Tintern Abbey

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Tintern Abbey and Courtyard

Tintern Abbey was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow, on 9 May 1131. It is situated in the village of Tintern in Monmouthshire, on the bank of the River Wye which forms the border between Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire. It was only the second Cistercian foundation in Britain. Its ruins inspired William Wordsworth's poem "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey", Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "Tears, Idle Tears", Allen Ginsberg's "Wales Visitation", and more than one painting by J. M. W. Turner. The village of Tintern adjoins the abbey ruins, which are Grade I listed since 29 September 2000.[1]


Walter de Clare, of the powerful family of Clare, was first cousin of William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester, who had introduced the first colony of Cistercians to Waverley, Surrey, in 1128. The monks for Tintern came from a daughter house of Cîteaux, L'Aumône Abbey, in the diocese of Chartres in France.[2] In time, Tintern established two daughter houses, Kingswood in Gloucestershire (1139) and Tintern Parva, west of Wexford (1203).

The Cistercian monks (or White Monks) who lived at Tintern followed the Rule of St Benedict. The Carta Caritatis (Charter of Love) laid out their basic principles, of obedience, poverty, chastity, silence, prayer, and work. With this austere way of life, the Cistercians were one of the most successful orders in the 12th and 13th centuries. The lands of the Abbey were divided into agricultural units or granges, on which local people worked and provided services such as smithies to the Abbey. Many endowments of land on both sides of the Wye were made to the Abbey.

Development of the buildings

The present-day remains of Tintern are a mixture of building works covering a 400-year period between 1136 and 1536. Very little remains of the first buildings; a few sections of walling are incorporated into later buildings and the two recessed cupboards for books on the east of the cloisters are from this period. The church of that time was smaller than the present building and was slightly to the north.

The Abbey seen from the A466 road

During the 13th century the Abbey was mostly rebuilt; first the cloisters and the domestic ranges, then finally the great church between 1269 and 1301. The first Mass in the rebuilt presbytery was recorded to have taken place in 1288, and the building was consecrated in 1301, although building work continued for several decades.[3] 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 Abbey put his coat of arms in the glass of its east window in thanks to him.

It is this great abbey church that is seen today. It has a cruciform plan with an aisled nave; two chapels in each transept and a square ended aisled chancel. The Decorated Gothic church represents the architectural developments of its day. The abbey is built of Old Red Sandstone, of colours varying from purple to buff and grey.

In 1326 King Edward II stayed at Tintern for two nights. In 1349 the Black Death swept the country and it became impossible to attract new recruits for the lay brotherhood. Changes to the way the granges were tenanted out rather than worked by lay brothers show that Tintern was short of labour. 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 rebels. The closest battle to the abbey was at Craig y Dorth near Monmouth, between Trellech and Mitchel Troy.


Name Appointment transferred/Died Notes
William[4] c1139 1148
Henry before 1153 transferred to Waverly c.1161 Henry was a former robber who repented of his ways,[5] took the Cistercian habit and was duly appointed abbot of Tintern where he was renowned for his profusion of tears at the altar.
William II: before 1169 1188.
Eudo 1188 Eudo previously served as prior of Waverley and abbot of Kingswood
Richard[6] before 1218[7]
Ralph 1232 1245 Translated to Dunkeswell
"J" c.1253.
Vacancy 1259
John before 1267 1277
Ralph c1285 1303
Hugh de Wyke 1305 1320 buried at the Cistercian abbey of Stratford Langthorne
Walter of Hereford 1321 1331
Roger de Camme 1330 1331
Walter c1333
Gilbert 1340 1341
John c1349 1375
John Wysbech 1387 1407 previously abbot of Grace Dieu
John fl1411
John Chernyllis, Cherville 1421 appointed papal chaplain in May 1413
John Chapfeld 1437
Robert Acton 1438 1441
John Tynyern 1442 1455
Thomas Monmouth 1456 c1459
Thomas Colston 1460 1486
William Ker c1488 1492
Harry Newland 1493 1506
Thomas Morton fl 1514
Richard Wiche 1536[8] He was awarded a pension on 29 June 1536 Following the Dissolution


In the reign of King Henry VIII, his Dissolution of the Monasteries ended monastic life in England, Wales and Ireland. On 3 September 1536 Abbot Wyche 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 Wyche 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.

The ruins

The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window by J. M. W. Turner, 1794

In the next two centuries little or no interest was shown in the history of the site. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the ruins were inhabited by workers in the local wire works.[3] However, in the mid eighteenth century it became fashionable to visit "wilder" parts of the country. The Wye Valley in particular was well known for its romantic and picturesque qualities and the ivy clad Abbey was frequented by "romantic" tourists. After the publication of the book Observations on the River Wye by the Reverend William Gilpin in 1782, tourists visited the site in droves. The importance of the abbey and its surroundings for later visitors is also reflected in Wordsworth's famous poem cited above, written in 1798. The site was best approached from the river until 1822, when a new turnpike road, now the A466, was opened through the valley, cutting through the abbey precinct. An engraving of Tintern Abbey was among the decorations of Fanny Price's sitting room in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.

In the 19th century ruined abbeys became the focus for scholars, and architectural and archaeological investigations were undertaken. In 1901 the Abbey was bought by the crown from the Duke of Beaufort for £15,000. It was recognised as a monument of national importance and repair and maintenance works began to be carried out. In 1914 the Office of Works was passed responsibility for Tintern, and major structural repairs and partial reconstructions were undertaken — the ivy considered so romantic by the early tourists was removed.

American poet Allen Ginsberg took an acid trip at Tintern Abbey on July 28, 1967, and wrote his poem Wales Visitation. In the poem, about nature, he wrote: "...the lambs on the tree-nooked hillside this day bleating/ heard in Blake's old ear, & the silent thought of Wordsworth in eld Stillness/ clouds passing through skeleton arches of Tintern Abbey-/ Bard Nameless as the Vast, babble to Vastness!".[9][10]

In 1984 Cadw took over responsibility for the site.

The abbey is the setting for both the 1969 Flirtations music video Nothing But A Heartache and the 1988 Iron Maiden video Can I Play with Madness.



  1. Good Stuff IT Services. "Abbey Church of St Mary (Tintern Abbey) including monastic buildings - Tintern - Monmouthshire - Wales". British Listed Buildings. http://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/wa-24037-abbey-church-of-st-mary-tintern-abbey-inc. Retrieved 2013-06-03. 
  2. J. H. Round, « Clare, Walter de (d. 1137/8?) », revised by C. Warren Hollister, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Newman, John (2000). Gwent/Monmouthshire. The Buildings of Wales. London: Penguin Books. p. not cited. ISBN 0-14-071053-1. 
  4. Robinson, David, Tintern Abbey, Welsh Historic Monuments (4th edn; Cardiff, 2002) pp. 12-15
  5. Cistercian Abbeys: TINTERN.
  6. The National Archives and Kings College London, 'Fine Roll C 60/11, 3 Henry III', (Document), membrane 11 item 20
  7. Fine Roll C 60/11, 3 Henry III membrane 11 item 20:
  8. Tintern Abbey.
  9. Ginsberg: A biography by Barry Miles, Virgin Publishing 2000 p394
  10. Allan Ginsburg's 'Wales Visitation' 2010-01-31, accessed 2012-01-01

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Tintern Abbey)