Reading Abbey was erected in 1121 in the town of Reading within in the county of Berkshire, England. It was a royal monastery established by King Henry I to pay homage to his ancestors and his successors and would serve as a burial site for Henry himself in 1136, thus making it a royal mausoleum. Though King Henry I intended it to be built for the entire royal family, he was the only royal confirmed to be buried in the abbey. Another purpose for Reading Abbey was to house dozens of monks. Its first abbot appointed in 1123 was Hugh of Amiens who became the Archbishop of Rouen.
The burial of Henry I in 1136 at Reading Abbey.
No expense was spared to build the stunning abbey. It was one of the largest in the entire country, bigger than both Westminster Abbey and Winchester Cathedral . It also housed the hand of the apostle St. James. Reading Abbey construction was finally completed and sanctified in 1164 by Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury . It was one of the richest and most important pilgrimage places during medieval England. Many monarchs frequented the abbey, including Henry the VIII, who eventually eliminated it in 1538 when he ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries . Today, only ruins remain.
The ruins of the monks’ dormitory of Reading Abbey, in the English town of Reading. (Chris Wood / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Reading Abbey: Brainchild of King Henry I
Henry I, the youngest son of William the Conqueror , became King of England in 1100 after the death of William II, the next in line to be the successor to the throne. William II was emerging as the ruler of England and Normandy; however, his untimely death allowed Henry I to claim the throne and bring about the unification of England and Normandy. Within a few years, Henry I stabilized England and made barons, nobles, and bishops swear homage to his son William as the heir. However, Henry I’s son was killed in a ship accident in 1120 which left Henry I heirless. King Henry I died in 1135, without knowing what would become of his kingdom and his lavish Reading Abbey.
- The Complicated and Disturbing Life of King Henry VIII
- Capricious Life of Anne Boleyn, The Woman Behind the Church of England
- Thomas Becket’s Sacred Healing Shrine Digitally Reconstructed
The Henry II and Thomas Becket Intrigue
The abbey was finally completed under Henry I’s grandson, Henry II , and hallowed by the Archbishop Thomas Becket . Although Henry II and Thomas Becket started as friends, a bitter feud between the two over church and state relations strained their friendship. Eventually Henry II ordered that the Archbishop be killed. By the time he retracted his wishes, it was too late. His knights murdered Thomas Becket and set off a scandal throughout the Christian world. There continued to be factionalism long after this tragic event with some monks remaining loyal to Becket’s cause and others loyal to the King. Thomas Becket was canonized in 1173 and Henry was forced to do penance.
Reading Abbey remains in ruins to this day. ( Tomasz / Adobe Stock)
The Abbey’s Importance and Its Dissolution
The Abbey was an integral part of the community for over 400 years. Monks lived, worked, and worshipped there, and lots of royal weddings took place within it. Pilgrims also frequented it to pray. These activities continued until in 1539, King Henry VIII ordered Reading Abbey to close. King Henry VIII took all the valuables from the abbey and its final abbot, Hugh Cook (Farringdon), was executed and quartered in front of Reading Abbey. After this horrendous event, the abandoned abbey was looted for its lead, glass, and facing stones.
After some years, the old gateway to Reading Abbey has now been restored, pictured here in 2018. (Chris Wood / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Reading Abbey Then and Now
Although Reading Abbey is abandoned today, it would have been a marvelous site to see in its heyday. Had it survived, Reading Abbey would have been one of the most perfect examples of Norman architecture in England. The monastery was built between the two rivers Kennet and the Thames. It would have had an elaborate cloister which had monsters carved into the capitals, known as the “beak heads.” The size of the structure was grand and the abbey would have been painted in vibrant reds, yellows and blues. In 2018, Reading Museum created a digital model of what they believed the Reading Abbey may have looked like before dissolution by King Henry VIII .
Nowadays, the Reading Abbey is just a shell of what it used to be. It is an open air edifice with only the original walls standing. The only part of the abbey that remains wholly intact is the gateway. This section was once was a boarding school which was the home of famous English novelist Jane Austen. Now, it is owned by Reading Museum.
Visiting Reading Abbey
The abbey was closed in 2009 due to fears that the falling stones were unsafe. A recent conservation project called Reading Abbey Revealed has been established and funded to keep the ruins in good condition. It was reopened to the public in 2018. However, the pandemic woes have closed it off once again. Upon reopening, tourists will be able to visit the ruins every day from dawn to dusk. Reading Museum is usually open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. The museum offers walking tours of the Abbey Quarter but there are also options for visitors to take self-guided tours. There is no admission fee into the museum but the suggested donation is £ 5 pounds ($6.86). In 2021, Reading Abbey will be celebrating the 900 th anniversary of its construction in 1121.
The hunt for medieval kings
As the search for lost medieval kings continues, interest in them seems stronger than ever. But a warning from the past speaks of their – and our – ruin.
There was much excitement recently about the news that – hot on the heels of the finding of Richard III’s body in Leicester a few years ago – an investigation has begun to explore the site of Reading Abbey, which may involve locating the remains of Henry I.
Work to find out more about this important monastic site is very welcome. But it is rather a shame (though unsurprising) that media attention focused chiefly on the possibility of finding the king’s body, rather than on what we might learn from these investigations about the larger story of Reading Abbey. Searching for royal relics seems to be in vogue there are also explorations going on in Winchester to find the remains of Alfred the Great and to study the bones of Cnut, Harthacnut and other 11th-century kings and queens who have for centuries been unceremoniously jumbled up in mortuary caskets in the cathedral. Fortunately, Henry I does not arouse such strong passions as Richard III. Even if he is found, there is unlikely to be a repeat of the controversies that surrounded Richard’s reburial last year.
Henry is certainly an important part of Reading’s history: he was the founder of the abbey, where he was buried – while it was still incomplete – after his death in 1135. But the monastic history of the town precedes him by more than a century: a religious house for women was supposedly founded in Reading in the tenth century by Queen Ælfthryth, mother of Æthelred the Unready, in memory of her young murdered stepson, Edward the Martyr. Furthermore, the history of Reading Abbey, of course, continued for 400 years after Henry’s time. It was at Reading that the first polyphonic song surviving in English, ‘Summer is icumen in’, was written down in the 13th century – one particular highlight in a long and distinguished institutional history, which concluded violently when the last Abbot of Reading was hanged, drawn and quartered at his own abbey gate in 1539.
