Just a short train-hop from London lies Reading, the capital of Berkshire County. At first glance, this city seems to embrace the new and modern, sporting a new mall called The Oracle, trendy eating establishments and a pedestrian mall that sports all of the British favorites: Boots, WH Smith, and Marks and Spencer. However, tucked away in the middle of the city and nestled against the River Thames are the ruins of Reading Abbey.
Reading Abbey lies within Forbury Gardens where flowers bloom in every nook and shiny edged flint rock speckles the grounds. Fountains stand or gurgle impressively depending on the season, and the large abbey looms over it all, standing proud against the onslaught of time and weather. Henry VIII did his damage here - most of the Abbey has been cannibalized for use elsewhere. At the time of dissolutionment, Henry VIII had the abbot (Hugh Cook Faringdon) hanged, drawn and quartered.
Built in 1121 by Henry I (who is buried on the grounds), Reading Abbey was a major pilgrimage site for medieval England. Said to have contained over 230 relics, including the hand of St. James (a hand was discovered here in demolition work and now rests in Marlow), the Abbey had many royal patrons including Constance of York, Empress Matilda and William of Poitiers.
Portions of the Abbey still lie underground Reading Gaol, forever doomed to non-excavation. Oscar Wilde spent a few years in this jail while writing De Profundis before being hauled off to France to spend the rest of his days. Other modern
If you find yourself in Reading, perhaps for the 2012 Olympics where they will host the rowing competition, make sure to visit this sad and charming reminder of English history.
Find out about Reading:
Wikipedia Article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reading_Abbey
Friends of Reading Abbey: http://www.berksarch.co.uk/fora/
Royal Berkshire History: http://www.berkshirehistory.com/churches/reading_abbey.html