The Norman and Gothic ruins of the Abbey of St. Mary the Virgin are to be found within the churchyard of St Nicholas and the open spaces of Abbey Fields. This Augustinian convent was originally founded as a Priory in 1119 by Geoffrey de Clinton on land granted to him by King Henry I. He was also the founder of Kenilworth Castle and the lives of those at the castle and Priory were inextricably linked for over 400 years.
By 1447 the Priory had become one of the largest and wealthiest Augustinian houses in the Midlands and had the distinction of being raised to Abbey status by the Pope. The Abbey continued to prosper until the 1530s when King Henry VIII broke with Rome and declared himself head of the Church of England. In less than a decade every monastic house in the country had been suppressed and many destroyed. Kenilworth Abbey closed its doors for the last time on in 1538 when Abbot Simon Jeykes signed the instrument of surrender.
Everything of value was removed and many of the buildings dismantled. Some of the fine sandstone would have been sold; some was used in buildings in and around Kenilworth, including the Earl of Leicester’s major works at Kenilworth Castle during the late 1560s and early 70s. By the 17th century, much of the land where the abbey once stood had been turned over to pasture – animals now grazed amongst the ruins of the abbey where the Canons once walked and prayed.
The only two buildings of significance to have survived are the 14th century Gatehouse and what may have been a 14th century Priory Hall which now houses the local museum.