Reading Abbey was built for King Henry I in 1121. He wanted to be buried there and he was. Though the Church was still incomplete.
During the Civil War between Henry's daughter, Matilda, and her cousin, King Stephen, a
wooden castle was built in the grounds.
Matilda had been to St. James' shrine
(tomb) in Spain to see his dead body. She pulled off his hand and gave it to the monks at Reading! The hand was supposed to cure people of many diseases and disabilities. So lots of
pilgrims came to see it. They gave the
monks money and made the Abbey very rich.
At first, the monks at Reading were Cluniacs. Later, they became Benedictines.
The Abbey Church probably looked
something like Southwell Cathedral. It was opened by St. Thomas
Becket. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury who was hacked to pieces in his Cathedral because he wouldn't do what the King wanted!
In Medieval times, Parliament sometimes met in the
Chapter House and Refectory at Reading Abbey. This was particularly when there was plague in London.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem came from the Middle East to visit
King Henry II at Reading Abbey. He begged him to become King of Jerusalem and keep out the Muslims. This sounded very expensive. So Henry said no thank you.
Three of King Edward
III's children were married at the Abbey: Prince Lionel, Prince John of Gaunt and Princess Margaret. During the War of the Roses,
Edward IV chose it as the place to announce to the World that he had secretly married a poor
In Tudor Times, King Henry VIII decided that he wanted all the wealth of the monasteries. He 'dissolved' them.
The monks were kicked out of their home. Their gold and treasures were seized. The buildings were
torn down and the stone sold off. At Reading, the last Abbot was even hanged!
Queen Elizabeth I
used the old Abbot's Lodgings as a palace for a
while. She later let her relative, Sir Francis
Knollys, live there.
Only the Abbey's Inner Gateway and the
'Hospitium' Dormitory remain at Reading today. There are also some ruins
of the church, chapter
house, dormitory and reredorter
off the Forbury Gardens.