Sunday, 6 March 2016

A visit to Waverley Abbey, Surrey - Britain's first Cistercian Monastry

It was that time of year again, the cool spring air was gradually turning into summer, allowing us to explore the local area, which was still relatively new to us at that time.

Whilst looking for some suitable locations to visit within an hour’s travelling distance, I stumbled across a reference to the ruins of Waverley Abbey. At first glance, this location had an interesting history, relatively remote and seemed suitable for a visit.

So what part in history had the Abbey played?

A brief history of Waverley Abbey
The ruins that we see today date mainly from the 13th Century, as following severe flooding in 1201, the Abbey and its accompanying buildings were largely re-built and the layout relatively unchanged since.

However, the Abbey abruptly came to the end of its life in 1536 following Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, whereupon the buildings were subsequently robbed and its stones used in the construction of many nearby properties, including Waverley Abbey House and Looseley Park, just outside Guildford.

Significantly, it was notable for being the first monastery founded in Britain, by the Cistercian Religious Order, in 1128 and proved to be influential in medieval Christianity in Britain, to the extent that in a relatively short space of time, seven of the monks had been elected Abbots of their own house and four more went on to become heads of other religious establishments.

The Cisterians, also known as the ‘White Monks’ due to the colour of their robes that they wore over their habits, were founded in by Robert of Molesme, a Benedictine Abbot, in 1098, on a plot of marshland called Citeaux, to the south of Dijon, in Burgundy, France.

The Order hence took their name from Citeaux (Latin: Cistercium)

Decision taken
Whilst not being overly familiar with the location, other than I vaguely recalled that a scene from the movie 28 days Later had been filmed there a couple of years earlier.

So I really knew nothing about the Abbey other that it existed, whilst Laura had never heard of the place at all.

At the time, we were living nearby in the Surrey Hills and Farnham was just a short 40 minute or so drive westwards, so it didn't take long to set aside an afternoon to visit the ruins, setting aside a day to visit the following week, we just hoped for good weather.

The Abbey ruins, as we approached along the path alongside the lake at
Waverley Abbey House  

The Abbey
The drive took longer than perhaps it should have, but we soon found ourselves walking alongside the river path, snaking away towards the ruins of the Abbey, which we could see in the distance.

As we approached, we could see that the location was far larger than we imagined.

Whilst the ruins were fragmented, they were focused in several areas, spread across the entire site, which was now consisted of a large field of short grass.

Making our way through the entrance, onto the site, we decided to go straight across the field to the Refectory Undercroft, which we could see standing impressively, directly opposite from where we stood.

The Refectory looms ahead....
Walking across the grass, we very quickly found ourselves standing in from of the building. Entering the Undercroft, we looked up at what remained of the vaulted ceiling before splitting up and exploring the interior, where Laura spent some time examining the interior walls, whilst I took some photographs.

Taking a step back and looking on at what remained of the structure, you could only imagine how impressive the building was in its heyday - if that was the correct term that you could use for a monastic building of this nature.

 Contact – The Undercoft
Suddenly, my thoughts were broken by Laura, who alerted me that she had just picked up some information, unexpectedly.

At the end of the Undercroft, on the other side of the window to the left as we looked out, Laura had sensed a woman, peering into the Undercroft from the left side of the window.

The middle window, where Laura picked up a female, peering
This seemed strange as it didn't really fit in with the location in its original context, as to where exactly did a female fit into such an exclusive and restrictive male domain as a monastery?

After taking some photographs of the window and discussing the situation, we decided to move on to another part of the site. Laura turned quickly and looked back towards the open grass area and was surprised to ‘see’ a brown horse standing on the grassed area in front of her.

Where's the horse?

Bizarrely, this coincided with myself 'seeing' a brief glimpse of a horse shape as I took pictures (nothing of the sort was captures in the photographs taken), which I just put down to a trick of the light.

Having heard Laura describe what she'd picked up, I made her aware of what I'd just experienced and we were able to verify that we'd both 'seen' the horse in the same spot.

Even as we discussed the sighting I was still trying to explain it away to myself.

The Abbey Grounds
As we walked from the Undercroft, across the open grass area towards the main part of the ruins, Laura reported that she felt that someone, perhaps a small child, was rubbing the top of her buttocks. She couldn't discern if this was being done as a playful act or something with a more sexual intent. Laura hoped that it was the former.

At this point we decided to separate to allow Laura to tour the location on her own, to see if she was able to focus and tap into the long history of the Abbey.

