The Croome Memorial Lecture 2017:

The Augustinian Canons by Dr David Robinson 

on 20th February 2017

On Monday 20th February the Cirencester Civic Society jointly presented with the Archaeological and Historical Society and the Friends of the Parish Church the Annual Croome lecture in the Parish Church to a packed house. Dr David Robinson spoke on The Augustinian Canons in England and the Abbey of St. Mary Cirencester. This was part of the celebrations for the 900th anniversary of the founding of the Augustinian Abbey of St Mary, in Cirencester, by King Henry 1 in 1117. The abbey was supported by the patronage of Henry I with canons coming from Merton College.

David Robinson lectured on the Augustinians and their monastery and abbey that they built about a 100 metres to the north of the present church -which was much larger than the town church. It is with coincidence that William Croome was involved in the archaeological excavations that took place in the 1960s where much was discovered about the Abbey. Abbots and Canons of the Abbey wrote many books that have survived and four are able to seen in an exhibition at the Corinium Museun loaned by the Bodleian Library and Jesus College Oxford. The abbey had over 100 canons at its height but still maintained a healthy proportion compared with other monasteries. It was also one of the wealthiest abbeys, second only to Gloucester in the local area but still with a significant income. 

The Augustians and the Abbey had not been written about generally historically and it is only in the last 20 years or so that this has improved. Especially with the likes of Dickinson’s many essays on the subject. Saint Augustine of Hippo originated in North Africa around 400AD and his teachings evolved over the centuries eventually by 1067 having a structure by which monks could follow and adhere to. Augustians started their movement with abbeys and monasteries in France, Spain and Italy. St Botolph’s Priory in Colchester was the first Augustian establishment in England in 1104. The last being in 1359 in Lincolnshire. At its height there were in the order of 200 sites in Britain most of which had an annual income of around £200 with 40% having incomes of less than £100 and only 5 having incomes over £800. St Mary’s income was £1051, the largest of all! At one stage the income reached an astronomical £1330 thanks to the income from rents and fees from tenant farmers and market traders.

Hospices and hospitals also became part of the monasteries and St Mary’s was no exception although St John’s Hospice in Spitalgate was supported by the church. Cirencester was a large royal Minster and when the abbey was excavated in 1965 the foundations of a 9th century Anglo Saxon church was found. It was demolished with the Abbey built on top of it. . The Abbey helped in its patronage of a local school. The scholarly house continued with regular students being recorded at Oxford.

When the abbey was demolished after 1539 it was literally razed to the ground – ‘not a stone shall be standing’ and no significant remains exist today. This may well of been (sic) due to how the local populace viewed the abbey within the town with strong resentment.

This report by Cirencester Civic Society