The above-ground ruins of Reading Abbey are currently closed to the public, but the abbey precincts are now occupied by a park and a collection of modern office buildings. When I first explored this part of Reading on a sunny autumn weekend, I was struck by how ghostly and lifeless those tall buildings were, in their glittering glass emptiness, towering over the fragments of stone remaining from the abbey. They were more eerie than any medieval ruin could be and just as expressive (a medieval historian might think) of the transitory nature of earthly wealth and power. Reading’s newest skyscraper was built in 2009, at the southern edge of the abbey precincts will it last centuries, decades, or just a few years?
The historian Henry of Huntingdon, writing in the year of Henry I’s death, provides a memorable take on these questions in the epilogue to his Historia Anglorum. From his perspective in 1135, he looks back to the year 135, and forward to 2135, to situate himself and the powerful people of his time within a considerably longer perspective.
‘This is the year which holds the writer: the thirty-fifth year of the reign of the glorious and invincible Henry, king of the English’, he begins. But then he surveys the great men of 135, the emperors, kings, bishops and archdeacons like Henry himself. What survived of them, he asks, after a thousand years? ‘If any of them strove to win fame,’ he says, ‘and no record of him now survives, any more than of his horse or his ass, why did the wretch torment his spirit in vain?’
Then he looks forward and speaks to those living in the third millennium, in 2135. ‘Consider us, who at this moment seem to be renowned, because we, miserable creatures, think highly of ourselves . Tell me, what gain has it been to us to have been great or famous? We had no fame at all, except in God.’
Henry’s meditation on mortality strikes a timely note as we inhabitants of the third millennium search for the earthly remains of his ‘glorious and invincible’ king. He might have pointed out that the bodies of the poor and forgotten buried in England’s country churchyards have lain more peacefully, undisturbed for generations, than Henry I in his splendid abbey church. Finding kings under car parks has become something of a popular joke – but a medieval historian might instead have taken it as a poignant reminder of how easily, over the centuries, sacred places become waste.
Earliest history Edit
The Monmouthshire writer Fred Hando records the tradition of Tewdrig, King of Glywysing who retired to a hermitage above the river at Tintern, emerging to lead his son's army to victory against the Saxons at Pont-y-Saeson, a battle in which he was killed. 
Cistercian foundations Edit
The Cistercian Order was founded in 1098 at the abbey of Cîteaux. A breakaway faction of the Benedictines, the Cistercians sought to re-establish observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Considered the strictest of the monastic orders, they laid down requirements for the construction of their abbeys, stipulating that "none of our houses is to be built in cities, in castles or villages but in places remote from the conversation of men. Let there be no towers of stone for bells, nor of wood of an immoderate height, which are unsuited to the simplicity of the order".  The Cistercians also developed an approach to the Benedictine requirement for a dual commitment to pray and work that saw the evolving of a dual community, the monks and the lay brothers, illiterate workers who contributed to the life of the abbey and to the worship of God through manual labour.  The order proved exceptionally successful and by 1151, five hundred Cistercian houses had been founded in Europe.  The Carta Caritatis (Charter of Love) laid out their basic principles, of obedience, poverty, chastity, silence, prayer, and work. With this austere way of life, the Cistercians were one of the most successful orders in the 12th and 13th centuries. The lands of the Abbey were divided into agricultural units or granges, on which local people worked and provided services such as smithies to the Abbey.
William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester introduced the first colony of Cistercian monks to England at Waverley, Surrey, in 1128. His first cousin, Walter de Clare, of the powerful family of Clare, established the second Cistercian house in Britain, and the first in Wales, at Tintern in 1131.  The Tintern monks came from a daughter house of Cîteaux, L'Aumône Abbey, in the diocese of Chartres in France.  In time, Tintern established two daughter houses, Kingswood in Gloucestershire (1139) and Tintern Parva, west of Wexford in southeast Ireland (1203).
First and second abbeys: 1131–1536 Edit
The present-day remains of Tintern are a mixture of building works covering a 400-year period between 1131 and 1536. Very little of the first buildings still survives today a few sections of walling are incorporated into later buildings and the two recessed cupboards for books on the east of the cloisters are from this period. The church of that time was smaller than the present building, and slightly to the north.
The Abbey was mostly rebuilt during the 13th century, starting with the cloisters and domestic ranges, and finally the great church between 1269 and 1301. The first mass in the rebuilt presbytery was recorded to have taken place in 1288, and the building was consecrated in 1301, although building work continued for several decades.  Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk, the then lord of Chepstow, was a generous benefactor his monumental undertaking was the rebuilding of the church.  The earl's coat of arms was included in the glasswork of the Abbey's east window in recognition of his contribution.
It is this great Decorated Gothic abbey church that can be seen today, representing the architectural developments of its period it has a cruciform plan with an aisled nave, two chapels in each transept, and a square-ended aisled chancel. The abbey is built of Old Red Sandstone, with colours varying from purple to buff and grey. Its total length from east to west is 228 feet, while the transept is 150 feet in length. 
King Edward II stayed at Tintern for two nights in 1326. When the Black Death swept the country in 1349, it became impossible to attract new recruits for the lay brotherhood during this period, the granges were more likely to be tenanted out than worked by lay brothers, evidence of Tintern's labour shortage. In the early 15th century, Tintern was short of money, due in part to the effects of the Welsh uprising under Owain Glyndŵr against the English kings, when abbey properties were destroyed by the Welsh. The closest battle to Tintern Abbey was at Craig-y-dorth near Monmouth, between Trellech and Mitchel Troy.
Dissolution and ruin Edit
In the reign of Henry VIII, the Dissolution of the Monasteries ended monastic life in England, Wales and Ireland. On 3 September 1536, Abbot Wych surrendered Tintern Abbey and all its estates to the King's visitors and ended a way of life that had lasted 400 years. Valuables from the Abbey were sent to the royal Treasury and Abbot Wych was pensioned off. The building was granted to the then lord of Chepstow, Henry Somerset, 2nd Earl of Worcester. Lead from the roof was sold and the decay of the buildings began.
The west front of the church, with its seven-light Decorated window, was completed around 1300. 
The nave is of six bays, and originally had arcades to both the northern and southern sides. 
