THE much-anticipated Abbey 900 festival kicks off this month in Cirencester.

A year-long series of events to celebrate life in the town, reflecting the importance of its now defunct 900-year-old medieval abbey, has been in the planning for many months.

The founding of Cirencester Abbey is traditionally considered to mark the beginning of the cultural and economic success of the town.

Over the coming centuries it would become the focal point of the flourishing town, bringing prosperity to the community it served and inviting visits from across the country.

Patronised by The Bishop of Gloucester the Right Reverend Rachel Treweek and working in tandem with Cirencester Community Development Trust, the Abbey 900 team have been welcoming ideas for the festival since the start of last year.

Local businesses and charities have got behind the festival through a variety of sponsorships, with the K.D. Winstone Trust and the Royal Agricultural University being two of its major partners.

January sees the arrival of four manuscripts which have not been seen together in Cirencester since 1539, thanks to Jesus College Oxford.

The manuscripts will be on display, free of charge, in Corinium Museum from January 16 for five months, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Tanner and Co and Soroptimists International.

In February, the festival is officially opened by Bishop Rachel on February 22 with a tree planting ceremony in the Abbey Grounds.

This will be the first time in 60 years a new tree – donated by a private sponsor – will be planted in the grounds.

In April, residents are invited to help build a 70,000-brick LEGO replica of the abbey.

Solicitor firm Sewell Mullings Logie has helped to start the building off with a significant donation, while residents and visitors can buy a brick and add it to the model.

The money raised from the LEGO project will be used to create a fund to help maintain and improve some of the significant heritage that make Cirencester so special.

May sees a plethora of activities, including a Medieval Banquet, and a Fleece Fair in the Market Place, while the late May Bank Holiday weekend will see the Abbey Grounds alive with knights in armour as the Plantagenet Society create a re-enactment of medieval life, sponsored by the Celebrate Lottery Fund.

What’s more, throughout the year there will be a range of concerts and plays, such as a performance of Murder in the Cathedral in September, as well as flower festivals, Junior Triathlons and the chance to ‘Be a Monk for a Day’.

Other activities for families will include self-guided bike trails, while both the museum and local groups are putting on a range of talks, and New Brewery Arts will be theming its summer exhibition and workshops around Ecclesiastical Art.

The BBC has even agreed that Abbey 900 can host Radio 4 show Any Questions.

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