3.1 The Abbey of Hyde


Hyde Abbey was exceptional in its age because it had the honour and responsibility of looking after the remains of King Alfred the Great and his family. It also acquired a number of relics, notably those of St. Josse (also known as St. Judoc). This made it in later years, an important and early stopping off point on the pilgrims’ way from Winchester to Canterbury. The royal graves were set before the High Altar while the side chapels might well have hosted the relics. Pilgrims would have processed around the side aisles to absorb the holiness which emanated from them.

 In purely architectural terms, however, Hyde Abbey would have been very typical of Benedictine abbeys of the Norman era. By the 12th century what might be regarded as a standard pattern had emerged in the design of these abbey churches along with their associated cloisters, dormitories, accommodation for visitors and other offices. Consequently the abbey church built by Henry I in Reading in the 1120s – inspired one can reasonably imagine by Hyde Abbey – was very much along the same lines as Hyde in its layout.

Artistically, the plain solidity of Norman architecture with its rounded arches and sturdy pillars would have been relieved by the lively inventiveness of capitals and corbels in the cloister and elsewhere (done in the Winchester style). In the case of Hyde, a small number of distinguished examples remain of both of these features (on display in St. Bartholomew). These carvings are comparable to those from Reading Abbey in Reading Museum and might, conceivably, have been executed by the same craftsmen.

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