Monks' choir and presbytery Edit
The presbytery is of four bays, with a great east window, originally of eight lights. Almost all of the tracery is gone, with the exception of the central column and the mullion above. 
The cloister retains its original width, but its length was extended in the 13th century rebuilding, creating a near square. 
Book room and Sacristy Edit
The book room parallels the sacristy and both were created at the very end of the construction period of the second abbey, around 1300. 
Chapter house Edit
The chapter house was the place for daily gatherings of the monks, to discuss non-religious abbey business, make confession and listen to a reading from the Book of Rules. 
Monks' dormitory and latrine Edit
The monks' dormitory occupied almost the entirety of the upper storey of the east range.  The latrines were double-storeyed, with access both from the dormitory and from the day-room below. 
The refectory dates from the early 13th century, and is a replacement for an earlier hall. 
Little of the kitchen, which served both the monks' refectory, and the lay brothers' dining hall, remains. 
Lay brothers' dormitory Edit
The dormitory was sited above the lay brothers' refectory but has been completely destroyed. 
The infirmary, 107 ft long and 54 ft wide, housed both sick and elderly monks in cubicles in the aisles. The cubicles were originally open to the hall but were enclosed in the 15th century when each recess was provided with a fireplace. 
Abbot's residence Edit
The abbot's lodgings date from two periods, its origins in the early 13th century, and with a major expansion in the late 14th century. 
Following the Abbey's dissolution, the adjacent area became industrialised with the setting-up of the first wireworks by the Company of Mineral and Battery Works in 1568 and the later expansion of factories and furnaces up the Angidy valley. Charcoal was made in the woods to feed these operations and, in addition, the hillside above was quarried for the making of lime at a kiln in constant operation for some two centuries.  The Abbey site was in consequence subject to a degree of pollution  and the ruins themselves were inhabited by the local workers. J.T.Barber, for example, remarked on "passing the works of an iron foundry and a train of miserable cottages engrafted on the offices of the Abbey" on his approach. 
Not all visitors to the Abbey ruins were shocked by the intrusion of industry, however. Joseph Cottle and Robert Southey set out to view the ironworks at midnight on their 1795 tour,  while others painted or sketched them during the following years.  A 1799 print of the Abbey by Edward Dayes includes the boat landing near the ruins with the square-sailed local cargo vessel known as a trow drawn up there. On the bank is some of the encroaching housing, while in the background above are the cliffs of a lime quarry and smoke rising from the kiln. Though Philip James de Loutherbourg's 1805 painting of the ruins does not include the intrusive buildings commented on by others, it makes their inhabitants and animals a prominent feature. Even William Havell's panorama of the valley from the south pictures smoke rising in the distance (see Gallery), much as Wordsworth had noted five years before "wreathes of smoke sent up in silence from among the trees" in his description of the scene. 
18th and 19th centuries Edit
By the mid-18th century it became fashionable to visit "wilder" parts of the country. The Wye Valley in particular was well known for its romantic and picturesque qualities and the ivy-clad Abbey was frequented by tourists. One of the earliest prints of the Abbey had been in the series of engravings of historical sites made in 1732 by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck.  Their sets of views, however, catered to antiquarian interests and often were a means to flatter the landowners involved and so gain orders for their publications.  Tourism as such developed in the following decades. The "Wye Tour" is claimed to have had its beginning after Dr John Egerton began taking friends on trips down the valley in a specially constructed boat from his rectory at Ross-on-Wye and continued doing so for a number of years.  Rev. Dr. Sneyd Davies' short verse epistle, "Describing a Voyage to Tintern Abbey, in Monmouthshire, from Whitminster in Gloucestershire", was published in 1745, the year Egerton took possession of his benefice. But that journey was made in the opposite direction, sailing from the Gloucestershire shore across the River Severn to Chepstow and then ascending the Wye. 
Among subsequent visitors was Francis Grose, who included the Abbey in his Antiquities of England and Wales, begun in 1772 and supplemented with more illustrations from 1783. In his description he noted how the ruins were being tidied for the benefit of tourists: "The fragments of its once sculptured roof, and other remains of its fallen decorations, are piled up with more regularity than taste on each side of the grand aisle." There they remained for the next century and more, as is evident from the watercolours of J. M. W. Turner (1794), the prints of Francis Calvert (1815) and the photographs of Roger Fenton (1858). Grose further complained that the site was too well tended and lacked "that gloomy solemnity so essential to religious ruins". 
Another visitor during the 1770s was the Rev. William Gilpin, who later published a record of his tour in Observations on the River Wye (1782),  devoting several pages to the Abbey as well as including his own sketches of both a near and a far view of the ruins. Though he too noted the same points as had Grose, and despite also the presence of the impoverished residents and their desolate dwellings, he found the Abbey nevertheless "a very inchanting piece of ruin". Gilpin's book helped increase the popularity of the already established Wye tour and gave travellers the aesthetic tools by which to interpret their experience. It also encouraged "its associated activities of amateur sketching and painting" and the writing of other travel journals of such tours. Initially Gilpin's book was associated with his theory of the Picturesque, but later some of this was modified by another editor so that, as Thomas Dudley Fosbroke’s Gilpin on the Wye (1818), the account of the tour could function as the standard guidebook for much of the new century. 
Meanwhile, other more focussed works aimed at the tourist were available by now. They included Charles Heath’s Descriptive Accounts of Tintern Abbey, first published in 1793, which was sold at the Abbey itself and in nearby towns.  This grew into an evolving project that ran through eleven editions until 1828 and, as well as keeping abreast of the latest travel information, was also a collection of historical and literary materials descriptive of the building.  Later there appeared Taylor's Illustrated Guide to the Banks of the Wye, published from Chepstow in 1854 and often reprinted. The work of local bookseller Robert Taylor, it was aimed at arriving tourists and also available eventually at the Abbey.  Much the same information as in that work appeared later as the 8-page digest, An Hour at Tintern Abbey (1870, 1891), by John Taylor. 
Until the early 19th century, the local roads were rough and dangerous and the easiest access to the site was by boat. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, while trying to reach Tintern from Chepstow on a tour with friends in 1795, almost rode his horse over the edge of a quarry when they became lost in the dark.  It was not until 1829 that the new Wye Valley turnpike was completed, cutting through the abbey precinct.  In 1876 the Wye Valley Railway opened a station for Tintern. Although the line itself crossed the river before reaching the village, a branch was built from it to the wireworks, obstructing the view of the Abbey on the road approach from the north.
