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Ruins of Tintern Abbey in Wales

The Ruins of Magnificent Tintern Abbey

                                         In The Wye Valley of Wales

As you drive into the Wye Valley, green fields and lush trees meet your gaze.  The Wye River flows through the rich countryside dividing Monmouthshire, Wales from Gloucestershire in England.

A winding road takes you to the peaceful ruins of Tintern Abbey.  You are immediately impressed by its mammoth size with walls reaching to the heavens.  On my first visit to the abbey which sits near the tiny village of its namesake, Tintern, it had been raining and the clouds were just dissipating.  So the first views were of a dark structure, no roof, just open to the perils of nature.  On subsequent visits the skies were blue and welcoming.

The abbey was founded in 1131 by Walter de Clare, the then Lord of Chepstow.  This Abbey was a Cistercian foundation, the second in Great Britain and the first in Wales.  The Cistercian monks, also known as White Monks due to their white robes (un-dyed off-white natural wool), came from Chartres in France.  They followed the strict Rule of St. Benedict, requiring obedience, poverty, chastity, silence, prayer, and work.  The Cistercians were one of the most successful orders in the 12th and 13th centuries.  History tells us that many donations of land were made to the Abbey from both sides of the River Wye.  These were divided into agricultural granges on which lay brothers and local people worked.

The early portions of the abbey were constructed and it continued to be enlarged.  However, very little of the first buildings are present today. In the 13th century a large rebuilding occurred about 1220.  First the cloisters and the domestic areas were rebuilt.  By the generous offerings of Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk, and the Lord of nearby Chepstow Castle, the grand church you see today was built between 1269 and 1301.  The first mass in the rebuilt sanctuary took place in 1288 and church was finally consecrated in 1301.  Rebuilding continued for several decades.

As you wander through the abbey ruins, you can't help but visualize what it must have been like with the monks in their austere white robes, candles flickering, and their voices  raised in harmonious chants. 

One of the things I first noticed was the different colors in the stone, it changed from grays to a tan or buff color and even had a hint of dark rose or purple in places.  I was told it was carved from "Old Red Sandstone".

The windows also drew my attention with their beautiful intricate shapes and designs.  If you squint your eyes, you can imagine them with their stained glass shining as the sun would filter through.   Now as you stroll from room to room on the rich green grass carpet you are awed by the size of the columns, the carvings you find, outstanding examples of the elaborate Gothic style of architecture, and the fact that this was rebuilt in the 13th century.  Amazing!

I have been fortunate to return a couple more times, and have read more of the history of the abbey.  King Edward II stayed at th.e abbey, plus many other important people of the time.  Sadly in 1349 the Black Death swept the country leaving many dead.  Following this the Abbey was not able to attract new  recruits for the brotherhood, this resulted in major changes to how the granges were organized and worked.  Many were tenanted out to locals rather than being worked by lay brothers, causing less income.  



Then the Welsh uprisings in the 15th century against the English Kings caused some of the properties to be destroyed by Welsh rebels.  The Abbey became short of money and recruits.

The dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 1500's, was his way to establish total control over the church in his realm.  He cut links to Rome, and caused the demise of over 800 religious houses between 1536 and 1540.  This was also a large revenue source for the King.

Abbot Wyche surrendered Tintern Abbey to King Henry VIII's officials on 3 September, 1536, ending the Abbey's way of life that had existed for 400 years.  The valuables from the Abbey were taken to the Royal Treasury.  The building was given to the Lord of Chepstow, and the lead from the roof was sold.  The glorious Abbey's demise began.  Even though the Cistercian monks no longer inhabited the Abby's of England they left a wondrous architectural legacy of some of Europe's finest monastic remains for us to enjoy.

The decay of the Abbey buildings continued for centuries, and in the 17th & 18th century workers in the local wire works inhabited the buildings.   

Then during the 18th century it became popular in England to visit "wilder" parts of the country.  Wye Valley was well known for its romantic and picturesque appeal.  By now the Abbey ruins were covered with ivy and the fields were frequented by cattle.  The Abbey was highlighted in a book in the 1700's and visitors came in great numbers.  Wordsworth's famous poem brought renewed interest in the Abbey and Wye Valley .

Since the early 20th century great efforts have been made to preserve and keep standing one of the finest and most complete abbey churches in Wales. 

When visiting Wales be sure to add the Wye Valley and especially the magnificent ruins of Tintern Abbey to your wanderings.   Maybe I will see you there, as I make it a point to visit whenever I am in Wales.  

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