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TINTERN ABBEY

Site Details


NPRN 359

Map Reference ST59NW

Grid Reference ST53319999

Unitary (Local) Authority Monmouthshire

Old County Monmouthshire

Community Tintern

Type of Site ABBEY

Broad Class RELIGIOUS RITUAL AND FUNERARY

Period Medieval

Site Description Tintern Abbey was founded in 1131 by Walter fitz Richard of Clare, the Anglo-Norman lord of Chepstow. The Abbey was colonized by a group of monks from the abbey of l’Aumone in France and was only the second Cistercian plantation in Britain. At first, the monks lived and worshipped in a temporary arrangement of timber buildings but by the middle of the twelfth century they had erected a modest stone church and associated cloister ranges. An expansion of the monastic buildings resulted from a growth in the community during the first half of the thirteenth century. Building of the Gothic church which still dominates the lower Wye Valley commenced in 1269. It was consecrated in 1301 and almost certainly in the presence of the patron, Roger Bigod, the fifth earl of Norfolk. A departure from the early Cistercian ideals was witnessed during the later Middle Ages, exacerbated by the impact of the Black Death (1348-49) and by the effects of the Welsh uprising under Owain Glyn Dwr (1400-15).

There were further limited building programmes carried out until the reign of King Henry VII in the early sixteenth century. Tintern was later surrendered to the king’s visitors in September 1536, during the first round in the suppression of the monasteries. A few months later the buildings and local possessions were granted to Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester. He began to lease out portions of the site and soon the abbey environs were crowded with cottages and early industrial buildings. The ruins of Tintern Abbey were largly forgotten until the late eighteenth century, when they were discovered by the artists and poets of the Romantic age. In 1901 it was saved when it was purchased by the Crown.

Source: Robinson, D.M. 2002. Tintern Abbey: CADW

RCAHMW, February 2011

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Tintern Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery established in Wales. It was founded in 1131 by Walter fitzRichard of Clare and first colonised by a group of monks from their mother house l’Aumone in France. With the growth of the community, the monastic buildings were enlarged, and in 1269 the construction of the Gothic church began, whose ruins can still be viewed today.

The land around the monastery was divided into granges and farmed by lay brothers. After the Black Death swept through the country in the fourteenth century, decimating the monks and the local population alike, the land had to be tenanted out. During the Glyndŵr Rising, 1400-15, many of the abbey’s possessions were destroyed by the rebels, which contributed to the monastery’s continued financial struggle. Abbot Wyche surrendered the abbey and monastery following the First Suppression Act in 1536 in which King Henry VIII demanded the dissolution of the monasteries. The buildings were stripped of their valuable roof lead and subsequently decay set in. Over the next two hundred years, the site was inhabited by the cottages and workshops of impoverished locals and workers from the nearby wire works.

By the late eighteenth century, it had become fashionable to visit the valleys and mountain uplands of Wales and inspect the country’s medieval ruins. The Duke of Beaufort, then the owner of Tintern, cleared the grounds to make them more accessible to tourists, but left the thick vines and ivy cover of the church untouched. Romantic poetry and landscape painting subsequently turned Tintern Abbey into the perfect example of a medieval ruin situated in a picturesque landscape.

In 1901, the Crown bought the ruins as they had become regarded as a monument of national importance and, in turn, Ministry of Works took ownership in 1967. Tintern Abbey is now a Grade I listed building and scheduled ancient monument under the care of Cadw.

Record updated as part of the AHRC-funded project 'Journey to the Past: Wales in historic travel writing from France and Germany'.
R. Singer (Bangor University) and S. Fielding (RCAHMW), 2017.

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