Abbey Ruins Abbey – Overview

During medieval times, the current Abbey Ruins existed as part of a great royal Abbey located in Reading. It housed a religious community centred round a magnificent church. Founded by Henry I in 1121, the Abbey was one of the largest monasteries in Europe. Situated in the centre of the town of Reading, the Abbey today is a large ruin with the inner rubble cores of the walls for many of the Abbey’s major buildings still standing.

Although King Henry I commissioned the construction of the Abbey (1121), he fell ill following a week of sickness and died (1135). Therefore, it was the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett, who formally opened the Abbey in 1164. After the king’s death in France he was taken to Rouen where his body was embalmed and preserved to be brought back to England for his final resting place, at the Abbey. During this time the Abbey was only half built and King Henry I was laid to rest in front of the Altar.

The abbey is a historical landmark within Reading town. The Abbey Quarter was built to bring together the unique, cultural heritage that remains from the exceptional history of the former grounds Reading Abbey. The ruins that have been best preserved are the structural foundations of the chapter house (where the monks all met together), with a triple entrance and three impressive windows above. Over the years the ruins have been repaired and maintained in a fragmentary form leading to their slow decline.

As an important historical ground within the town, the council do their best to maintain its upkeep and celebrate the remaining structures. The impressive abbey ruins include parts of the south transept, the treasury, the chapter house, the dormitory and the reflection room. There is also the mill arch, which you can see nearby over the Holy Brook, standing as the only remaining part of the former mill for Reading Abbey.

Due to some health and safety risks, with heavy falling masonry in 2009, the Abbey Ruins were completely closed to the public. After a £3.15 million conservation project, Abbey Ruins re-opened as a public tourist destination where people can learn about the 900 years of history as guests explore. The remarkable site is free to visit along with lots of other interesting attractions in the town of Reading.