St Augustine’s Abbey – part of Canterbury’s World Heritage site – has been ‘rebuilt’ in virtual reality as part of a ground-breaking collaboration between English Heritage and the University of Kent.
The Kent School of Architecture (KSA) approached English Heritage four years ago through Ray Laurence, Professor of Roman History and Archaeology in the School of English Culture and Languages (SECL), about a project that would enable postgraduate students to work on a building where there was no data to help them interpret how it was constructed.
After three years of painstaking work with historians and curators from English Heritage, a virtual reality model of significant parts of the Abbey has been created.
Visitors will be now able to sit in a new pod in the visitor centre and use headsets to experience a virtual tour through the ornate and brightly decorated buildings as they would likely have been in the early 16th century, just before their destruction by Henry VIII.
The project leader for KSA, Howard Griffin, Programme Director of the MA in Architectural Visualisation, said that “Heritage sites like St Augustine’s Abbey, and their obvious absence of ‘concrete’ buildings to reference, provide an ideal vehicle for students to develop critical and analytical skills in understanding the spaces they create. It highlights the many ways in which their digital skills can be applied.”
He added that they had been surprised by some of the findings and previous certainties about the Abbey had to be re-evaluated as a result. Students were impressed by their realisation of the scale of the Abbey building, alongside that of the Cathedral, demonstrating the historical importance of Canterbury.
Twenty-five architecture students worked on the project since the start and KSA will continue to revise the 3D model as part of the School’s ongoing collaboration with English Heritage.
St Augustine’s Abbey was one of the most significant monasteries in medieval England. It was founded shortly after AD 597 by St Augustine who came to England to convert Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.
The abbey’s church was reduced to ruins in the 16th century, and the remaining buildings were subsequently used for other purposes. It is hoped that the virtual reality tour will help visitors experience the abbey at the height of its power and better understand the story of the site.
English Heritage historian Dr Michael Carter commented, “It is difficult to over-state the importance of St Augustine’s Abbey to the history of Christianity in England. It was reflected in its awe-inspiring buildings, but after thriving for almost a thousand years, the abbey was reduced to ruins during the Suppression of the Monasteries.
“Now this wonderful virtual reality model will give visitors a sense of the scale and magnificence of the abbey at its height. When they then step outside to explore the ruins for themselves, we hope their experience and understanding of this special place will be all the more enriching.”
You can learn about the abbey and get information on visiting the site through English Heritage.