Farnham & District Museum Society

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Waverly Abbey Abstract for “The Abbey in the Winding Meadow Waverley 1128-1536" by Rt Rev Christopher Herbert ”



These days, people tend to see Waverley Abbey, the picturesque ruins of which still grace the winding meadow of the River Wey, as an adjunct to Farnham. Yet during its four centuries of existence, Waverley Abbey, the first Cistercian establishment in England, rivalled Farnham in size and significance, as its abbots rivalled the bishops themselves in importance. The Cistercian movement proved one of the seminal forces in the rise of the West, each abbey spawning daughter abbeys which spread both Christianity and a kind of proto-capitalism which proved critical in Europe’s expansion.


One imagines abbeys as peaceful affairs, as indeed they often were. But they were also at the heart of conflicts, political and religious, and subject to the same passions of ambition and avarice which touch all man’s affairs. Dr. Herbert, with his experience as a bishop and his profound understanding of history, is perfectly placed to capture not only the detail of Waverley in act and thought, but place it in the context of the wider national Cistercian movement, to which Waverley contributed as the mother abbey.


There have been excellent books about Waverley before, but none that places Waverley in its proper context, without which it remains but a story. In truth, it was much more than that. The mother abbey was on our doorstop and now, someone has done justice to its importance as well as providing a gripping narrative.