Valle Crucis Abbey - Sarah Woodbury

Valle Crucis Abbey

Valle Crucis has a relatively late foundation at 1201 as a Cisterican Abbey, 70 years after Tintern. Valle Crucis means ‘Valley of the Cross’ and takes its name from from Eliseg’s Pillar nearby, which would already have stood for nearly four centuries when the abbey was established. Like Tintern, Valle Crucis was Cistercian, but was, a ‘daughter’ house of another another Welsh abbey, Strata Marcella, near Welshpool, which was founded by a King of Powys. Valle Crucis’s patron was Madog ap Gruffudd Maelor, ruler of northern Powys.

The abbey prospered, nestled as it was in a valley near Llangollen, but it suffered a serious fire soon after its founder’s death in 1236. Traces of burning are visible on the lower stonework of the church and the south range. Substantial rebuilding (distinguished by putlog holes for the ends of the wooden scaffolding) had already taken place when the abbey found itself on the losing side during Edward I’s Welsh campaigns in 1277 and 1282, although subsequent compensation enabled it to flourish for much of the following century. Repairs to the church, notably the reconstruction of the magnificent western gable end above the rose window, were carried out under Abbot Adam in the early 14th century. It includes the inscription: ‘Abbot Adams carried out this work; may he rest in peace. Amen’.

Whether this was restoration of damage in the Welsh campaigns or in some later episode is not clear. After the Black Death, the abbey’s numbers declined, not only of lay brethren but probably of choir monks.

It was perhaps after the alleged damage during the Owain Glyndwr rising starting in 1400 that the east range rebuilding was completed. The vaulted chapter house is an especially well preserved feature and dates from this time. The wealth of the abbey certainly increased, and by the end of the century poets praised the hospitality of its abbots. About this time, part of the first-floor east range dormitory, together with an adjoining room, was made into a comfortable suite for the abbot, while the rest was converted into lodgings for the abbot’s guests. The few remaining monks may now have slept in the west range, in accommodation no longer required for lay brethren.

Valle Crucis was dissolved in 1537 and the buildings rapidly fell into disrepair. In the late 16th century the eastern range was converted into a house with a new roof-line, although this roof had gone by the early 18th century. Many of the ruins were roofed again later in the century and used as a farm. Excavations and clearance of the ruins were carried out in the mid to late 19th century.

3 Replies to “Valle Crucis Abbey”

  1. The bardic chair (known as the Black Chair) won posthumously by Hedd Wyn in 1917 was made from burnt oak which came from Valle Crucis Abbey according to Gerald Williams, nephew of Hedd Wyn and former owner and custodian of the family farm (Yr Ysgwrn). Doubts cast on this assertion were dispelled when the Black Chair was refurbished by expert heritage restorer, Hugh Haley who discovered evidence of burning on the chair. The chair, which looks more like a throne, was made by Eugene van Fleteren, a Belgian refugee. It is full of symbolism and the carving on it is world class. The Black Chair can now be seen at Yr Ysgwrn in Trawsfynydd – a Snowdonia National Park heritage site.

  2. Enjoying reading your account of your visit to our area, you have a great itinerary there. A lovely little video tour of the abbey, some great shots in there. I always find it odd that the peaceful Valle Crucis abbey lies next door to, virtually in the same grounds as, such a busy caravan site. it always reminds me of a visit many years ago to Shap Abbey in Cumbria, where I arrived to find the custodian hanging out her washing around the entrance way. I suppose it all shows that life continues rather than these places being totally embalmed.

    I love Dolbadarn castle, I think it is one of my favourite castle sites, such a gorgeous setting in the mountains by the lakeside, there is an old healing well further up the valley in Nant Peris that I mean to visit in the next month or two. My eldest daughter was at university in Bangor, so we got up there often at one time. My other favourite in Llanberis is Pete’s Eats – a good basic café that caters mainly for the walkers and climbers – excellent for large scale full English (or Welsh) breakfasts and lunches with huge mugs of tea or coffee (and fussy vegetarians like me well catered for).

    I’m glad the weather is so good for you this week, it has been terrible up until now, although I didn’t really envy you the trek up to Dinas Bran in the heat. Nice views when you get there, but a stiff climb.

    Hope you enjoy the rest of your visit.

    1. We have been having a wonderful time. We’ve saw Caerhun (the Roman fort of Canovium), hiked along the Roman road to the standing stones at Bwlch y Ddeufaen, and saw Dolwyddelan today. More videos are coming!

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