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Haughmond Abbey

A couple of weeks ago we paid a visit to the dramatic ruins of Haughmond Abbey, a 12th century Augustinian monastery which lies pretty well hidden in the Shropshire countryside near Shrewsbury.

It was a beautiful late Spring day, with a cloudless azure sky and the lush emerald grass creating a vivid backdrop for the ancient stonework. Swallows dived low over the site, which together with the birdsong in the air and the soft rustling of the breeze through the leaves, could almost let you believe that somehow the centuries had fallen away and the black-robed canons were still in residence.

At the height of its importance, not only was Haughmond a place of spirituality and contemplation, but also a successful business which brought in a steady income from the lands, mills and fisheries it owned.

Prior to its dissolution in 1539 however, there seem to have been some questionable goings on, with the Abbott being disciplined for a number of irregularities, including permitting the canons to enjoy solitary days out in Shrewsbury, failing to send one of their number to university, and, more intriguingly, allowing a woman of ill repute to frequent the premises. History fails to record whether this lady was a penitent sinner seeking absolution, or someone perhaps more business orientated.

Things would seem to have gone from bad to worse, as the new replacement Abbott was eventually sacked for incompetence, negligence and fornication. It would seem that he took exception to this last accusation, as he claimed to have already done appropriate penance (but had no apparent objection to being thought incompetent or negligent)

The photograph above shows me standing outside the substantial remains of the Chapter House, next to the carving of St Winifred, who looks unperturbed in her wimple, as her wicked pursuer is swallowed up by the ground beneath her feet. She is accompanied by a number of other saints who stand guard, notably the dragon-slaying St Margaret. Inside, the building still retains its 16th century wooden roof, bleached pale by five hundred years of the elements.


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