Lectures are currently held on Zoom at 2pm normally on the last Wednesday of each month. They last for 1 - 1½ hours including a question and answer session at the end.
The Destruction of the Monasteries: the Greatest Act of Artistic Vandalism in English History;
Mr Mark Corby      Wed 28th March 2012
  Our lecturer at the March meeting, Mark Corby, gave us a sweeping outline of the evolution of monastic life and architecture in this country. Although only sixty monasteries existed by 1066, the Normans compensated for their sins of the flesh by establishing a variety of religious institutions, ranging from magnificent foundations to small cells belonging to French houses.

Between 1536–1540 nearly 850 abbeys, priories, friaries and nunneries were closed and partly or completely destroyed. Cardinal Wolsey had hit on the idea of tapping into church coffers, with papal approval, by closing nearly thirty poorly performing monasteries and using their worldly wealth to fund the building of the finest Oxford college. By the 1530’s Henry VIII was having some doubts about his relations with Rome and Thomas Cromwell developed a similarly cunning plan to pay for his sovereign’s expensive wars. He vilified religious institutions and moved against the smaller abbeys with a network of energetic bailiffs. By 1540 he had netted £150,000 worth of ecclesiastical property and generously paid off the majority of abbots with pensions totaling one third of this investment. The alternative of an indescribably gory martyrdom was chosen by a very small minority.

Some cathedrals and monasteries were reduced to their foundations. Others kept their walls and windows as a reminder of former glory : Cistercian buildings tended to benefit from their location in isolated rural areas. Many churches were pillaged for their gold and lead, tombs were defaced and paintings and panels burned.

A few survived, purchased by local people as their parish church, saved as cathedrals (eg.Durham, Gloucester, Peterborough) or for occasional domestic conversion (Buckland Abbey is a local example), but the list was short.

During the next hundred years the crown sold off much of its gains to the landed gentry. This short-sighted management would create problems for the monarch by 1640 when another Cromwell was about to appear on the scene.