27 April 2011

Thornton Abbey, Humberside

The gatehouse at Thornton Abbey, founded 1139, is the largest monastic such in the land. The Augustinian abbey here was exceedingly wealthy, and the gatehouse, a very early example of the use of expensive brick (originally rendered), proclaimed and protected that wealth.

The gatehouse was commenced in the 1360s, and reinforced with a moat and barbican after the 1391 Peasants' Revolt. It stands 69 feet high, and on entering one passes through a magnificent brick-built passageway, complete with its time-worn fourteenth-century gates.

Inside, over four storeys, are numerous chambers, both small and very large. These are linked by a maze of brick-built corridors, which twist and turn, reminiscent of Jean-Jacques Annaud's film of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Garde-robes are placed at regular intervals (below).

The foundations of the monastic church provide a sense of just how vast this was; whilst the remains of the octagonal chapterhouse, built between 1282 and 1308, provide a feel for the architectural beauty that it would have boasted. The abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, and its stone robbed for other uses.

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