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Wokingham - Several stones

Found in a garden in Wokingham this group of stones has examples of various types of carving. How they come to be here is a mystery. The house is over 100 years old and it seems likely that the original owner merely went along to the Abbey site and collected 'interesting' looking stones for his rockery

All the stones are of Taynton type limestone and so fit in with what we would expect for them to be associated with Reading Abbey. As we have noted when the stones are not found in the Abbey area we have to make certain assumptions, similar to those made regarding the cloister capitals in Reading Museum.

The first stone, top right, belongs to a double engaged column shaft. Following the following link for further information (You may have to copy/paste into your search engine)

The second, top left again appears to come from a shaft but this has a 'tongue' which may have been countersunk into a wall (see Caversham Court 'whistle' stone). Alternatively this feature may have been a projection from the attached wall.

The third stone is very finely carved. Note the two rounded edgings, one much small than the other. At first we wondered if it was a 'one-off' piece of carving, but shortly after turning up this stone the owner discovered the following.

Quite clearly the two stones belong together and the pattern is repeated. They most likely formed part of a running pattern. Where they were used is open to many speculative theories. One is that they formed part of a frieze. There are many places where this may have been placed. Another possibility is that they are sections of ribbed vaulting. If this is so they may be from a later stage in the Abbey's building. Ribbed vaulting came after groin vaulting but is not unknown in the transitional period between Romanesque and so called 'gothic' style.

An identical stone may be seen in the archway separating the Abbey ruins from the Forbury Gardens. This archway was constructed in the second part of the 19th century using a variety of Abbey stones.

Durham (built 1093 -1133) has ribbed vaulting and this pre-dates St Denis, Paris, which is frequently referred to as the first Gothic building. Over the years there has been much debate as to the authenticity of Durham's ribbed vaults but today most would accept this dating.

It is generally assumed that Reading had barrel vaulting. The remains of the Chapter House, it is argued, support this theory. I would suggest that we at least question this assumption and challenge our pre-conceptions. I have written about this elsewhere and will be posting the discussion on this website. For the moment I would ask that readers keep an open mind and recall that Vézelay Abbey, a Cluniac foundation, had a groin vaulted ceiling. Even though the Chapter House at Reading was barrel vaulted, could it have been that the church, like that at Vézelay, had groin, or even ribbed, vaulting. This part of Vézelay dates to around the same period as Reading.

If we put together the facts that both Durham and Vézelay did not have barrel vaulting and that Reading, as a leading Cluniac abbey was being built in the transitional period referred to above, then the hypothesis that parts of Reading had groin, or even ribbed, vaulting should not be dismissed.

Below: Vézelay groin vaulted ceiling supported by giant order engaged columns.

Vezelay Abbey


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