Wymondham Abbey was first of all a twin towered stone abbey founded in 1107 by the Benedictines. Only half of that original abbey church remains; the rest is seen in the ruins at the east end of the property. The western part—the nave and its aisles and the west and central towers of the abbey—was retained to serve as a functioning parish church. However, the monastic tower was left permanently unfinished and the other is ruined.
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The Benedictines and the parish were in conflict as to who had jurisdiction over the abbey as it was also being used as a parish church from the time of its construction. In 1249 the dispute was settled, with each group having under their control one section of the building. Other changes took place at this time as the parish members and the monks continued their disputes by walling up various sections of the church to cement the division.
In 1445 further changes took place when the parish demolished two low Norman towers, then built another tower, a new clerestory and a hammer-beam roof in the nave, re-roofed the north aisle, and added the two-storey north porch. When Henry VIII suppressed the abbeys, much of the abbey church and its buildings were destroyed.
While the exterior of the church reflects 15th century flint construction, the interior is 12th century and built of stone from Normandy. Entrance to the abbey is by way of the 15th century north porch, made of stone. It has a number of carvings and a stone-ribbed vault. On the second floor, reached by a stone staircase in the north aisle, is a muniment room. The porch is surmounted by a pierced stone parapet.
The side aisle (the Lady Chapel) is long and wider than the nave and has a 15th century oak hammer-beam roof and large windows. The roof is divided into decorated panels with angels and other figures at the end of the hammer-beams. A brass chandelier, dated 1712, is hanging part way down the aisle.
The nave, much changed from the original (especially in the 1400s), is of cream-colour stone with carved Romanesque patterns on the arches, stone angel corbels, and an outstanding tower arch. The hammer-beam roof in the nave rises to 70 feet above the floor. It has three rows of foliated bosses the entire length and horizontal hammer-beams carved in the shape of angels.
In the 1700s box pews were put in place as well as a gallery at the western end of the nave. Between 1901-03 the nave underwent restoration. At this time the wooden gallery was taken down and the tower arch unblocked. The organ, dating from the 18th century, now sits in the arch. A new organ gallery with a stone front was built, a new floor was put in, and new choir stalls and a marble floor were added to the chancel.
Another outstanding feature of the church is the great screen and canopy of painted and gilded gold built 1919-1934 above the nave east end altar. The font dates from the 14th century. It has carvings on the eight sides of the bowl. The cover is modern and is of gilded wood. The terracotta sedilia dates from c1530. There is a ring of 10 bells in the large ringing chamber. There are numerous mural tablets in the abbey dating from the 17th century to the present century.
The church is an orthodox Catholic church and has services.
Church St, Wymondham
Norfolk, Eastern Counties
Wymondham is off the B1172, just off the A11
Tel. 0 1953 607 062 (abbey office)
Open: for worship, concerts and other times for viewing; check website for details.
Web: Wymondham Abbey
Photos © by Barbara Ballard except exterior tower photo by John Salmon courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland