Another visit to Leiston Abbey

A modest outing was made today by several of the confrères to the Premonstratensian Abbey of Leiston in the neighbouring county of Suffolk. They Abbey was founded in the 12th century, and moved to its present location two centuries later, when the ruins of this perpendicular structure were built. In fact, it was still being added to even on the eve of the reformation which closed the Abbey. A visit was also made to Leiston this time last year, an account of which may be read here.

It was, in fact, the author’s second visit to Leiston, the first being made several years ago when he was still an history undergraduate, and east Suffolk perpendicular churches were a particularly fashionable subject in his faculty at the time for some reason. It was a great joy, however, to return to the abbey now that he is a Premonstratensian himself.

Leiston was a small Abbey; the number of confrères hovered around the teens, so not much larger than our Priory of Chelmsford. With ruins, one can often be deceived as to the proportions of the building as it would have been. It was quite clear that the largest parts of the abbey, the church and the refectory, were rather modest in size, and it is very easy to imagine that it had a somewhat homely feel to it, nestled in the Suffolk countryside, only a few hours’ walk from the sea. The church itself was no larger than many of the other local parish churches in large towns (East Anglian churches tend to be rather large, since it was the most densely populated part of the country until the turn of the seventeenth-century). 

Though Leiston is clearly not our nearest pre-reformation foundation – that being Beeleigh Abbey – it is always good for us to maintain our links with our deceased Presmonstratensian confrères, since, surely, they are keeping an eye on us and supporting us with their prayers. One hopes that our modest little foundation will be a source of some joy for those of them in heaven. Prayers were said at the remains of the high altar for our confrères who are still waiting to get there. 

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The sacristy

 

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The sacristy, on the right, was next to the chapter room, centre, over the short wall in the foreground. The tallest structure visible is the remains of the chimney in between the califactory (left) and the refectory.

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Barely anything remains on the inside of the church proper except the south side and the transepts, and the lower walls of the sanctuary (shown), where a new pseudo-altar has been placed in the position of the high altar, in front of a magnificent east window. Building work to an adjacent modern structure prevented more detailed photography here.

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The refectory, seen from above the califactory. On the right is the cloister; in the centre of the photograph, the viewer can see the remains of a red-brick gatehouse added just before the dissolution.

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The sanctuary in the chapel of St Michael in the south aisle. Brother Cantor kindly evacuated the piscina of rubble so that it may again be used.

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The exterior of the east window; one can notice some of the original flint flushwork detail on the exterior walls which very popular in East Anglian perpendicular architecture, both ecclesiastical and civic, and which is still very common in the region, not excluding one of the parish churches run by the Order in the England today.

 

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