The Building of a Great Church: the Abbey of St Peter’s, Gloucester, and its early Norman Benefactors
By David Bates
Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Vol.102 (1984)
Introduction: The Historia of the abbey of St.Peter’s, Gloucester, which was completed in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century in the time of abbot Walter Frowcester (1381-1412), describes a monastery whose condition at the the time of Norman Conquest of England was far from prosperous. Its account associates the community’s growth with the rule of the first Norman abbot, Serlo (1072-1104), a former canon of Avranches and monk of Mont-St-Michel. When Serlo assumed his responsibilities at Gloucester he apparently had only two monks and eight novices under his authority; by his death the size of the community is supposed to have grown to one hundred. Another important feature of Serlo’s work was the beginning of a new abbey church, a large building in an original stye, much of which survives; the foundation stone was laid by bishop Robert of Hereford in 1089 and the church, although certainly not completed, was consecrated in 1100. Even if some of the Historia’s statements – particularly the account of near-desertion in 1066 – are regarded as exaggerations, the fact remains that abbot Serlo’s personal achievement was a very great one. The present article merely seeks to fill out and to an extent explain the circumstances in which so much was accomplished, through a study of the abbey’s early Norman benefactors. In particular it offers reasons why abbout Serlo was able to build on so lavish a scale.