82. Hailes Abbey

Little remains today of Hailes Abbey which was once a great Cistercian abbey. Picture courtesy English HeritageThe remains of Hailes Abbey, as seen from the air. Picture courtesy English HeritageThe Cistercian abbey of Hailes, two miles north-east of Winchcombe, was founded in 1246 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, called "King of the Romans" and the younger brother of King Henry III of England.

Richard founded the abbey to thank God, after he had survived a shipwreck. Richard had been granted the manor of Hailes by King Henry, and settled it with Cistercian monks from Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire.

The great Cistercian abbey was entirely built in a single campaign in 1277, and was consecrated in a royal ceremony that included the King and Queen and 15 bishops.

Though never housing large numbers of monks, Hailes Abbey became a site of pilgrimage because it held a renowned relic - 'the Holy Blood of The 12th Century Hailes Church, across the road from Hailes Abbey, predates its more famous neighbour by more than half a century and contains some magnificent 13th Century wall paintings.Hailes’. Richard's son Edmund donated to the Cistercian community a phial of what was said to be Christ’s own blood, purchased in Germany in 1270. Such a relic of the Crucifixion was a considerable magnet for pilgrimage. From the proceeds, the monks of Hailes were able to rebuild the Abbey on a magnificent scale.

Though King Henry VIII's commissioners declared the famous relic to be nothing but the blood of a duck, regularly renewed, and though the Abbot Stephen Sagar admitted that the Holy Blood was a fake in hope of saving the Abbey, Hailes Abbey was one of the last religious institutions to acquiesce following the Dissolution Act of 1536.

The Abbot and his monks finally surrendered their abbey to Henry's commissioners on Christmas Eve 1539.

After the Dissolution, the west range, consisting of the Abbot'sAn artist's reconstruction of Hailes Abbey. Drawing by Terry Ball, courtesy of English Heritage own apartments, was converted into a house and was home to the Tracy family in the 17th Century, but these buildings were later demolished and now all that remains are a few low arches in a meadow with outlines in the grass.

Surviving remains include the small Hailes Church, with unrestored medieval wall paintings.

Today Hailes Abbey it is a beautiful and serene spot for a picnic in the Cotswold countryside. The site is maintained and managed by English Heritage and owned by the National Trust.

Vivid interpretation panels and a free audio tour help to bring the abbey to life. The on-site museum houses displays of sculpture and other site finds.

After visiting Hailes Abbey, pop into the adjacent parish church, which was consecrated in 1175, to see the fine medieval wall paintings.An aerial reconstruction of Hailes Abbey. Drawing by Terry Ball, courtesy of English Heritage

More information

Hailes Abbey
near Winchcombe
GL54 5PB 
01242 602398


© Loving The Cotswolds. 2021.