Woburn Cross

The Woburn Cross was one of twelve Eleanor Crosses. Whilst a few other crosses have survived almost intact for over 700 years, the Woburn Cross probably disappeared along with the Cistercian abbey in 1539.

Woburn Cross

Artists impression of the Woburn Cross
Artists impression of the Eleanor Cross at Stony Stratford
A painting by Peter Schneider

We cannot be certain what the cross looked like; no drawings remain and each of the twelve Eleanor Crosses was designed by different artisans. But there are some common features and our image here is a composite of the crosses which have survived.

Nothing now remains of the Woburn Cross and its siting, somewhere to the east of Watling Street, is only a vague guess. The village of Woburn can be traced back to Saxon times; 'wo' meaning twisted or winding and 'burn' a small stream, yet no significant stream or river is visible in the vicinity today.

Queen Eleanor's funeral procession stopped for the night at a Cistercian abbey founded by Hugh de Bolebec in 1145.

The keynote of Cistercian life was a return to a literal observance of St. Benedict's rule yet in 1290, although not one of the greatest abbeys, it was nevertheless one of the wealthiest religious houses in the country, with 40 to 50 monks.

The abbots of this period had considerable power and with that, commensurable responsibility to take the blame when things didn't go the way the rulers wished. Yet they also had a responsibility to their orders. In 1538 the last Abbot of Woburn, Robert Hobbes, admitted that he had failed to preach the king's supremacy. With two others, he was tried at Bedford and found guilty of treason. Tradition says that an old oak tree outside the abbey gates was used as gallows for all three men.

The abbey was dissolved in 1539 and its location is uncertain, although it's believed that the current Woburn Abbey, constructed in 1746, was built around the former abbey's cloister. If the former abbey was constructed in the traditional Cistercian pattern, the north wing of the current abbey may be where the old abbey's church stood.

Source: 'Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Woburn', A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 1 (1904), pp. 366-370


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