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Published: August 15th 2019
Now the ruins are an Anglican church
is a mouthful; sounded like marmalade in a bun
. Motivated by a historical novel, I followed the protagonist who travelled to Malmesbury abbey on a horse to find answers to a riddle during those turbulent times. I took local 40 minutes bus ride from Swindon to Malmesbury with a bag of crisps and bottled water.
During the reign of the Henry the eighth, Malmesbury abbey
was one of the monasteries which got dissolved to fill the royal treasure. Geographically, it is set on top of a small hill with the two tributaries engulfing the town to join River Avon. The vast meadows with the fresh water was ideal for sheep husbandry. Wool was a major export and this town prospered.
Malmesbury abbey was an ancient hermitage set up by an Irish immigrant, Maelduph in 600-700 AD.
studied under him.He became the adviser to the first king of Wessex and later England, King Athelston
who united Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex and York. Indeed, he is buried in this abbey (but tomb is not known). It became a Benedictine abbey and today converted to a Anglican parish church. St Lullus was a monk here and later made it big in Germany.
When the monastery was dissolved, it was bought by a rich
wool merchant called William Stump. A sly businessman, the monastery with all the good quality stones were sold to build houses including renovating the Abbey house itself where he decided to live. He even put looms into the big halls of the abbey to further his textile business perhaps giving employment to many people. Earlier, the monasteries produced fine, illustrated manuscripts and extraordinary tapestries which were sold to the kings and noble people. It had a function in society which was not appreciated by greedy capitalists.
Surprisingly, as I entered the Abbey Garden, there was a stern, white woman at the counter. Only when I paid the steep 8 GBP entry free to the garden, did she decide to respond civilly, by saying the garden was privately owned. I learnt that the Abbey Garden was owned by descendants of William Stump who had been given the glorified title of Duke of Suffolk. The abbey garden was a jungle itself with too many plants and naked statues all over the place which were up for sale. The commercial angle was too evident.
At the free Athestan museum, the curator enthusiastically explained the history of Malmesbury. There was a wooden
model of the abbey which showed the bits which were taken down by William Stump for his construction business. The spiral tower (one of the highest in the then England) had a metal ball on a wooden spike and lightening did strike it down.
I saw a beautifully calligraphy and illustrated Bible on display.
It reminded me of the fine miniature paintings of the Mughal era artists. At least, these manuscripts which were produced in the massive library of Malmesbury Abbey were bought by wealthy people. In Nalanda and Alexandria, libraries were burnt down by invaders and lost to posterity.
I strolled down the High Street with bakeries, charity shops and others.
I walked up the narrow lanes, imagining dusty roads where monks and people seeking the blessings of the saints used to travel from far, rest by the little porch and then enter the abbey in awe.
I drank house coffee (like house wine!) free with a jam doughnut (clever marketing).
They partook a simple meal, provided by the patrons of yesteryears and then rested in the abbey house perhaps. It must have been a vibrant town, no less than the Hindu pilgrimage centres of Badrinath and Kedarnath. The only major difference was the journey would have been easier in the plains of England rather than the formidable
I came across a building called Euclid Villas which blocked the view of the meadows for the house right opposite it (on the other side of the road). The curator had informed me that it was deliberately built because the neigbours had fought. It was hardly a few yards from the abbey. Good fences make good neighbours (Robert Frost). But for all the good sermons of the holy abbey 😊
I popped into the nice,bright library next to bus stop. A lady and her young daughter were carrying a whole bunch of office files and I lent them a helping hand. I admire these women. Took the bus home and worked for the rest of the afternoon.
A lovely little day out, walking into history which again emphasised the simplicity of rural English life.
Things change in this now sleepy medieval town.. East is always an attraction. English tea came from China. Dyson (famous for making vacuum cleaners) originally had its head office here but now moved it to Malaysia.
People no longer believe in the miracles of the saint because of improvement in medical facilities.
Hence, this place is now a reminder of days gone by where the blessings of the saint was often the only remedy. Yet, walking down the path of history where the first king of England had walked has its
own charm. Finally, I learnt to pronounce Malmesbury.
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