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Vicar dreams of £4m expansion at abbey
8:33am Friday 27th September 2013 in Romsey
PLANS to protect an ancient Saxon cross at Romsey Abbey have grown into an ambitious scheme, which the vicar claims could be of massive benefit to the town if it becomes reality.
The catalyst for the “Romsey Abbey South Garth Project” was the need to protect the decaying 11th century Saxon rood, which is exposed to the elements on the south wall.
Ideas explored included encasing the “Romsey Rood” in a glass cover but then more extensive works came into consideration. These include rebuilding one or two sides of the cloisters which stood on the south side of the abbey.
There are also proposals to create a “sacred space” around the Abbess’s Door and rebuild the church rooms.
Romsey’s Vicar, the Rev Tim Sledge, said the ideas were at a “very early” stage, but if they do get the go-ahead, it is likely to cost around £ 4million to reconfigure the South Garth area and reinstate parts of it to how it was before the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.
“It’s a bit like climbing Everest and at the moment we are setting up base camp, but we are committed to making this a long-term project over the next four or five years,” said Mr Sledge.
He wants to increase the number of visitors and school parties who come to the abbey.
“The abbey is the best classroom outside school to learn about its history and the town. We need to maximise the potential of the abbey as an educational resource by making it accessible to all and enhance the visitor experience by helping the story of the abbey come alive for 21st century visitors. This will raise the profile of Romsey and increase footfall in the town,” said Mr Sledge.
A gift shop, visitors’ toilets and exhibition/education rooms are also on the vicar’s wish list. However, there would be no coffee shop.
“We have enough in the town already and we would point visitors in their direction.” said Mr Sledge.
His vision for the future of the Norman abbey, Hampshire’s biggest parish church, has the backing of the Bishop of Winchester, the Right Rev Tim Dakin.
Acknowledging that Romsey Abbey was “one of the most significant buildings” in the Winchester diocese, Bishop Timothy said: “But it is much more than that. It is a significant community of faith, seeking to not only use the building for worship, but to use it as a springboard for a myriad of community events and activities.”
He continued: “Historically, it has always been at the heart of the community and this innovative project has my wholehearted backing and commitment. This project is a creative combination of heritage, history, education and community development, backed by a realistic and credible plan to draw in many more to see and be caught up in the life and history of the building. ”
As a measure of how seriously these plans are being taken, Abbey offiicals have agreed to commit £40,000 to a feasibility study.
Romsey Abbey was sold by the Crown in 1544 to the townspeople for £100 and currently Sunday congregations attract about 350 worshippers.
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