20th and 21st centuries Edit
In 1901, Tintern Abbey was bought by the Crown from the Duke of Beaufort for £15,000 and the site was acknowledged as a monument of national importance. Although there had been some repair work done in the ruins as a result of the 18th-century growth of tourism, it was not until now that archaeological investigation began and informed maintenance work was carried out on the Abbey. In 1914, responsibility for the ruins was passed to the Office of Works, who undertook major structural repairs and partial reconstructions (including removal of the ivy considered so romantic by the early tourists).  In 1984, Cadw took over responsibility for the site, which was Grade I listed from 29 September 2000.  The arch of the Abbey's watergate, which led from the Abbey to the River Wye, was Grade II listed from the same date. 
Evidence of the growth of interest in the Abbey and the visitors attracted to it is provided by the number of painters who arrived to record aspects of the site. The painters Francis Towne (1777),  Thomas Gainsborough (1782),  Thomas Girtin (1793),  and J.M.W. Turner in the 1794–95 series now at the Tate  and the British Museum, depicted details of the Abbey's stonework.   So did Samuel Palmer (see Gallery) and Thomas Creswick in the 19th century,   as well as amateurs such as the father and daughter named Ellis who made a watercolour study of the refectory windows in the second half of the century (see Gallery). About that period too, the former painter turned photographer, Roger Fenton, applied this new art not only to detailing a later stage in the decay of the building,  but used the quality of light to emphasise it. 
Visiting artists also focused on the effects of light and atmospheric conditions. Charles Heath, in his 1806 guide to the abbey, had commented on the "inimitable" effect of the harvest moon shining through the main window.  Other moonlit depictions of the abbey include John Warwick Smith’s earlier 1779 scene of the ruins from across the river  and Peter van Lerberghe’s interior of 1812, with its tourist guides  carrying burning torches, which shows the abbey interior lit both by these and by moonlight. Once the railway had arrived in the vicinity, steam excursions were organised in the 1880s to Tintern station so as to view the harvest moon through the rose window. 
Earlier in the century, the light effects made possible by transparencies (a forerunner of the modern photographic negative) had been deployed to underline such aspects of the picturesque. Among those described in the novel Mansfield Park (1814) as decorating its heroine’s sitting room, one was of Tintern Abbey.  The function of the transparencies was to reproduce light effects, such as “fire light, moon light, and other glowing illusions”, created by painting areas of colour on the back of a commercial engraving and adding varnish to make specific areas translucent when suspended in front of a light source.  Since the Abbey was one of the buildings recommended for viewing by moonlight, it is possible that this was the subject of the one in Fanny's room. In fact, a tinted print of the period such as those used for creating transparencies already existed in "Ibbetson's Picturesque Guide to Bath, Bristol &c", in which the full moon is featured as seen through an arch of the east wing. 
Different light effects appear in the work of other painters, such as the sunsets by Samuel Palmer  and Benjamin Williams Leader, and the colour study by Turner in which the distant building appears as a "dark shape at the centre"  beneath slanting sunlight (see Gallery).
Hybrid works Edit
Prints of historical buildings along the Wye increased during the fourth quarter of the 18th century, with interior views and details of the Abbey's stonework among them.  Two later sets of these were distinguished by including a selection of unattributed verses. First came four tinted prints that mixed both distant and interior views of the building, published by Frederick Calvert in 1815.  The other was an anonymous set of views, with the same verses printed below. These were published by the London firm of Rock & Co. and later pasted on pages of an album in the King's Library.
One set of verses hails the Abbey's survival, in despite of Henry VIII's dissolution, "Where thou in gothic grandeur reign’st alone". The phrase "gothic grandeur" derives from John Cunningham’s "An elegy on a pile of ruins”" (1761), an excerpt from which was published by Grose at the end of his description of Tintern Abbey. At that period the adjective was used as a synonym for "mediaeval"  and was so applied by Grose when describing the Abbey as being "of that stile of architecture called gothic".  Cunningham's poem was a melancholy contemplation of the ravages of time that spoke in general terms without naming a specific building. But the verses on the print are more positive in feeling in celebrating the Abbey's historical persistence, they do not see ruin as necessarily a cause for regret. The scenes below which the verses appear are also quite different from each other. Calvert's view is across the river from the opposite bank of the Wye,  while the Rock print is close up to the ruins with the river in the background. 
Tintern is not specifically named in the verses mentioned above, although it is in two other sets and their poetic form overall is consistent: paired quatrains with pentameter lines rhymed alternately. One set begins "Yes, sacred Tintern, since thy earliest age," and King Henry is again represented as being foiled in his intention, but this time by no "earthly king". The Abbey's roof is now "of Heaven’s all glorious blue" and its pillars "foliaged… in vivid hue". Here Calvert's interior view looks past the ivy-grown pillars to the south window.  The Rock view that these lines accompany is of that same window, surrounded by ivy and viewed from the exterior.  Another set of verses begins "Thee! venerable Tintern, thee I hail", and celebrates the Abbey's setting. An appeal to Classical standards of beauty is made by calling the Wye by its Latin name of Vaga and referring to the serenading nightingale as Philomel. Naturally the river features in both prints, but where Calvert's is the south-east view from the high ground behind the Abbey, with the Wye flowing past it to the right,  the Rock view is from across the river, looking up to the high ground. 
The remaining print by Calvert is another view of the interior in which a small figure in the foreground points down to a heap of masonry there,  while the Rock print corresponds to Calvert's view of the south window.  The accompanying stanzas deal with the transient nature of fame. Beginning “Proud man! Stop here, survey yon fallen stone”, their emotional tone is a melancholy at odds with the buoyant message of the other verses. It is uncertain whether all eight stanzas were originally from the same poem on the subject of the Abbey and what the relationship was between poet and artist.
