2.2 History Of New Minster and Hyde Abbey


2.2.1 Chronology (coming soon)

coming soon

2.2.2 Life in a Benedictine Monastery

Founded in 903 as a church for secular canons New Minster was converted in the 960s into a Benedictine monastery with the aim of bringing greater discipline and conscientiousness to its worship and service. Monks were sent to Winchester from the highly regarded abbey at Abingdon under the leadership of Ethelgar, a great reformer, who transformed New Minster both architecturally and in terms of its religious practice. Two decades later Ethelgar went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

By the mid-tenth century there were hundreds of Benedictine monasteries established right across western Europe. Each was governed by an abbot (in principle, at least, elected by the monks) who was guided by the Rule which had been written in the sixth century by Saint Benedict, the founder of the iconic monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy. Extract from ‘The Rule’ of St. Benedic (1)

“To give the signal for the Work of God, whether by day or by night, is the responsibility of the Abbot.”


But Benedict was by no means the founder of the monastic movement. For at least a couple of hundred years before Benedict there was a tradition of devout people dedicating themselves to lives of prayer and meditation either as hermits or in small groups away from the main population. What Benedict did was to draw on those existing traditions and compile - in a coherent and practical way - principles and rules by which a religious community could function through a balanced regime of prayer, study and work.


It was according to this rule of St. Benedict that New Minster and Hyde Abbey operated for almost 600 years. The key features of the rule were;


  • Monks took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. There was an understanding that monks would remain largely stable in the same monastic house and would accept absolutely the authority of the abbot. However the abbot would consult with the monks, especially the senior monks, on important or difficult matters. (Despite the ‘poverty’ of individual monks at Hyde Abbey the institution itself became very wealthy enabling it to provide rich hospitality to visiting dignitaries. The Abbot of Hyde became a powerful person in his own right with national status as a formal witness to acts of state). Extract from ‘The Rule’ of St. Benedic (2)

“If anyone is found to have anything which was not given to him by the Abbot, he is to undergo the severest punishment and that this vice of personal ownership maybe totally eliminated, everything necessary should be given by the Abbot.”


  • A sequence of regular prayer – the saying of the ‘Divine Office’ - throughout the day which all monks were required to attend in the abbey hcurch. Prayer was the means for attaining union with God and it was structured into distinct stages – Matins, Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Complin – which provided a clear framework for the day stretching from before sunrise through the morning, afternoon and into late evening. St. Benedict laid down in detail the prayers and bible readings for each session according to the day of the week and the season. (Evidence from bishops’ inspections at Hyde Abbey suggest that at various periods in its history the observation of Divine Office became slack among some monks). Extract from ‘The Rule’ of St. Benedic (3)

“As soon as the signal for the Divine Office is heard, the brethren must leave whatever they have been engaged in doing and hasten with all speed but with dignity, so that foolishness finds no stimulus. Nothing, therefore, is to be given preference over the word of God.”


  • That clear guidelines were given for all aspects of life from what kind of clothes and shoes the monks should wear to the amount of food and drink they should consume. The general rule was that they should be modest and simple in all respects (There was no allowance made in the rule for keeping heads warm at night in church – Hyde Abbey applied for permission from Rome to be allowed to wear woollen caps during the cold north European winters). Extract from ‘The Rule’ of St. Benedic (4)

“It is sufficient for a monk to have two tunics and two cowls, to allow for wear at night and for washing: more than that is superfluous and should be taken away.”


  • An emphasis on quietness, humility and silence after ‘complin’ so as to maintain an atmosphere of serious dedication to the worship of God as well as instructions on how the monks should sleep and arrangements in the dormitory. Extract from ‘The Rule’ of St. Benedic (5)

“At all times monks ought to strive to keep silence but particularly so during the hours of the night….. as for loose talk, idle words and talk that stimulate laughter, we condemn this with a permanent ban in all places.”


  • instructions on how discipline should be maintained and what should be done when people break the rules. Extract from ‘The Rule’ of St. Benedic (6)

“The brother who is guilty of a very serious fault is to be suspended from sharing in the meals and also from the oratory. None of the brethren may associate with him in companionship or conversation.”


2.2.3 Introducing Abbot Aston – Witness To Magna Carta

Abbot Aston presided over Hyde Abbey for over 20 years in the period 1220s-1240s

He represents a period of stability roughly at a midpoint in the story of New Minster and Hyde Abbey. His most high profile entry into history was as a ‘mitred abbot’ witness to the reissue of Magna Carta in its definitive form by Henry III.

Hyde900 has selected Abbot Aston to be the embodiment of the abbey’s story across the centuries and, in particular, as a representative of all the abbots – good, bad and indifferent – who had the responsibility for managing the abbey’s affairs between the 10th and the 16th centuries

In this context he appears as a fictional figure presenting anecdotes about the history of the abbey and about the day to day life of the monastery. He also provides the voice-over to tours of the abbey elsewhere on this website. And although we have fictionalised Abbot Aston himself all the anecdotes are based on or inspired by historical events. Key moments in the Abbey’s history Scenes From Monastic Life At Hyde


2.2.4 Augmented reality - Abbot Aston’s tour of the Abbey (coming soon)

coming soon