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Reading, Abbey of


A reformed Benedictine house, County Berkshire, England. It was founded by King Henry I in 1121, and originally colonized by monks from cluny and the Priory of lewes. Reading, liberally endowed with lands and privileges, was one of the ten richest and most important abbeys in medieval England. Throughout the 12th century it had strong links with the Cluniac Order but never became a member of it; by the later 13th century Reading was virtually an ordinary Benedictine house. The first abbot, hugh of amiens, was appointed in 1123 and made archbishop of Rouen in 1130. The abbey church, which housed the tomb of Henry I, was dedicated in 1164 by Thomas becket. Abbot William I (116473) became archbishop of Bordeaux and Abbot Hugh II (118699) was elected abbot of Cluny. By grant of Clement III in 1191, the abbot was mitered. Reading's most important relics were the hand of St. James the Great, given by Henry I, and the head of St. Philip, given by King John in 1205. The abbey was the scene of John of Gaunt's marriage to Blanche of Lancaster in 1359, and of the announcement of King Edward IV's marriage in 1464. Parliament assembled there in 1453. Dependent houses were Leominster Priory (County Hereford) and, until the late 13th century, May Priory, Scotland. Reading was dissolved in 1539, after the execution of the last abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, who denied the royal supremacy. Some ruins remain today.

Bibliography: j. b. hurry, Reading Abbey (London 1901). j.c. cox, "The Abbey of Reading," The Victoria History of Berkshire, ed. p. h. ditchfield and w. page, 4 v. (London 190624) v.2. d. knowles and r. n. hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (New York 1953) 74. d. knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 9431216 (2d ed. Cambridge, England 1962). l. h. cottineau, Répertoire topobibliographique des abbayes et prieurés, 2 v. (Mâcon 193539) 2:2417.

[b. r. kemp]

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