J. M. W. Turner had been accompanying his work with poetical extracts from 1798,  but it was not a widespread practice. However, the appearance of the title A Series of Sonnets Written Expressly to Accompany Some Recently-Published Views of Tintern Abbey, dating from 1816, the year after the appearance of Calvert's portfolio, suggests another contemporary marriage between literary and artistic responses to the ruins.  But while the main focus in Calvert's Four Coloured Engravings is the pictures, in a later hybrid work combining verse and illustration it is the text. Louisa Anne Meredith’s "Tintern Abbey in four sonnets" appeared in the 1835 volume of her Poems, prefaced by the reproduction of the author's own sketch of the ivy-covered north transept. This supplements in particular the description in the third sonnet:
Th’ivy’s foliage twined
The air-hung arch - the column‘s lofty height,
Wreathing fantastically round the light
And traceried shaft. 
The northeast view, a print by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, 1732
The Abbey in the snow, early 20th century, photo by William A. E. Call
The Abbey from the bridleway above, 1830/40
The Abbey on a bend of the Wye, William Havell, 1804
Local use of the ruins,
P. J. de Loutherbourg, 1805
Ruins against the hillside, Samuel Palmer, 1835
Detail of the refectory windows, 19th century watercolour
Abbey interior, 1858/1862, photo by Roger Fenton
A J. M. W. Turner light effect, watercolour, 1828
A dedicatory letter at the start of Gilpin's Observations on the river Wye is addressed to the poet William Mason and mentions a similar tour made in 1771 by the poet Thomas Gray.  Neither of those dedicated a poem to the Abbey, but the place was soon to appear in topographical works in verse. Among the earliest was the 1784 six-canto Chepstow or, A new guide to gentlemen and ladies whose curiosity leads them to visit Chepstow: Piercefield-walks, Tintern-abbey, and the beautiful romantic banks of the Wye, from Tintern to Chepstow by water by the Rev. Edward Davies (1719–89).  Furnished with many historical and topical discursions, the poem included a description of the method of iron-making in the passage devoted to Tintern, which was later to be included in two guide books, the most popular of which was successive editions of Charles Heath's.  Then in 1825 it was followed by yet another long poem, annotated and in four books, by Edward Collins: Tintern Abbey or the Beauties of Piercefield (Chepstow, 1825). 
The Abbey also featured in poems arising from the Wye tour, such as the already mentioned account of his voyage by Rev. Sneyd Davies, in which the ruins are briefly reflected on at its end. It is that element of personal response that largely distinguishes such poems from verse documentaries of the sort written by Edward Davies and Edward Collins. For example, the gap between the ideal and the actual is what Thomas Warwick noted, looking upstream to the ruins of Tintern Abbey and downstream to those of Chepstow Castle, in a sonnet written at nearby Piercefield House.  Edward Jerningham's short lyric, "Tintern Abbey", written in 1796, commented on the lamentable lesson of the past, appealing to Gilpin's observations as his point of reference.  Fosbroke's later adaptation of that work is likewise recommended as a supplement to Arthur St John's more voluminous description in the account of his own tour along the river in 1819, The Weft of the Wye. 
Contemplation of the past reminded the Rev. Luke Booker of his personal mortality in an "Original sonnet composed on leaving Tintern Abbey and proceeding with a party of friends down the River Wye to Chepstow" inspired by his journey, he hopes to sail as peacefully at death to the "eternal Ocean".  And Edmund Gardner (1752?–1798), with his own death imminent, similarly concluded in his "Sonnet Written in Tintern Abbey", that "Man’s but a temple of a shorter date".  William Wordsworth’s different reflections followed a tour on foot that he made along the river in 1798, although he does not actually mention the ruins in his "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey". Instead, he recalls an earlier visit five years before and comments on the beneficial internalisation of that memory.  Later Robert Bloomfield made his own tour of the area with friends, recording the experience in a journal and in his long poem, "The Banks of the Wye" (1811). However, since the timetable of the boat-trip downstream was constrained by the necessity of the tide, the Abbey was only given brief attention as one of many items on the way.  
Aspects of the building's past were treated at much greater length in two more poems. George Richards' ode, "Tintern Abbey or the Wandering Minstrel", was probably written near the end of the 18th century. It opens with a description of the site as it used to be, seen from outside then a minstrel arrives, celebrating the holy building in his song as a place of loving nurture, of grace and healing.  The other work, "The Legend of Tintern Abbey", is claimed as having been "written on the Banks of the Wye" by Edwin Paxton Hood, who quotes it in his historical work, Old England.  An 11-stanza poem in rolling anapaestic metre, it relates how Walter de Clare had murdered his wife and built the Abbey in penitence. Closing on an evocation of the ruins by moonlight, the work was later reprinted in successive editions of "Taylor's Illustrated Guide" over the following decades.
Louisa Anne Meredith used the occasion of her visit to reimagine the past in a series of linked sonnets that allowed her to pass backwards from the present-day remains, beautified by the mantling vegetation, to bygone scenes, "Calling them back to life from darkness and decay".  For Henrietta F. Vallé, "Seeing a lily of the valley blooming among the ruins of Tintern" was sufficient to mediate the pious sentiments of a former devotee there. As she noted, "it must ever awaken mental reflection to see beauty blossoming among decay". 
But the religious strife of the following decades forbade such a sympathetic response and made a new battleground of the ruins. "Tintern Abbey: a Poem" (1854) was, according to its author, Frederick Bolingbroke Ribbans (1800-1883), "occasioned by a smart retort given to certain Romish priests who expressed the hope of soon recovering their ecclesiastical tenure of it". He prefers to see the building in its present decay than return to the time of its flourishing, "when thou wast with falsehood fill’d".  Martin Tupper too, in his sonnet "Tintern Abbey" (1858), exhorts his readers to "Look on these ruins in a spirit of praise", insofar as they represent "Emancipation for the Soul" from superstition. 
Only a few years earlier, in his 1840 sonnet on the Abbey, Richard Monckton Milnes had deplored the religious philistinism which had "wreckt this noble argosy of faith". He concluded, as had Louisa Anne Meredith's sonnets and the verses accompanying Calvert's prints, that the ruin's natural beautification signified divine intervention, "Masking with good that ill which cannot be undone".  In the wake of the Protestant backlash since then, Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley was constrained to allow, in the three sonnets he devoted to the Abbey, that after "Men cramped the truth" the building's subsequent ruin had followed as a judgment. However, its renewed, melodic blossoming now stands as a reproach to Tupper's brand of pietism too: "Man, fretful with the Bible on his knee,/ Has need of such sweet musicker as thee!" 
