The Forbury Chapel dedicated to St. Thomas a Beckett
The word 'Forbury' literally means Fore or front gate- bury meaning gate'. The Chapel was built on the Priory's outer wall, on the gateway into the Priory. Originally, there was a gate house arched accross the gateway- now Church St. However, this collapsed in the 18th Century.
The Monastery in Leominster was established by Earl Leofric, husband of Lady Godiva.
Foundation of the Benedictine Priory of Leominster by Henry I. When he endowed his Abbey of Reading, he gave very rich possessions to it, and among them, the great Manor of Leominster with its appurtenances, Churches & tythes, valued then at six hundred and fifty pounds nineteen shillings and eight pence; he also gave to the Abbey all immunity and liberty, which the Royal power could confer on any Abbey. Leominster Monastery was made a Cell or Priory of Monks to the Abbey of Reading.
From this time the Government of the Town was held under the Abbot of Reading’s Charter, and the Officers were chosen or approved by the Abbot of Reading or the Prior of Leominster.
The late 13th Century was a very turbulent period in the history of Leominster Priory when the monks were embroiled in scandal. The Leominster monks had evidently gone ‘worldly’ – too interested in money-making, hawking and hunting. The sub prior, one William de Winton (who wrote the medieval song ‘Summer is icumen in’) was ordered to appear before the Bishop of Hereford charged with fornication with Agnes de Avenbury an Augustinian nun at Limebrook Priory, Herefordshire ‘and certain other women.’
Worst of all they were were neglecting religious duties and had excluded townspeople from the Priory Church. In 1276 the prior, Stephen Watton, had ordered the church door to be closed against the parishioners during celebration of the offices and at night time. Thomas Cantilupe arrived in Leominster early in January 1277.
At the end of March Cantilupe wrote his formal letter, comperta, to prior and convent, detailing those matters needing correction. First was the problem of the door. ‘Although’, he explained, ‘your church should be common to all the faithful, especially the parishioners, at every hour, we found the door closed both in summer and winter’. As a result, many evils had ensued and many more were likely to do so in the future. Prior Watton was ordered to give parishioners that freedom of access to their church. Eleven days later, this having had no effect, Cantilupe told Watton either to open or remove the offending doors. Watton remained obdurate, and although the monks offered stout resistance, the bishop was successful in having the doors forcibly removed from their hinges- but not for long! Ref 337. Hillaby
Illustration of Reading Abbey Gatehouse, which may have been similar to the Leominster Gatehouse, however no known images exist.
Stained glass window featuring Thomas Cantilupe
Dec 3rd 1283
John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, visited Leominster where he familiarised himself with the details of the conflict between monks and parishioners.
In January 1284 he wrote from the episcopal palace at Sugwas, ordering the restoration of the doors, but commanding that the prior and convent should build a chapel at the gates of the precinct dedicated to the glorious martyr, Thomas of Canterbury, where the sacrament should be reserved and sanctuary could be sought.
p158 Hillaby Ref: 334 Register of John Peckham ed C.Trice Martin, RS 77ii (1883) 505-7, 624-5
Archbishop Peckham paid for the Forbury Chapel as a sign of his gratitude for the hospitality shown by the monks. 1 ‘But Death, it is said, prevented the Founder from endowing it with lands. He died 1292.’ 9
The only access to the Priory was through the gatehouse, which projected outward from the precinct wall. The site of the gatehouse is confirmed by the position of the Forbury Chapel, the chapel at the gates, which straddled the precinct wall. In the Middle Ages, Church Street thus ended at the gatehouse.
When completed, the Forbury Chapel was a humble structure, some 60 by 28 feet, lit at the east end by a simple triple lancet window with three plain lancets on the south, a west door and a further lancet at the west end. It had a timber roof which was replaced in the early 16th Century. Despite being a simple structure, the building was completed only in the early 15th century, for the monks embarked upon it with the utmost reluctance. The parishioners were not impressed by their new chapel, but it was some 40 years before they could take effective action.