The Basingwerk Abbey was founded in 1132 by Ranulf de Gernon, the fourth Earl of Chester, who brought the Benedictines from the Savigny monastery in southern Normandy. The abbey became part of the Cistercian order in 1147 and received significant salaries, including lands in the English county of Derbyshire. Ten years later, the authority over the monastery was given to Buildwas Abbey in Shropshire. In the same year, Henry II re-founded the abbey, and the monks moved from Hen Blas to Basingwerk, in a place now called Greenfield.
In 1157 Owain Gwynedd set up his army camp in Basingwerk before he faced Henry II in the Battle of Ewloe. The Welsh prince stayed at the abbey because of its strategic importance, blocking the route that Henry II had to overcome. In the battle that followed, Owain smashed the English around Ewloe.
In the thirteenth century, the abbey was under the patronage of Llywelyn the Great, prince of Gwynedd. His son Dafydd ap Llywelyn gave the St. Winefrid’s Well to the abbey with a pilgrimage chapel. The monks used the Holywell stream to run the mill and process wool from their sheeps, and they made large profits from the pilgrimage.
In 1536, during the reign of Henry VIII, the convent was dissolved and its lands were granted to secular owners. Some of the buildings were demolished to repair the Holt Castle, and some items were transported to Ireland for use in the Dublin Castle. In the end, the Basingwerk Abbey fell into disrepair and was almost completely demolished.
The plan of the abbey from the thirteenth century was in line with the rule of the Cistercian Order. The main building was a church on a cruciform plan, orientated on the east-west line. In the south, the monastery buildings were spread around the three sides of a large patio surrounded by cloisters. The monks’ infirmary, guest rooms and other buildings related to the everyday life and economy of the abbey were further away. The church and the eastern part of the abbey buildings were built first, and in the middle of the 13th century the refectory was built on the new north-south axis. In the fourteenth century, new arcades of cloisters were built, and at the end of the Middle Ages the southern end of the eastern range was rebuilt, most likely used for economic purposes. At the end of the fifteenth century, the abbey was roofed with lead and decorated with glass windows, and new houses for guests were built.
To this day, the building of the 13th-century refectory with ogival windows has survived in the best condition, as well as the western wall of the southern church’s transept. The ruins of the abbey are open to visitors.
Website castlewales.com, Basingwerk Abbey.
Website coflein.gov.uk, Basingwerk Abbey, Holywell.
Website wikipedia.org, Basingwerk Abbey.