In the 20th century two American poets returned to Wordsworth's evocation of the landscape as the launching pad for their personal visions. John Gould Fletcher’s "Elegy on Tintern Abbey" answered the Romantic poet's optimism with a denunciation of subsequent industrialisation and its ultimate outcome in the social and material destructiveness of World War I.  Following a visit some thirty years later, Allen Ginsberg took lysergic acid near there on 29 July 1967 and afterwards wrote his poem "Wales Visitation" as a result.   By way of "the silent thought of Wordsworth in eld Stillness" he beholds "clouds passing through skeleton arches of Tintern Abbey" and from that focus goes on to experience oneness with valleyed Wales. 
In 1816, the abbey was made the backdrop to Sophia Ziegenhirt's three-volume novel of Gothic horror, The Orphan of Tintern Abbey, which begins with a description of the Abbey as seen on a sailing tour down the Wye from Ross to Chepstow.  Her work was dismissed by The Monthly Review as "of the most ordinary class, in which the construction of the sentences and that of the story are equally confused". 
During the 20th century the genre switched to supernatural fiction. "The Troubled Spirit of Tintern Abbey" was a story privately printed in 1910 under the initials 'E. B', which was later included in Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book (1936). There an Anglican cleric and his wife are on a cycling tour in the Wye valley and are contacted by a ghost from Purgatory who persuades them to have masses said for his soul.  The tale was followed in 1984 by Henry Gardner's novella, "The Ghost of Tintern Abbey" 1984. 
The more recent novel, Gordon Master's The Secrets of Tintern Abbey (2008), covers the building's mediaeval history as the author dramatises the turbulent 400 years of the Cistercian community up to the monastery's dissolution. 
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Museum Studies Reading
My research examines the interpretation of Glastonbury Abbey and I visited yesterday to see what’s going on. I found the Abbot’s Kitchen covered in scaffolding as part of a conservation and re-interpretation project.
Glastonbury Abbey Abbot’s Kitchen Conservation
The Abbot’s Kitchen is a fascinating piece of architecture with a varied history. It was built sometime between 1320 and 1370 as part of a large complex which served the Abbot’s guests and speaks of the medieval wealth the Abbey. Given its relatively domestic function it also holds stories of religious strife. The Dissolution of the Abbey in 1539 saw the man it served, Abbot Richard Whiting, being executed, with his head put on a spike above the Abbey gatehouse. Immediately following this it was home to group of Huguenot weavers fleeing religious persecution on the continent. In 1683 it also housed a Quaker meeting which was forcibly broken up and resulted in 10 Friends being sent to jail.
Glastonbury Abbey Abbot’s Kitchen Conservation
It was eventually used as a cow shed but drew the interest of antiquarians and artists with its unique design. Pugin visited Glastonbury Abbey and drew elevations of the kitchen. It was well known to figures such as John Ruskin and was replicated in neo-Gothic architecture. The ‘laboratory’ to the right of Oxford Museum of Natural History entrance is based on the Abbot’s Kitchen and I even found a summer house replica on St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall. The Abbey is running an exhibition on the Kitchen which deals with these issues, and a case full of tourist images demonstrates its ongoing iconic status.
Glastonbury Abbey Abbot’s Kitchen Conservation
As for the future of the Kitchen, more can be found out in the exhibition and its accompanying video interview with project staff. Historical kitchen expert Peter Brears has recently been able to provide information about the layout of the medieval building, even identifying the presence of a raised walkway where chefs could watch different workers. A conservation team is currently hard at work stabilising the building before re-interpretation can take place. Visitors will be able to get tours of the scaffolding over the next couple of weeks but I got a sneak preview. Here are some more photographs of what I saw…please enjoy and think about contributing to the Rescue our Ruins project which is making this possible.
What The Stoa Of Attalos Was And What Happened To It
The Stoa of Attalos measures 115 m (337 ft) by 20 m (65 ft) and was built using Pentelic marble (for the façade and columns) and limestone (for the walls), both of which were locally available. The Stoa of Attalos, like other stoas of the same period, was an elaborate monument. It had two stories and a double colonnade. Behind the columns were shops, 42 in total, 21 for each floor. Thus, the Stoa of Attalos was a major commercial building in the city and an ancient kind of shopping mall.
Since the agora was a public space, the Stoa of Attalos was not only a shopping area, but also a place where the ancient Athenians could gather to socialize. Indeed, as a covered walkway, the stoa provided shade from the summer heat, as well as from the winter rain and wind, thus making it an ideal place for public gatherings.
The Stoa of Attalos was in use for centuries, until it was destroyed in 267 AD by the Herulians, a Germanic people who were raiding Roman provinces in the Balkans and Aegean.
The ruins of the stoa were subsequently incorporated into a new fortification wall, which saved it from further destruction, and helped preserve its northern end up until the level of the roof. In the centuries that followed, the ruins of the stoa led a quiet existence in its new role as part of the fortification wall. Although the stoa had always been visible, thanks to the preservation of its northern end, it seems that it was largely forgotten.
The Stoa of Attalos portico at sunset. (Georgios Liakopoulos / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Monuments of Medieval Strife
TOURING the fortified towns, called bastides, in southwestern France, gives travelers a glimpse of medieval life and a chance to explore some of the earliest examples of urban planning, in a lovely rural setting.
The fortified towns, all built from scratch, are similar in plan. The bastide was usually circled by thick stone walls, sometimes double, with entry portals. Each town had a central square with an open market topped by a roof held by pillars of wood or stone - incredibly, much of the wood is still original. A church, usually outside one corner of the square, had slits for shooting and hidden passages for escape, as there was no castle for protection.
Serfs were guaranteed freedom from overlords if they joined a bastide. Each farmer was given free land inside the town to build a house and land outside to farm. During the French-English hostilities, many bastides became military strongholds, and the English built bastides of their own.
Fortified towns were also built in England, Wales, Italy, Spain and eastern Europe but not in such density as in France The French Bastide Study Center, in Villefranche de Rouergue, says 315 bastides survive in France today. The three mightiest bastides that have survived are Beaumont and Monpazier, built by the English, and Domme, by the French.
