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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Tintern Abbey

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas October. 02, 2020

Tintern Abbey was founded on 9 May 1131 by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow. It is situated adjacent to the village of Tintern in Monmouthshire, on the Welsh bank of the River Wye, which at this location forms the border between Monmouthshire in Wales and Gloucestershire in England. It was the first Cistercian foundation in Wales, and only the second in Britain (after Waverley Abbey).

The abbey fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Its remains have been celebrated in poetry and painting from the 18th century onwards.

The present-day remains of Tintern are a mixture of building works covering a 400-year period between 1131 and 1536. Very little of the first buildings still survives today; a few sections of walling are incorporated into later buildings.

The building was consecrated in 1301, although building work continued for several decades. Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk, the then lord of Chepstow, was a generous benefactor; his monumental undertaking was the rebuilding of the church. The earl's coat of arms was included in the glasswork of the Abbey's east window in recognition of his contribution.

It is this great Decorated Gothic abbey church that can be seen today, representing the architectural developments of its period; it has a cruciform plan with an aisled nave, two chapels in each transept, and a square-ended aisled chancel. The abbey is built of Old Red Sandstone, with colours varying from purple to buff and grey. Its total length from east to west is 228 feet, while the transept is 150 feet in length.

King Edward II stayed at Tintern for two nights in 1326. When the Black Death swept the country in 1349, it became impossible to attract new recruits for the lay brotherhood; during this period, the granges were more likely to be tenanted out than worked by lay brothers, evidence of Tintern's labour shortage.

In the early 15th century, Tintern was short of money, due in part to the effects of the Welsh uprising under Owain Glyndŵr against the English kings, when abbey properties were destroyed by the Welsh. The closest battle to Tintern Abbey was at Craig-y-dorth near Monmouth, between Trellech and Mitchel Troy.

In the reign of Henry VIII, the Dissolution of the Monasteries ended monastic life in England, Wales and Ireland. On 3 September 1536, Abbot Wych surrendered Tintern Abbey and all its estates to the King's visitors and ended a way of life that had lasted 400 years.

Valuables from the Abbey were sent to the royal Treasury and Abbot Wych was pensioned off. The building was granted to the then lord of Chepstow, Henry Somerset, 2nd Earl of Worcester. Lead from the roof was sold and the decay of the buildings began.

Following the Abbey's dissolution, the adjacent area became industrialised with the setting-up of the first wireworks by the Company of Mineral and Battery Works in 1568 and the later expansion of factories and furnaces up the Angidy valley. Charcoal was made in the woods to feed these operations and, in addition, the hillside above was quarried for the making of lime at a kiln in constant operation for some two centuries. The Abbey site was in consequence subject to a degree of pollution and the ruins themselves were inhabited by the local workers. J.T.Barber, for example, remarked on "passing the works of an iron foundry and a train of miserable cottages engrafted on the offices of the Abbey" on his approach.

(All information from wikipedia)

In 1901, Tintern Abbey was bought by the Crown from the Duke of Beaufort for £15,000 and the site was acknowledged as a monument of national importance. Although there had been some repair work done in the ruins as a result of the 18th-century growth of tourism, it was not until now that archaeological investigation began and informed maintenance work was carried out on the Abbey. In 1914, responsibility for the ruins was passed to the Office of Works, who undertook major structural repairs and partial reconstructions (including removal of the ivy considered so romantic by the early tourists).

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John Durham
John Durham
Sep 02, 2022

A great, old beauty well captured.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Sep 02, 2022
Replying to

Thanks. It's a beautiful location and the ruins some of the most impressive in scale of any of the dissolution.

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