The foundation story of Lacock Abbey

Peel back the layers of architectural changes through our installation on the South Lawn.

Ela founded Lacock Abbey in 1232. The abbey included a convent church. The installation on the South Lawn shows where the convent church of St Mary and St Bernard once stood to give you an insight into the sanctuary Ela created.

The foundation story of Lacock Abbey

From 5 May until 15 July, Lacock will be exploring the legacy of Ela the founder of Lacock through physical installations and sound on the abbey's South Lawn.

Ela, 3rd Countess of Salisbury was born into a very privileged family. When her father, William FitzPatrick (2nd Earl of Salisbury) died, Ela was just nine years old and she inherited her father’s title, fortune and lands. As an heiress, Ela came under the protection of the King. He arranged a marriage for his young ward to his half-brother, William Longespée. Living at what we now know as Old Sarum, William and Ela had eight children, one of whom, Nicholas Longespée, became Bishop of Salisbury.

The seal of Ela countess of Salisbury
The seal of Ela countess of Salisbury
The seal of Ela countess of Salisbury

William died in 1226 while Ela was still only 39 years old. She took over his role of Sheriff of Wiltshire on a temporary basis and was later appointed as Sheriff in her own right. All of the couple’s wealth, land and title reverted to her. From this time, she started planning the founding of what was to become Lacock Abbey, by 1229 she took the first step of giving land at Lacock to the church.

The founding of the abbey dedicated “...to God and the Blessed Mary and Saint Bernard” was partly as a tribute to her husband, and partly as a place of sanctuary she would later retire to as a nun.

On the 16th April 1232, Ela laid the foundation stone of Lacock Abbey and the building commenced. Ela joined Lacock Abbey as a nun in 1238.

Gold indicates the outline of Ela’s lost convent church. The blue shows the floorplan of what is here now.
Peel back the layers of 800 years of historical architectural changes.
Gold indicates the outline of Ela’s lost convent church. The blue shows the floorplan of what is here now.

The convent closed in 1539 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. The church was
knocked down and the stone was used to extend the building to form the house it later
became. You can still see major parts of the abbey that Ela created which was later changed and shaped by a legacy of creative owners.

Through physical installations and sound, travel back to the 1300s and find out about the abbey's missing church.

Lacock Abbey’s Lost Church installation
Lacock Abbey’s Lost Church installation
Lacock Abbey’s Lost Church installation

Lacock village leaflets, books and maps are available at the National Trust shops both on the High Street and at the Fox Talbot Museum shop to help guide you around, and a leaflet dedicated to The Foundation Story installation can be picked up at Visitor Reception.