When people think of Shrewsbury Abbey, they think of Brother Cadfael. The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, written by Ellis Peters are inspired by medieval Shrewsbury.
Despite Ellis Peters' (whose real name was Edith Pargeter) death in 1995, her mystery novels are still popular and have even been adapted as a television series of dramas starring Sir Derek Jacobi, and it partly due to Ellis Peters' fictional monk Brother Cadfael that Shrewsbury Abbey attracts thousands of visitors each year, from all over the world.
Shrewsbury Abbey was founded in 1083 by the Norman Roger de Montgomery and started life as a small, wooden, Saxon, chapel of St. Peter.
It was the priest of St. Peter's church, who, returning from a pilgrimage to Rome, persuaded Roger de Montgomery, the newly appointed Earl of Shrewsbury, to turn the church into an Abbey. Roger sent for two monks from Normandy to direct the construction of the Abbey.
The Abbey became the centre of Norman and Medieval power in the region. The Monks who formed the community here followed the rule of St. Benedict for 457 years. The church was the centre of a daily round of prayer, study and manual work.
During the early twelfth century, the Abbey flourished. However, the Abbey's monks felt their monastery was incomplete, lacking any religious relics. The then prior, Robert Pennant, went with his Abbot's blessing to find remains of someone suitable for burial in the Abbey church. He returned from Wales in 1138 having acquired the bones of St. Gwenfrewi, known as St. Winifred to the English. The relics were enshrined and made Shrewsbury Abbey a major centre of pilgrimage.
In the 13th century parliament moved around the country and met at important sites, chosen by the King. In 1283 a parliament met in the Chapter House, the first national assembly in which the commons were involved.
As is common with all English Abbeys and Priories the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII saw monastic life come to an end. However, during the dissolution in 1540, the Abbey lost its domestic buildings and much of the church. After the dissolution a shortened nave was left to serve as the parish church.
Today Shrewsbury Abbey stands on a large, harp-shaped green, planted with trees and laid out with gravestones. The noble west tower, with its large decorated, stained glass window, was built in the 14th Century in the reign of Edward II whose statue can be seen above the window.
Inside, the Abbey retains four of the massive drum-shaped columns from the original Norman church, and fragments of the shrine of St. Winifred, the 7th Century Welsh martyr.