Gloucester Street, Malmesbury SN16 9BA
If you head west out of Swindon, towards Bristol along the B4042, you will soon find yourself in Malmesbury, home to Malmesbury Abbey. Dating back to the 7th century, this Benedictine monastery is one of the few religious houses to have a continuous history right through to 1539 and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Today Malmesbury Abbey is in full use as the parish church of Malmesbury, in the Diocese of Bristol. The remains still contain a parvise, which holds some examples of books from the Abbey library. The Anglo-Saxon charters of Malmesbury, provide source material for the history of Wessex and the West Saxon church from the seventh century.
The abbey you can visit today is an excellent example of 12th century religious building, but there is not much of it left. The west tower fell around 1550, destroying much of the western side of the building. As a result, less than half of the original Abbey stands today.
So the Abbey has no bells itself. Fortunately, the Abbey’s 8 bell ringers use the nearby tower of St Paul’s in the Abbey churchyard.
During the English Civil War, Malmesbury changed hands as many as seven times, and the abbey was fiercely fought over. If you look carefully, you can see bullet marks that mark its violent past.
Its most famous ‘resident’ is Æthelstan, the first true king of England. He was buried in the tower, under the altar of St. Mary. During the 11th century, his remains were reburied in the abbot’s garden to avoid Norman desecration. He is commemorated by an empty 15th century tomb in the north aisle.
As an active parish church, worshipers are welcome to join the Sunday service, Morning Prayer and Holy Communion. The Abbey Café offers hospitality and comfort that is a hallmark of Benedictine practice. It serves cakes, sandwiches, bacon rolls and Fairtrade coffee.