How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
These are lines from the poem “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a walking tour, July 13 1798 by William Wordsworth. It is possible that he stayed in the Hanbury Arms in Caerleon while he was on this walking tour. There is no doubt that the Wye Valley is one of the most picturesque in the UK and Tintern is one of the most impressive ruined abbeys I have ever seen.
Tintern Abbey was the second Cistercian Abbey to be built in Britain and was the first to be built in Wales. It is about four miles north of Chepstow in the village of Tintern. The early abbey building was begun in 1131 on the 9th of May by Walter de Clare, who was then Lord of Chepstow. The Lords of Chepstow were very generous to the abbey and the original building (which is no longer above ground) was added to over the centuries using their money until the abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII as part of his dissolution of all monasteries in his domain.
In the 13th century Roger Bigod III, Lord of Chepstow was responsible for the rebuilding of the church at the abbey. Tintern Abbey escaped many of the ravages and attacks which other abbeys sustained in the Welsh uprisings of the mediaeval period, mainly because it was not in the Marches or in the Welsh ‘heartlands.’
The stones from the original abbey were used in the rebuilding and additional building work. The church which was rebuilt between 1269 and 1301 and as you can see today would have had amazing stained-glass windows. There would also have been internal divisions, but these could have detracted from the beauty of its form, I feel. The ruins that you see today are spectacular in themselves and they allow your imagination to run riot as you picture the splendour of Tintern as it must have appeared to the peasants who lived around it.
There is, naturally enough, a ghost story attached to the abbey and it goes something like this: a group of young men went to the abbey ruins to look for buried treasure. They hired a few local labourers who came across two human skeletons buried in the orchard which adjoined the abbey. The young men had a feat in the ruined abbey to celebrate their find, but as they were feasting, the sky darkened, and there was thunder and lightning. A mist hung over the ruined abbey and then, in the midst of the storm there was a calm and a bright light which transformed into a knight wearing chain mail. He raised his sword and pointed to the doorway with ir. The young men fled and there was a small whirlwind which blew their feast outside the walls of the abbey. The ghostly knight was thought to be “Strongbow” or Gilbert Fitz Gilbert de Clare, one time Earl of Pembroke.
If you visit Tintern Abbey there is one of my favourite hostelries nearby – The Moon and Sixpence where you can get a snack or a three-course meal for reasonable prices. However food is not served all day. Check the website here for details of serving times. Enjoy!
- Chepstow, Cas-Gwent, South Wales, UK (lynnee8.wordpress.com)
- Roman Isca – Caerleon;Visit the Roman Fortress and Town(lynnee8.wordpress.com)