History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
A Saxon monastery stood here as early as 1018, during the reign of Cnut. Compared to other Benedictine monasteries it was small, supporting perhaps 50 monks. Only a fragment of reused stone from the Saxon buildings has been found; even the exact whereabouts of the Saxon monastery is uncertain.
In 1137 King Stephen granted Buckfast to the Abbey of Savigny, and a delegation of monks from France crossed came to England to oversee the transition of Buckfast to the Savignac order. However, the new order was not to last long, and in 1147 the monastery became Cistercian.
Under the Cistercian rule the entire abbey was rebuilt in stone, following a traditional pattern used at other Cistercian monasteries throughout Britain. Of the 12th century buildings, only the west cloister undercroft and the north gateway arch survive intact.
The Black Death
The monastery was probably at the peak of its prosperity in the 13th century. Along with other Cistercian monasteries, Buckfast raised sheep and exported wool abroad. Finds of fine floor tiles and Purbeck marble columns hint at the wealth enjoyed during the height of the medieval wool trade. Like so many other places in England, Buckfast suffered from the devastation of the Black Death. Buildings decayed and fell down, even the almshouse beside the south gate was converted to use as a stable.
The abbey entered another period of relative prosperity in the 15th century, offering hospitality to guests at a purpose-built guesthouse, and reopening the almshouses. The abbey ran a school, and supported fairs and markets to encourage trade. From this period the south wing of the guest hall, and the Abbot's Tower, a series of three linked rooms next to the west range. Each room is furnished with its own fireplace, suggesting it was used to house important guests or pensioners.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the abbey property was sold and the abbey left to decay. In 1793 the site was cleared by Samuel Berry to make way for a new mansion house. Only the Abbot's Tower and the 12th-century undercroft were left untouched, and the rest of the buildings were razed.
Then in 1882 Buckfast was reestablished as a Benedictine monastery, and rebuilt in 12th-century style, based on a combination of old drawings and study of the Cistercian abbeys at Fountains and Kirkstall in Yorkshire. The result is a Victorian version of a 12th-century monastery, partly built atop the original foundations and incorporating part of the medieval structure.
Buckland is famous for keeping bees and producing its own brand of honey and Buckfast Tonic Wine. The abbey church is open outside of worship times, and there are attractive gardens, including a sensory garden, lavender gardens, and even a small area of poisonous plants, some that were used in the medieval period for medical purposes.
About Buckfast Abbey
Address: Buckfastleigh, Devon, England, TQ11 0EE
Attraction Type: Abbey
Location: Off the A38
Website: Buckfast Abbey
Phone: 01364 645 500
Photo Credit: Rich Tea, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence
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