Thursday, 25 June 2009

Hampshire Romsey Abbey

Romsey Abbey is a parish church in the Church of England located in Romsey, a market town in Hampshire, England.

It was originally built during the 10th century, as a Benedictine foundation. The surviving church is the town's outstanding feature and this is all the more remarkable because the abbey, as a nunnery, would have been less well financially endowed than other religious establishments of the time.
The religious community was originally established at "Rum's Eg", strictly "the area of Rum surrounded by marshes" in 907 AD by nuns led by Elflaeda daughter of King Edward The Elder, who was son of King Alfred The Great. Later, King Edgar refounded the nunnery, in circa 960 AD, as a Benedictine house under the rule of St. Ethelflaeda who was sanctified for such acts as the chanting of psalms late at night, whilst standing naked in the freezing water of the nearby River Test.
The religious community continued to grow and a village grew around it to keep it supplied with produce. Both suffered in 993 AD when Viking raiders sacked the village and burnt down the original church. However, the abbey was rebuilt in stone in circa 1000 AD and the village quickly recovered. The abbey and its religious community flourished and were renowned as a seat of learning - especially for the children of the nobility.
In Norman times a substantial, new stone abbey, primarily designed as a convent, was built on the old Anglo-Saxon foundation (circa 1130 to 1140 AD) by Henry Blois, Bishop of Winchester and Abbot of Glastonbury. Bishop Henry was the younger brother of King Stephan and his structure dominates the town to this day. By 1240 AD in excess of 100 nuns were living in the community.
The abbey continued to grow and prosper until the Black Death, struck the town in 1348-9. Whilst it is thought that as much as half of the population of the town - which was then about 1,000 - died as a result the number of nuns fell by over 80% to 19. This so affected the area that the overall prosperity of the abbey dwindled and it was finally suppressed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.

Tombs in Romsey Abbey, including that of Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

However the abbey did not suffer the fate of many other religious establishments at this time and was not demolished, although the community itself was forcibly dispersed. This was because it had, in modern terms, become "dual use". in the sense that it contained a church within a church - a substantial section being dedicated to St Lawrence and used solely by the townspeople.
Subsequently, the town purchased the abbey from the Crown for £100 in 1544 and, somewhat ironically, then set about demolishing that very section, set aside as the church of St Lawrence, that had ensured its survival in the first place.
The abbey survives today not least due to the efforts of Rev. Berthon during the 19th century who set about restoring it to some of its former glory. It now stands as the largest parish church in the county and houses the tomb of Lord Mountbatten of Burma. Known locally as "Lord Louis" he had been granted the lesser title of Baron Romsey in 1947 on being given his Earldom and lived locally at Broadlands House. He was murdered in a terrorist bomb explosion in Ireland on 27 August 1979 and was buried in the abbey following a full state funeral in Westminster Abbey.
Still a thriving church where families worship, in October 2007 Revd Tim Sledge was appointed Vicar of Romsey.
In 1791, the current ring of eight church bells was installed, with a tenor (heaviest bell) weighing 24 cwt. Three of the bells were recast in 1932. The bells are currently out of the tower, as work is taking place to restore the 18th century bell frame.

Romsey Abbey Choir
Romsey Abbey maintains a traditional choir of boys and men, who normally sing two services each week during term time, including a full Choral Evensong at least once a month. The choristers are drawn from a variety of local state and private schools, whilst the gentlemen of the choir are all volunteers. The choir is directed by the Abbey Organist and Master of the Choristers, Robert Fielding, and accompanied on the organ by the Assistant Organist, James Eaton.
The choir is supported by the Friends of Romsey Abbey Choir (known as FORAC), whose mandate is to assist the work of the choir through fundraising, social activities and organization of trips, often including an annual residence at a Cathedral.
A separate Girls' Choir was formed in 1996 by Diane Williams, wife of the then Organist and Master of the Choristers, Jeffrey Williams, to sing at the less formal 'first Sunday' morning service. The girls choir, directed now by Daphne Lindsell, occasionally joins with the boys and men for major services such as Christmas and Easter.

The Abbey Organs
Romsey Abbey has two organs. The main instrument was built by J W Walker & Sons in 1858 and replaced an earlier instrument by Henry Coster. The Walker Organ was rebuilt in its present position and enlarged in 1888. Major restoration work was carried out by J W Walker & Sons Ltd in 1995/96 under the supervision of the Abbey Organist Jeffrey Williams, restoring the mechanical actions and overhauling all of the pipe work. 1999 saw the construction of a completely new Nave Organ with pipe work located on the South Triforium. This can be played either from a mobile console in the Nave or from the main console. A specification of the organs can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register

It is one of the only Abbey's to have pictures of Abbesses on tomb stones (7 in all) which have to be preserved for prosterity.

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