23 June 2017

St Augustine's Abbey brought to life through virtual reality tour

English Heritage launches its first virtual reality experience as part of a four-year collaboration with postgraduate students at the University of Kent

A monk reenactor tries on the virtual reality mask beside the ruins of St Augustine's Abbey

Visitors to St Augustine's Abbey will be able to experience medieval England in virtual reality from this weekend.

In an English Heritage first, the virtual reality experience 'rebuilds' significant parts of the abbey, enabling visitors to view the ornate buildings as they would have looked in the early 16th century.

Visitors will sit in a 'pod' and use Oculus Rift headsets to experience the virtual tour.

The project is part of a collaboration between English Heritage and the University of Kent. Postgraduate students have spent four years alongside the charity's historians and curators to research and develop the content.

University of Kent Programme Director and MA Architectural Visualisation, Howard Griffin said:

'This exciting project has been an integral part of my students' work over the past four years.

'Heritage sites like St Augustine's Abbey, and their obvious absence of 'concrete' buildings to reference, provide an ideal vehicle for students to develop critical and analytical skills in understanding the spaces they create. It highlights the many ways in which their digital skills can be applied.'

The ruins of St Augustine's Abbey

Why is the abbey so significant?

St Augustine's Abbey was one of the most significant monasteries in medieval England. It was founded shortly after AD 597 by St Augustine who came to England to convert Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

The abbey's church was reduced to ruins in the 16th century, and the remaining buildings were subsequently used for other purposes. It is hoped that the virtual reality tour will help visitors experience the abbey at the height of its power and better understand the story of the site.

English Heritage historian Dr Michael Carter said:

'It is difficult to over-state the importance of St Augustine's Abbey to the history of Christianity in England. It was reflected in its awe-inspiring buildings, but after thriving for almost a thousand years, the abbey was reduced to ruins during the Suppression of the Monasteries.

'Now this wonderful virtual reality model will give visitors a sense of the scale and magnificence of the abbey at its height. When they then step outside to explore the ruins for themselves, we hope their experience and understanding of this special place will be all the more enriching.'

A girl tries on the virtual reality mask at St Augustine's Abbey

Visit St Augustine's Abbey

New family-focused interpretation has also been introduced to the museum and visitor centre. Children and adults can discover what their medieval monk name would have been, and dress up in a monk's habit.

St Augustine's Abbey is open daily until the end of October and on weekends throughout the winter.

Find out more about the history of St Augustine's Abbey.

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