A tour of bastides in the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne provinces, where they are especially numerous, can be made in three or four days, with a sprinkling of medieval chateaus and hilltop villages thrown in. And travelers will find themselves in some of France's loveliest countryside, dotted with toast-colored cows, white geese and yellow and green fields of grain. DOMME: Domme was built in 1283 by laborers lugging rocks up a steep hill. The town's plan strays from the tradition of a rectangular grid and arcades because of the unevenness of the hilltop.
The vista from the summit is one reason for Domme's renown. From the Belvedere de la Barre one has a view of the placid Dordogne, bordered by rich farmland and the castles of La Roque-Gageac and Montfort.
Henry Miller wrote, ''Just to glimpse the black, mysterious river at Domme from the beautiful bluff is something to be grateful for all one's life.''
Domme's fortifications are almost totally intact. They include two forbidding semicircular towers, with slits for firing weapons, at ae gateway called the Porte de Tours.
Only a fragment remains of the covered market. In 1879 an entrance was built by the market to a cave. Visitors can see the stalagmites and stalactites and the bones of Ice Age mammoths as well as the grotto where residents hid from assailants.
The church, burned by attacking Protestants, had an unworthy restoration, particularly the Renaissance entry. The governor's house, with its corbeled tower, has a 17th-century facade. But the town hall is genuine 13th century and the Rue de lye offers a nice 15th-century cloister.
A small museum displays a few prehistoric finds from the region and a collection of old farm and household implements, pharmaceutical products, toys, clothing and stamps.
On the way to Domme from the north, one might stop at Sarlat, a perfectly preserved medieval town, before driving on Route D46 to Domme. West of Domme are the fortified medieval castles of Beynac and Castelnaud.
West of Castelnaud in Cadouin are the ruins of a Cistercian abbey, now being renovated. The abbey was built in 1115 and was battered during the French-English wars. Its cloister in a garden was rebuilt in Gothic Flamboyant style in the 15th and 16th centuries but again the abbey suffered during the 16th-century Christian upheavals. After 1789, it was abandoned. The government took over the ruined gray and golden stone cloister in 1839 to mend the structure and its frescoes and stone sculpture. The abbey also houses a religious art museum. MOLIERES: Southwest of Lauzerte on D27 is Molieres, an especially charming town that is worth a brief stop. The English started building this small bastide in the 13th century but never finished it. It has only one arcade arch and no covered market on the empty square. Up the street a ruined fortified chateau pierces the skyline.
While the English lost the Hundred Years War and retreated home, they are back in force in southwestern France, this time as tourists. Many visit Molieres to inspect a street marked Promenade des Anglais. BEAUMONT: South of Molieres on Route D25 is Beaumont, another 13th-century bastide town. Beaumont's church is a fine example of a medieval house of worship fortified for war. The church was built by the English in 1272, in English Gothic style. Some of its military features were removed when the building was restored in the 19th century.
The west wall has a softly carved porch and sculpted frieze representing Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The rest of the church is weighty with solid buttresses and crenelated towers, designed for a defender to fire through the lower opening of the wall edge and to hide behind the upper part. One tower is a 90-feet high dungeon with slits for shooting arrows.
The church, built by the English in 1272, is in English Gothic style. The church bells were installed only after the 1789 revolution.
The ramparts have all but vanished, but the massive gateway remains. If invaders crashed through, they had to scramble down a narrow passage and try to ram a second fortification. MONPAZIER: A drive south on D660 leads to graceful, golden Monpazier. The town competes with Domme as the most attractive and best preserved bastide in France. Its towers are stately and arches curve fluently on the exquisite main square, with its elegant luxury shops. More arches serve as entryways, one flowing into another. On the square, a recently painted motto on one arch lauds ''the unity and indivisibility of the republic.''
Monpazier was built in 1284 to complete England's line of defense in southwestern France. After the English left, social unrest continued and half-starved peasants, weary of paying rent and taxes to their noble rulers, sacked several chateaus in the region. The noblemen's troops rounded up the rebels in 1637 and their leader was broken on a wheel on Monpazier's square.
A large section of Monpazier's dense wall survives. Grain measures remain on the pillars of the covered market. The church's nave is 13th century while other sections were added in the 15 and 17th centuries. Across the street the 13th-century Maison du Chapitre, which probably served for storing grain given by farmers as taxes, now is the town bakery.
A short drive south on D2 and then D53 leads to Biron and its castle on a hilltop. Do not be deceived by its newer, sweet Renaissance facade. Enter the courtyard and there is the unchanged bulk of the chateau, stark and simple, built mostly in the 13th century to mix with ruins of six other centuries.
Some stones remain ruby red from fire when the castle was ravaged by the Hundred Years War. Still undamaged are medieval stone sculptures of faces and grapes around the windows. The main kitchen is the size of a basketball court. In a smaller kitchen stands a huge tub in which linen was washed twice a year. VILLEREAL: A drive southwest on D2 leads to Villereal, in the Lot-et-Garonne province. Villareal has a unique covered market. Atop its roof perches an unusual second story, held up by medieval pillars of oak. The addition housed merchants when it was built in 1267 and now serves as offices for a local radio station.
Villereal, or royal city, certainly lives for today, a contrast to the museumlike aura of Monpazier. On a recent visit, laundry was hanging on iron bars on one side of the fortified church, which otherwise retains its flat medieval front and monumental door. One part of the arcaded square has been replaced, sadly, by modern buildings. A bar belts out rock music and the shops underneath the remaining arcades are livened with vegetable and fruit stands. Where townspeople fought off attackers in the Middle Ages, today's youth race off in their cars past the same half-timbered houses. EYMET: West of Villereal, on D2 making connections to D18, lies the bastide of Castillonnes, but more interesting is Eymet. Villagers have tidied up the ruins of the 14th-century fortified chateau and added a small museum.
The arcades around the marketplace of this pleasant bastide are populated by shops selling goose liver pate and other specialities from six food concerns in the region. An attractive restaurant overlooks the square where a 17th-century fountain replaced the destroyed covered market. VILLEFRANCHE-DU-PERIGORD: This small hilltop bastide is tuneful and busy with singing birds. The tidy square's ancient marker has stone pillars. A stroller can see half-timbered 14th-century houses, massive stone towers, a 13th-century fountain, some covered arcades and a view of the lush valley below. A little museum next to the tourist office displays the history of mushrooms and chestnuts, specialties of the region.
