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Treasures of Hyde Abbey

The year 2010 marked the 900th anniversary of the founding of Hyde Abbey in the northern suburbs of Winchester. Held under the auspices of Hyde900, the community group set up to organise its commemoration, the exhibition 'Treasures of Hyde Abbey’ was one of the highlights of the celebrations.

Winchester City Council’s Museums Service took responsibility for staging the exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre from 6 March – 2 May 2010 with the support of a 50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and from other generous sponsors.

Hyde Abbey was one of the wealthiest monastic houses of medieval Britain. The exhibition sought to re-unite some of its treasures for the first time since the Dissolution of the abbey on the orders of Henry VIII in 1538. The history of Hyde Abbey’s links with the Anglo-Saxon royal family and the charters recording their gifts of land were recorded in the Liber Monsterii de Hyda. Its royal patrons were honoured alongside lesser individuals, their names recorded in the abbey’s Liber Vitae or Book of Life.

Both treasures were borrowed from the British Library along with the 13th century Abbot of Hyde's crozier from the Victoria and Albert Museum and a breviary and psalter from the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. These and other treasures feature in the exhibition's catalogue, and along with some of the exhibition's graphic panels, are available online by following the link http://hydeabbeytreasures.tumblr.com.

Some of the lesser treasures that featured in the exhibition are included on this website. Many came from the excavations by Winchester City Council’s Museums Service that revealed the imposing plan of the abbey church. The archaeological remains have been protected by the creation of a simple modern garden of flint, gravel and stone above the ruins, which may be visited. Native plantings of oak, hazel and yew frame the garden and great cylinders of holly girded with stainless steel repeat the positions of the church columns. The positions of the graves of King Alfred, who established the original community, his wife Ealhswith and son Edward the Elder are marked by stone slabs at the east end of the church. The abbey’s gate and a few other fragments of the monastic forecourt can also be seen in the suburb. Otherwise, walk around Hyde today and you will see little to suggest that it was once home to such a great monastic foundation. For all its grandeur in architectural and artistic terms for much of the medieval period, Hyde Abbey disappeared so completely and rapidly that within a year of the Dissolution scarcely a trace remained. Its treasures were looted, often melted down for bullion; its saintly relics scattered; the buildings demolished, the stone, lead and timber removed; and its priceless manuscripts destroyed or claimed for private libraries.

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