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Tintern Abbey

Gothic Cistercian Abbey Ruins on the River Wye in South Wales


Introduction to the Paradoxplace Cistercian History and Photo Pages








Tintern Abbey from the south





Tintern Abbey is in the lower Wye Valley in south Wales.  It was founded in 1131 as the first Cistercian Abbey in Wales (and the second of what were to become 86 abbeys in Britain), on land originally owned by Henry I - the fourth son of William the Conqueror.  The original sizeable 1100s stone Romanesque monastery and abbey church were completely demolished in the late 1200s to make way for new gothic buildings.  The photo shows the south front of the ruined gothic abbey (the monastery buildings were on the north (river) side).



Postcard insights - on the left a reconstruction of the gothic abbey from the south east, and on the right the present site from the same direction


The present ruins belong to a major over the top redevelopment done in the final years of the 1200s by Abbot Roger Bigod (aka the Duke of Norfolk).  The Abbey thrived with 400 plus monks in the first half of the thirteen hundreds, but then along came the Black Death in 1349 and it disappeared from history until nearly two hundred years' later, when good old Henry VIII, in his dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, took over the 70% of religious houses in England and Wales with revenues below 200 a year (Tintern's was 192).  Henry flicked Tintern to the Duke of Worcester, who quickly stripped the roofs to sell the lead, made off with the bells so they could be melted down and sold also, removed anything else of value and abandoned the site to the forces of nature.  Interestingly the dressed stone ashlars of the church were not plundered / sold - Paradox has a medieval monastery plundering theory that carting off building materials from monastery buildings was OK but doing the same to churches was dicing too closely with hell for comfort.


Over 200 years on, in the 1790s, the ruined and overgrown Abbey became a popular destination for artists and poets of the Romantic Movement.  The included the artist J M W Turner, and William Wordsworth with his poem "Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey".  The British Government took over the ruins in 1901, and considerable sums have since been spent on restoration.



The geography of abbey and river led to the monastic buildings being erected against the north wall of the abbey, instead of the more usual south wall location, so that fresh water could more easily be drawn from up-river, and sewage and other waste from the 400+ monks dumped downstream via the main drain (an important medieval real estate location rule was never to live downstream of a large monastery).  The transept was in the middle of the abbey church, and the cloister and monastic buildings were located on its (north) western side.  Canterbury Cathedral has a similar monastic layout.


The photo above shows the north end of the transept - note the roofline of the original monks' dormitory and the elevated doorway which led from the dormitory directly down the "night stairs" into the church.  The monks tumbled down these to attend their 2am services.  The chapter house (below) was under the dormitory - this photo was taken looking west through the chapter house to the cloister square, with the monks' refectory on the right and the night stair door on the upper left.


Above: Looking down from the night stair doorway across the transept to the south.

Below: The nave looking west

The abbey from the north east
Lots of great photos in "Castles of Wales"


One of the principal revenue sources of Tintern abbey was its grange at Lydd, on the edge of the Romney Marshes in Kent.  This was centred around the church of All Saints (1200s, with later tower and repaired WW II bombed choir, pictured above from the south) and had previously been owned by the Abbey of Santa Maria della Gloria in Anagni, the "City of the Popes" in Central Italy.  Thomas (later Cardinal) Wolsley (c1473 - 1530 (57)), one of the several Thomases who served Henry VIII, was Rector of All Saints Lydd from 1503 to 1514, though it is doubtful that his parishioners saw much of him whilst he was adding their rentals' income to his wealth.  In 1514 Wolsley became Archbishop of York, but again did not get to visit the place until he had been deposed from the Lord Chancellorship and management of England in 1529.



Dawn bedroom view from the Abbey Hotel.  Contrary to what one comes to expect from most "famous site hotels", "The Abbey" is well run, reasonably priced and offers excellent food and wine.


Tintern Village Website


Link to a site with even bigger photos


Link to Tintern Abbey Wikipedia Page



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