Though the Abbey now stands in ruins, it was once one of England's most important religious centres full of monks who lived and prayed here. This area would have been the monks' dormitory where they slept, and behind the prison wall was the infirmary for unwell or old monks.

Digging Deeper - Life in the Abbey

The men who lived in the Abbey were monks who had taken a vow to live a holy life. They had to follow all of the Abbey's rules including to remain single and to attend eight church services a day.

The monks day varied between Summer and Winter. In Winter they got up later and went to bed earlier. This is a typical day in Summer:

  • 2am: Nocturns ('Night prayers')
  • Dawn: Lauds ('Praise')
  • Wash and change. Reading
  • 6am: Prime ('First hour prayers' - 6am was counted as the first hour of the day)
  • Work
  • 9am: Terce ('Third hour prayers')
  • Senior monks meet in the chapter hour. Work
  • 12 noon: Sext ('Sixth hour prayers')
  • Dinner
  • 3pm: None ('Ninth hour prayers')
  • Work. Supper
  • Dusk: Vespers ('Evening prayers')
  • Reading
  • 8pm: Compline ('The prayers that complete the day')
  • Sleep

Digging Deeper - Demolition and Destruction

Reading Abbey was closed by King Henry VIII along with all other abbeys in England. They were closed because Henry left the Catholic church and created the new Church of England. Abbeys were not part of this new religion.

After the Abbey's closure in 1539 some buildings survived when they could be re-used for another purpose. However most of the Abbey was stripped of its valuable building material. Lead from the roofs was stripped off and sold and good quality stone was taken to be reused in Reading and beyond.

During the English Civil War Royalist troops occupied Reading in 1642 and used the walls of the ruined church and dormitory to create fortifications. In some places holes were smashed through the walls to give a clear line of fire - you can still see these today.

In 1644 King Charles I ordered the ruins be demolished so that they could not be used for military purposed again. The east end of the church was finally destroyed with a massive charge of gunpowder.

A map showing defences built across Reading Abbey during the English Civil War
A map of defences across Reading Abbey during the English Civil War (1642-51)

Digging Deeper - Conservation of the Abbey Ruins

Conservation of the Reading Abbey Ruins