In 1965, members of the Loughborough Archaeological and Historical Society were involved in the excavation of the site of Garendon Abbey, located between Loughborough and Shepshed in Leicestershire.
The Abbey was founded in 1133 by Cistercian monks, an order that had been formed by St Bernard of Clairvaux who believed that monks in the Benedictine order did not lead sufficiently simple lives. The name Cistercian comes from Cīteaux in Burgundy where the first of the Cistercian abbeys was founded in 1098.
Already in a delapidated state, the Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1535 and the Abbot pensioned off. Henry sold the land to the Earl of Rutland who built Garendon House on the site.
Among the objects recovered during that excavation were a number of floor tiles and fragments of glass, some of which can be seen on display in the Old Rectory Museum.
Cistercian decoration was generally austere, although in later years it became less so. Window glass was not stained with metal oxides to create reds, greens and blues as was typical in other monasteries and churches. Instead, glass was decorated in a style known as "grisaille" from the French for grey. "Figural" designs which typically might include angels, were not allowed in Cistercian houses. Permitted decoration was generally geometric, but could often include plants or plant-like designs.
The photographs on the right are of glass fragments taken from the excavation and show stylised foliage with typical grisaille cross-hatched shading.
Tiles were also found on the site. Baked clay or terracotta floor tiles were common in abbeys because they were relatively cheap to produce and were hard-wearing, especially when glazed. Tiles could be plain or decorated.
Cistercians decorated their tiles with simple patterns using an inlay technique to create what are sometimes called "encaustic tiles". Unbaked tiles were stamped with a wooden stamp to impress a pattern into the surface of the tile. A second clay slurry or "slip" would be added in another colour. The slip would be poured over the tile so that it filled the impression left by the stamp. Excess slip would then be scraped away to reveal the two-colour pattern, and the tile baked in a kiln.
Tiles with a fleur-de-lys design were common. The fleur-de-lys is a stylised lily and was a popular symbol in heraldry. In the church it was frequently seen as a refence to the Virgin because it stood as a symbol of purity, although other saints were also associated with the lily.
Patterned tiles could be arranged in groups, as shown diagrammatically in the illustration on the left. But even
different coloured plain tiles could be set out in a pattern such as a checkerboard, or in bands, and groups of patterned tiles might have a margin of plain tiles surrounding them.
The three tiles shown below all come from the excavation and are on diplay in the museum.