The execution?
After 30 minutes or so, which I spent taking more photographs, I spotted Laura across the field near the remains of the dormitory and made my way over to her.

As I drew near, Laura became aware of me and immediately reported that she had seen a man and been given what she thought could potentially be a name - something that I noted to research later.

Laura advised that she wasn't sure if the man was related to the Horse that we'd seen earlier. Although she attempted to establish this, she just couldn't tell.

However, the vision of the man that she had seen was far from pleasant

Laura took time to carefully describe the scene to me.

The man was strung up grotesquely, entrails hanging of his lifeless, bloody body, in the area that was just outside what was now the remains of the tunnel.

Laura said that it was a distressing scene and one that she didn't wish to dwell upon.

This area was formally the Abbey’s cloisters, a covered walk, rather than the inside of the Abbey itself, so from a practical basis it would make sense that someone could have been executed here, as opposed to an area that would have been inside the Abbey itself.

At this point, time was getting on, so we both felt that it was an opportune moment to leave the site and make our way home.

The location left us a lot to think about. Yet again we'd really just planned on a normal day out, but Laura, without even trying, appeared to tap into the fabric of the Abbey.

In the cold light of day, after reviewing our notes and audio, we were left with four areas of research from a paranormal perspective -

1. The woman peering through the window into the Refectory.

2. The brown horse

3. The ‘touching’ ghost ; and

4. The male victim, executed and strung out in the courtyard.

Our search began.......

1. The Peering lady.
This was a strange one at first glance, from an historical context, other than an interloper, she just didn't appear to fit in with the exclusive male domain that the Abbey was originally at an operating level.

Perhaps she was from a later period following the destruction of the Abbey following the Dissolution? This appeared to be a more likely explanation.

Whilst our expectations were low on finding any references to such a lady or ghost, we got stuck into the task.

Not surprisingly, our research threw up no answers. Whilst this is never unexpected in the work we undertake, it was still frustrating.

Tantalisingly though, we did find a similar experience that was posted online in Marq English' Spiral Investigations / MEV Productions series, where the group's sensitive had picked up a lady at the same spot, at the window in the Refectory.

We had the pleasure of meeting Marq a couple of years earlier at an event and, I also had the contact details of the medium featured in the video, so it was a relatively simple matter to get in touch with them both.

Following some correspondence, it was established that neither could recall anything about the experience other than that shown in the video, due to the passing of time. However, they also both commented on the unexpected situation with regards to a female spirit.

Returning our focus to more traditional areas of research, I eventually source an old book, published in 1872, that gave a relatively detailed summary of events at the Abbey that had occurred since it was established, which, unexpectedly, made references to several visits from prominent ladies over time, including a couple that were actually laid at rest in the chapel.

Whilst Laura never picked up a name relating to the female, it was possible that the presence that Laura sensed could relate to the period that the Abbey was active, no matter how unexpected at first this seemed.

2. The brown horse and 3. The ‘Touching’ Ghost
A bit left field we admit, but not unexpectedly we drew a blank. We could find no reference to a horse at the location, ghostly or not, although we had no doubt that the hoof prints of several brown horses had graced the hallowed grounds of the Abbey over time..

Likewise, there was no trace of a ‘touching’ spirit, although I did find reference to a young boy, around the age of 12 years, who was recovered unconscious, after falling into the adjoining River Wey and, who unexpectedly survived and recovered from his ordeal, much to the surprise of his rescuers.

4. The executed man
This was probably the most interesting of Laura’s experiences at the Abbey.

Again, I could find no historical reference to this event and indeed, some of the sources that I referred to specifically commented that, although many priests, abbots and lay brothers, including those religious houses linked to Waverley, were indeed executed during the Reformation (particularly by being hanged, drawn and quartered), history was strangely silent with regards to the fate of those at Waverley.

The area outside the cloisters, where Laura 'witnessed' an execution

However, all was not lost, I did manage to uncover a local legend of a haunting at the Abbey, by the ghost of a monk who was hung, drawn and quartered during the reformation and walks the ruins of the Abbey on moonlit nights.

Was this the execution that Laura had been able to tap into?

Despite a very interesting visit to a location that appeared to offer so much areas of research, once the dust had settled we were left with several areas of research that, after spending much time and effort, whilst able to get ‘close’, were ultimately unable to confirm anything of what Laura had picked up.

Whilst this was disappointing, in reality this represented what typically could be expected when researching.

It’s not like what you see on TV and social media, despite what many would have you believe.

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