THE REMAINS OF THE ABBEY
“_... work, that stood inviolate_ When
axe and hammer battered down the state
. . . . . . . . _... the tall Belfry of the Abbey Gate_ Yet stands majestic, pinnacled, elate, And fills the Vale with music far and wide.”
The earliest architectural remains are the work of Norman abbots. The most perfect relic of this period is Abbot Reginald’s Gateway, now leading from the market-place into the churchyard, which consists of side walls both decorated with round arches and shafts. The building above has been much “restored.” As there are no signs of stone groining, the superstructure was, in all probability, always of timber, but the design of the arcades, and certain moulded arch stones found embedded in the soil below would seem to point to the existence in former times of two stone arches, one at each end, which would add much to the strength of the building. This gateway stood in a line of wall enclosing the monastic precincts and the outer yard in which stand the parish churches, and stretching to the river eastwards and westwards. The lower portions of the walls have recently been cleared of earth and exposed to view. It will be noticed that the soil has risen by gradual accumulation to a height of several feet above its original level in the seven hundred and fifty years which have elapsed since the construction. In monastic times this gateway figured in the important ceremony attending the installation of a new abbot. Before entering the precincts of the monastery the destined prelate, accompanied by his chaplains and personal following, halted in this corner of the market-place, and after entering one of the adjoining houses where his shoes were removed he proceeded barefoot into the churchyard. The whole convent, duly accoutred, were in waiting, and as soon as the new abbot appeared in the gate they emerged in ordered procession from the north porch of the great church to meet him. After various formalities he was solemnly escorted to the church, where further important ceremonials were performed.
[Illustration: ABBOT REGINALD’S GATEWAY]
To the previous century may be assigned the bases of the substantial piers which stood at the crossing of the nave and transept, and supported the tower of the great church. These remains may be seen in the excavated hollow a few steps from the southern side of bell tower. The tower of the church was begun by Abbot Walter soon after the Conquest, and there can be little doubt that these massive foundations belong to his time. If we follow the line of wall to the south from this point we come to an arch, bare on this side but elaborately carved on the other with two rows of figures under canopies. This archway was in the east walk of the cloisters, and gave entrance to a vaulted passage connecting the cloisters with