Benedictine monastery known as Malmesbury Abbey


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Benedictine monastery known as Malmesbury Abbey
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 93338 87340

Reasons for Designation

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning, and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 225 of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their revenue. The Augustinians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Malmesbury Abbey has a written history covering 1300 years. Although today little of the monastic complex remains visible, extensive buried remains will survive and the monument is important as a site with early origins and which continued in use as a monastic house until its dissolution in 1535. Subsequently, the nave of the Abbey church has continued in use to the present day.


The monument includes those parts of the Benedictine monastery, known as Malmesbury Abbey, that are no longer in ecclesiastical use. The Abbey has its origins in the early 7th century as part of a Saxon hilltop settlement. Though its early history is uncertain, there are references to a nunnery founded in c.603 AD, though a more likely date for its establishment is 637 AD when the Irish monk Maeldulph established a hermitage at Malmesbury. The monastery itself was established sometime between 675 AD and 705 AD under the abbacy of Adhelm, though its dedication is not known for sure. However by the 10th century, 965 to 974 AD, the monastery had become established as a house of the Benedictine order. The surviving buildings were commenced under Bishop Roger between 1118 to 1139 AD and completed at around 1160 to 1170. It continued in the Benedictine order until its dissolution on the 15th of December in 1539. The Abbey was subsequently sold by Henry VIII's Commissioners to the clothier William Stumpe, for the sum of 1517 pounds and 15 shillings. He built the present Abbey House on the site of some of the monastic buildings and gave the nave of the Abbey church to the people of Malmesbury as their parish church in 1541.

The abbey church was formerly of massive proportions, reaching its peak in the 14th century when the nave and choir were some 86m long, the lady chapel at the east end a further 12m long and 21m wide and the cloister to the north of the church measured 32m square. Following the Dissolution only nine bays of the nave survived to be used as the parish church; this was subsequently reduced to the six bays that survive today following the collapse of the west tower in the 16th century. The monastic buildings, none of which are now upstanding, stood on the north side of the church and consisted of the cloister immediately north of the church with the frater beyond, the chapter house to the east of the cloister and the dorter north of the chapter house, stretching east in the area now occupied by the 16th century Abbey House. A major part of this building's undercroft belonged to the rere-dorter of the abbey. Fragments of architectural detail reused in later buildings can be seen over a wide area of Malmesbury.

The portion of the abbey church still in ecclesiastical use, all modern buildings and structures, all boundary features and all metalled surfaces are excluded from the scheduling, though the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
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Books and journals
Malmesbury Abbey2
Malmesbury Abbey7
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 456
Watkin, A D, The Victoria History of the County of Wiltshire, (1956), 218
Brakspear, , 'Archaeology Journal' in Arch. J, (1930), 456
Displayed in Church, Malmesbury Abbey,
NAR Record ST 98 NW 12,
ST 98 NW 400,


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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