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Tintern Abbey is beautiful reminder of 12th century monastic life

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 27th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Tintern Abbey is a 12th-century Cistercian abbey standing in picturesque ruins on the southeastern border of Wales. The first Cistercian monastery founded in Wales and only the second to be founded in all of Britain, Tintern Abbey today is a beautiful reminder of early English monastic life.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Land was granted and the abbey was founded at Tintern in 1131 by the Anglo-Norman lord of Chepstow, Walter fitz Richard of Clare. The initial community of Cistercian monks arrived at Tintern. Populated by an army of lay brothers, the Tintern estates were organized around characteristic Cistercian farms known as granges. The monks at first probably lived and worshipped in a temporary arrangement of wooden buildings.

Construction on the abbey's superb Gothic church -- which still dominates the landscape, began in 1269. It was consecrated in 1301 in the presence of the patron, Roger Bigod, fifth earl of Norfolk.

Tintern Abbey's departure from early Cistercian ideals was exacerbated by the impact of the Black Plague and by the effects of a Welsh uprising in 1400-15. Monastic life at Tintern continued to flourish regardless, with further limited building programs carried out until the Reformation.

Tintern Abbey was surrendered to King Henry VIII's visitors on September 3, 1536, during the first round in Henry's suppression of monasteries.

Buildings and local possessions were later granted to Henry Somerset, earl of Worcester. He sold lead from the roof and began to lease out parts of the site. Soon the abbey area was crowded with cottages and early industrial buildings.

Tintern lay forgotten until the late 18th century, when the ruins were discovered by Romantic artists and poets in search of the "Sublime" and "Picturesque." The railway brought still more tourists after 1876, and in 1901 the site was rescued when it was purchased by the Crown. Major conservation works were carried out between 1901 and 1928, which included removing the ivy considered so romantic by the early tourists.

The ruins of Tintern Abbey remain especially beautiful. The grand Gothic abbey church, carpeted in green grass and open to the sky, is especially enchanting. Enough of the foundations of the rest of the abbey buildings remain that, with the help of good signs provided by Welsh Heritage, enable you to imagine medieval monastic life at Tintern. There is a large car park and tickets are bought from a shop that offers books, music, and local Celtic crafts.

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