Rare medieval tiles on display again

  • Cleeve Abbey re-opens after conservation work to protect 13th century tile pavement.
  • A new shelter allows visitors to view the detailed heraldic tiles, while also protecting them from the elements. 

A new state-of-the-art timber shelter has been built at Cleeve Abbey in Somerset to cover and protect the rare medieval pavement. The site re-opens on Friday 25 March 2016.

The shelter allows natural daylight while ensuring no direct sunlight falls on the sensitive tiles, while a ventilation system creates a stable environment.

The tiled pavement consists of high quality heraldic tiles dating from around 1270, and is extremely rare. It is the only large-scale example of a decorated medieval monastic refectory floor in Britain.

Preserving the pavement for the future

The pavement was buried in the late 15th century, and was only rediscovered in 1876. The tiles were in remarkably good condition, thanks in part to the centuries left untouched underground. Not only are they beautiful examples of craftsmanship but they also add to our understanding of the abbey's history.

However, from the 1950s to 2000 the pavement remained fully exposed throughout the summer. Studies showed that this exposure to the elements was causing serious damage including a loss of protective glazing and deterioration of the intricate patterns in the clay.

Last year, construction began on a new timber shelter which was carefully designed to meet all the conservation criteria for the long term protection of the tiled pavement. The new shelter opens to the public official on Good Friday 2016.

Jeremy Ashbee, English Heritage's Historic Properties Curator comments:
"Cleeve Abbey is one of our national treasures - in truly beautiful surroundings, rare surviving buildings in which medieval monks met, ate and slept … The new shelter building means that the pavement is safe from the damage of sun and rain but crucially, all visitors are now able to see it and enjoy it."

Find out more about the Medieval Tile Pavement Conservation Project at Cleeve Abbey.

Royal patronage of the abbey

The Cistercian abbey of Cleeve was founded in the late twelfth century, built to the strict principles of the Cistercian order in a simple, unadorned style.

Still in their original position, the tiled pavement shows the footprint of that long lost medieval building. It also reflects the importance the abbey attached to the royal patronage it enjoyed in the 13th century. The heraldry of King Henry III, his brother Richard Earl of Cornwall, King of the Romans, and the mighty earls of Gloucester all feature on the tiles. These displays of heraldry suggest a hefty endowment from noblemen and royalty, and were a way for the abbey to declare its association with its patrons to the world.

Cleeve Abbey re-opens on Friday 25 March 2016. For more from English Heritage follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

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