The Shrewsbury Quest presents a working exhibit, where the visitors become detectives, looking for clues while strolling through the recreated twelfth-century monastery. Upon entering The Quest, the visitor is given a mystery manuscript which sets the stage for a quest. An aura of conflict and suspicion is created in these handouts. The known facts are put forth. The visitor is invited to try to discover the villain, by careful observation and ingenuity, finding clues while passing through the restored buildings and garden. Presented with the mystery, it is then up to each visitor to find the clues that will help solve the crime. The manuscripts come in varying degrees of difficulty. There is a version for the young questor, the average adult and the avid mystery buff. Each visitor can become a detective, in the style of Brother Cadfael.
The Gatehouse is a mythical twelfth-century abbey, the medieval home of Brother Cadfael and his monastic companions. The entrance, Abbey Foregate, was named for the centuries old road, leading to the ancient city of Shrewsbury. Abbeys were places known to provide sanctuary in medieval times, therefore travelers might stop over on their journeys. With wayfaring strangers, suspicion and intrigue were not unknown in this place.
During our tour through the cellarium we see how basic food preparation was centuries ago. They really started from scratch! We not only see the sights of the twelfth-century monastery, but also hear the sounds and our nostrils are assailed by the smells prevalent so long ago. In the Guest hall, the table bears the plates, with scraps of food, left from what appears to have been a recently completed feast. The log fire, in the hearth, provides warmth for visitors, while the smoky, wooden scent permeates the room.
Upstairs we find the Library and Scriptorium, where monks studied and prepared their manuscripts. Those manuscripts became the repository of the learning of the ages. We see the way in which books were labouriously written before the printing press was invented. Brown-robed monks sit at tall desks painstakingly producing parchment manuscripts. Visitors too can try their hand at Calligraphy.
Leaving the Scriptorium, we visit the peaceful Abbey garden. The garden has been laid out to closely resemble a medieval garden. Authenticity was the challenge met by garden historian, Sylvia Lands berg and head gardener, Graham Cox as they planned it. Only those plants that would have been contained in a medieval garden have been incorporated here in this garden. Most of the herbs are readily available today, however some of the species found here, are quite rare. The Cellarer's beds contain food and household plants which would have supplied the cellarium, where food preparation took place. The Abbot's Herber with herbaceous plants has a medieval servatorium (or fish pond) in the centre. Cadfael's Physic Garden gives a fascinating insight into how herbalists used a herbarium and physic garden to fill the medicinal needs of their community. Here you will smell the heady scents of lavender, rosemary and sage. The herbalist's vast knowledge of the more sinister uses of plants is intriguing. Deadly monk's hood and henbane sink their villainous roots amongst plants, more beneficial to humanity, such as the soothing chamomile and the hairy comfrey plants. Next to his garden sits Cadfael's workshop, where one finds the utensils he would use to mix his mysterious concoctions, along with his lotions and potions, all sitting as if ready for the ancient monk to resume his work.
Our tour of The Shrewsbury Quest comes to an end in an old Queen Anne House. Here we find a re-creation of the study of Ellis Peters, where her vision and imagination produced the series of twenty Cadfael Chronicles. A restaurant in the same building serves up a variety of dishes reminiscent of medieval England.
A short walk across Abbey Foregate takes us to the ancient, red brick, Shrewsbury Abbey. Inside, the large cavernous building sunlight is shining through multicoloured, stained-glass windows. We wander past reclining marble figures, cold images of long-dead souls whose earthly remains are encased in the ancient marble sarcophagus below. Inscriptions carved in the stone, show that these people met their maker between the eleventh and the sixteenth-centuries. This building and its contents has stood here much the same as it was in those ancient times. From the sixteenth-century onward burials seem to have taken place either under the floors or in the walls of the Abbey. Well-worn stones tell the tales of those 'dear-departed' who lie eternally under the footsteps of those who pass through this Abbey. A visit to Shrewsbury Abbey and The Shrewsbury Quest is fascinating, not only to those detective buffs, but also anyone interested in history, gardening, printing, or just having a look at how monks hosted tourists who came to their door; be they monarchs, maidens, merchants or maybe even murderers.
By M. Maxine George
For further information contact:
The British Tourist Authority
5915 Airport Road, Ste. 120,
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L4V 1T1
Tel: (905)405-1840 Fax: (905) 405-1835
The Shrewsbury Quest,
Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England SY26AH
Tel: 44 (0) 1743-366-355 Fax: 44 (0) 1743-244-342
Return to Magic Carpet Journals Return to the British Isle