29 June 2017

New Museum at Hailes Abbey Reveals a Hidden Past

The new collection explores the Cistercian monastery's dramatic story as a site of Christian pilgrimage.

Interior of the new museum

Inside the new museum which explores Hailes Abbey's rich story through rare artefacts.

The dramatic story of a Cotswold abbey that was the centre of Christian pilgrimage for nearly 300 years is explored in a new museum, which opens from 30 June. The museum at Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire vividly brings to life three centuries of piety, culture and tradition at a site of international significance.

The New Exhibition

The many artefacts on display in the museum include an exceptionally rare fragment of 14th-century monk's spectacles, lost for centuries on the site of the monks' choir stalls.

A new invention in the 1300s, it is easy to imagine the frustration of the monk who may have misplaced them.

The metal seal of the abbey's Confraternity (or brotherhood) can also be seen, depicting a monk holding the Holy Blood of Hailes, and 13th-century floor tiles depicting the coats of arms of Earl Richard of Cornwall – founder of the abbey – and his family.

Coinciding with the reopening of the museum, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway reopened the abbey's station earlier this month, Hayles Abbey Halt, which now allows members of the public to visit the site by heritage railway for the first time since 1960.

To accompany the reopening, a new 48 page guidebook researched and written by historian Dr Michael Carter - an expert in Cistercian monasteries - has also been published, and will be on sale at the abbey.

A fragment of 14th-century monk's spectacles, excavated at Hailes Abbey (© Historic England Archive, Steven Baker)

A fragment of 14th-century monk's spectacles, excavated at Hailes Abbey
(© Historic England Archive, Steven Baker)

Drawn by holy blood

Founded in the 1240s, Hailes Abbey became a centre of pilgrimage for people from across England who flocked to a shrine said to contain blood shed by Christ on the cross.

Miracles were attributed to this holiest of relics, the Blood of Hailes, which was mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The phial was later denounced as a fake during Henry VIII's Reformation and its shrine was destroyed, but for many years the relic was known across Europe and placed Hailes firmly on the ecclesiastical map.

Dr Michael Carter, Senior Properties Historian for English Heritage, said:

"Hailes Abbey was one of the last and greatest Cistercian abbeys to be founded in England. Thanks to the relic of the Holy Blood, the name of Hailes was familiar to popes and kings. Modern day visitors are following in the footsteps of the pilgrims who made long and arduous journeys to Hailes. Just like their medieval predecessors, they will be struck by the beauty of the abbey's settings in the foothills of the Cotswolds.

"The new museum contains artefacts of international significance and provides fascinating new insights into the abbey's royal founder, medieval belief and piety and the daily routine of the generations of Cistercian monks who lived here, their way of life brought to a sudden end by Henry VIII in 1539."


Plan your visit to Hailes Abbey today to explore the monastery's extraordinary story.

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