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Cistercian Abbeys: REWLEY

Name: REWLEY Location: Oxford County: Oxfordshire
Foundation: 1281 Mother house: Thame
Relocation: None Founder: Edmund, earl of Cornwall
Dissolution: 1536 Prominent members:
Access: No remains to be seen

Rewley abbey was founded in 1281 by Edmund, earl of Cornwall (d. 1300), and was a daughter house of Thame. Edmund’s father, Richard (d. 1272), founder of Hailes Abbey (1246), had intended to established a college or chantry of three secular priests to pray for his soul. Edmund, however, went a step further and in 1280 offered the General Chapter of the Cistercian Order, in whom he had more faith than secular priests, to found a college for Cistercians at Oxford. The Chapter accepted the offer and decreed that the college should come under the abbot of Thame. The college was not at first intended to be an abbey, but the following year it was decreed that the abbot of Thame should be empowered to appoint an abbot of his choice for the college at Oxford, and that the late Earl Richard should be remembered each day at Mass.(1) Therefore in 1281 an abbot and fourteen monks arrived from Thame and the college became an abbey. In 1292 it was decreed that all Cistercian abbeys in the province of Canterbury should send one monk for every twenty in the community to study there.(2) By 1344 the college was criticised for being too far from the town of Oxford and for lacking in books, and it seems that some abbeys were reluctant to send monks there.(3) Rewley ceased to be a place of study some time before 1398, although it continued as an abbey thereafter.(4) The collegiate role of the Rewley Abbey was later taken over by St. Bernard’s College (now St. John’s), founded in 1437 by Archbishop Chichele (1414-43) to serve the Cistercian Order within the University of Oxford.(5) In the assessment of 1535 the net annual income of Rewley Abbey was valued at £174 and the house was dissolved with the smaller monasteries in 1536.(6) The site is now situated on land to the east of Oxford station and there are no standing remains to be seen.

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