Church at the same time.
Along with the town, it was burnt to the ground by the Vikings when they invaded Berkshire.
St. Aethelwold was Abbot of Abingdon in the 10th century. He was a teacher and Prince Edgar was send to his school. When he grew up and became King, Edgar helped Aethelwold to reform the Church in England. They brought Benedictine monks to Abingdon and rebuilt the church.
During King Canute's reign, monks from Glastonbury stayed at Abingdon Abbey while taking the
bones of St. Vincent back to their own
monastery. The Berkshire monks wanted some relics to worship, so they stole them! Lots of
pilgrims came to see the bones. The Abbey took lots of donations and became very rich.
In Norman times, Abbot Faricius was in charge. He was a very clever man. He was King Henry I's doctor and delivered his daughter, the Empress Matilda, when she was born at nearby Sutton Courtenay.
The Abbey church was completely rebuilt in Medieval
times. It was completed in 1239. It is supposed to have looked like Wells Cathedral.
The Abbey was attacked in
1327 by a mob of angry townspeople. They didn't like the Abbot having control of their market. They
smashed up the church and chased the monks into the River Thames where some of them drowned!
During the War
of the Roses, the support of the Abbot was sought by both sides. Queen
Margaret and Edward IV both visited. As late as 1489, Abbot John Sant was
still plotting to overthrow King Henry VII.
King Henry VIII 'dissolved' the Abbey in 1539. The church was pulled down, but the
outer gateway, 'hospitium', long gallery and the exchequer building have survived.