Last month, on the way back from a wedding in Bristol, I stopped at Tewkesbury Abbey to break the journey north. I had vaguely heard of it during my Gothic architecture lectures at university, but I don't think we ever covered it in any detail. I was pleasantly surprised as the structure and the town that surrounds it are well-kept with a good deal of history preserved.
The Abbey sits beside the River Severn (indeed, it was flooded in 2007). Although a cell was present from the 7th century it was formally consecrated as a Benedictine monastery in 1121. It's notable for being built with stone imported from Caen in Normandy. It didn't fare well in the 15th and 16th centuries, being the site of massacre of the War of the Roses and then Henry VIII stripped the lead off the roof for resale during the Dissolution.
Most abbeys were built on the same basic plan and were home to many generations of monks over the course of centuries. When I walk about such places and drift into the twee gift shops smelling of lavender and electric heaters, I can't help imagining how they have changed. How different they must have been! Men would have lived most of their lives there, prayed, worked, slept, argued and (possibly) loved there before dying within the walls. They would have been the world to some, who would barely remember their lives prior to joining their brotherhood. I love looking into all the nooks and crannies (of which there always seem so many) and wondering what might have occurred there in the distant past and why they might be special.