Farther south on a winding country road, is Bonaguil, where a fine medieval chateau stands amid silent forests.
The castle is said to be a perfect example of military architecture of the 15th century, adapted to the new cannons and muskets. It took 40 years to build the defense towers and tunnels to move 100 troops. But the chateau was half-ruined by peasant attacks during the 1789 revolution. TOURNON DɺGENAIS: This hilltop bastide is south of Bonaguil, at the junction of D102 and 661. Don't be discouraged by the dingy Renault garage you pass on the road to the top. Up above, the villagers have built a carefully tended park on the ruins of their medieval church, which was smashed by 16th century Protestants. A World War I monument in the park illustrates their hope that it was the last war to savage their land.
Between Tournon and Villeneuve rises Penne dɺgenais, a handsome fortified medieval village 500 feet up and once the favored home of Richard the Lion-Hearted. It is rich with medieval houses and a chateau ripped apart during the religious wars and battles with the English. MONFLANQUIN: West of Tournon, at the junction of D676 and D124, is Monflanquin, an English hilltop bastide with stone arcades that are among the best preserved in France. The 13th-century fortified church with a 17th-century facade has been restored, and there are some nice half-timbered houses. The covered market and the ramparts disappeared during the Christian civil wars. ST.-PASTOUR: To the southwest, on D133, is the tiny bastide of St.-Pastour. St.-Pastour has retained only its old church, bits of a defense wall and a splended portal topped by a statue of Joan of Arc. VILLENEUVE-SUR-LOT: Villeneuve, to the south of St. Pastour, illustrates what happened when a bastide outgrew its walls and became a modern city. Some nice half-timbered houses and arcades survive on the main square but a hideous parking lot has replaced the covered market. The town still shows off its 12th-century towered gate and chapel on an old bridge. LAUZERTE: To the southeast on D953, Lauzerte is a bit of a detour, but well worth it. So picturesque it could serve as a movie backdrop, this hilltop bastide offers admirable houses in the gray stones of the Lot and medieval arches around its main square. The exhilarating view from the village encompasses a patchwork of green and yellow fields, orchards of cherries, peaches and melons on sloping hills.
Internal troubles and the impact of war
The monastery was soon to face significant challenges. There are signs that the behaviour of the canons did not always meet the high standards demanded by the Rule of St Augustine. In 1280 Archbishop Wickwane of York criticised the canons&rsquo chant during their religious services, and censured the presence of lay people within the monastic precincts, as well as the admission of jesters and fools into the refectory to entertain the community. The canons were also admonished for leaving the monastery at night to visit friends and relations, and for drinking and other &lsquoindecent pleasures&rsquo.
Several canons are also known to have left the priory for long spells without permission. The most serious offence was committed by a canon called Thomas, who ran away to the priory&rsquos church at Carham, where he set about issuing forged charters. Thomas then used his ill-gotten gains to travel the length and breadth of England and live extravagantly. He was eventually caught and returned to Kirkham. Unrepentant, he was consigned to its prison.
Warfare between England and Scotland in the early years of the 14th century also badly affected the priory. Scottish armies penetrated deep into northern England, and in 1322 nearby Rievaulx and Byland were sacked. Kirkham&rsquos estates in Northumbria were devastated and the priory lost its income from its parish churches in the county. The monastery was plunged into debt, which by 1357 had reached the enormous sum of £1,000. This led to the dispersal of some of the canons to other Augustinian monasteries.
A Vanished World : Medieval Spain's Golden Age of Enlightenment
In a world troubled by religious strife and division, Chris Lowney's vividly written book offers a hopeful historical reminder: Muslims, Christians, and Jews once lived together in Spain, creating a centuries-long flowering of commerce, culture, art, and architecture.
In 711, a ragtag army of Muslim North Africans conquered Christian Spain and launched Western Europe's first Islamic state. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella vanquished Spain's last Muslim kingdom, forced Jews to convert or emigrate, and dispatched Christopher Columbus to the New World. In the years between, Spain's Muslims, Christians, and Jews forged a golden age for each faith and distanced Spain from a Europe mired in the Dark Ages.
Medieval Spain's pioneering innovations touched every dimension of Western life: Spaniards introduced Europeans to paper manufacture and to the Hindu-Arabic numerals that supplanted the Roman numeral system. Spain's farmers adopted irrigation technology from the Near East to nurture Europe's first crops of citrus and cotton. Spain's religious scholars authored works that still profoundly influence their respective faiths, from the masterpiece of the Jewish kabbalah to the meditations of Sufism's "greatest master" to the eloquent arguments of Maimonides that humans can successfully marry religious faith and reasoned philosophical inquiry. No less astonishing than medieval Spain's wide-ranging accomplishments was the simple fact its Muslims, Christians, and Jews often managed to live and work side by side, bestowing tolerance and freedom of worship on the religious minorities in their midst.
A Vanished World chronicles this impossibly panoramic sweep of human history and achievement, encompassing both the agony of jihad, Crusades, and Inquisition, and the glory of a multicultural civilization that forever changed the West. One gnarled root of today's religious animosities stretches back to medieval Spain, but so does a more nourishing root of much modern religious wisdom.
Jane Austen's England was littered with remnants of medieval religion. From her schooling in the gatehouse of Reading Abbey to her visits to cousins at Stoneleigh Abbey, Austen faced constant reminders of the wrenching religious upheaval that reordered the English landscape just 250 years before her birth. Drawing attention to the medieval churches and abbeys that appear frequently in her novels, Moore argues that Austen's interest in and representation of these spaces align her with a long tradition of nostalgia for the monasteries that had anchored English life for centuries until the Reformation. Converted monasteries serve as homes for the Tilneys in Northanger Abbey and Mr. Knightley in Emma, and the ruins of the 'Abbeyland' have a prominent place in Sense and Sensibility. However, these and other formerly sacred spaces are not merely picturesque backgrounds, but tangible reminders of the past whose alteration is a source of regret and disappointment. Moore uncovers a pattern of critique and commentary throughout Austen's works, but he focuses in particular on Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Sanditon. His juxtaposition of Austen's novels with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts rarely acknowledged as relevant to her fiction enlarges our understanding of Austen as a commentator on historical and religious events and places her firmly in the long national conversation about the meaning and consequences of the Reformation.