The Cistercian Valle Crucis Abbey was founded in 1201 by the ruler of northern Powys, Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor. The name of the abbey meant the Valley of the Cross and referred to the nearby Eliseg’s Pillar, a stone cross from the ninth century. As the monastic rule of the Cistercians required the construction of a monastery in remote and secluded places, the entire population of the village of Llanegwerth was forcibly transferred to Stantsa, near Wrexham. Only some have received compensation for the loss of homes. In 1236, the founder, Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor, was buried in the abbey. It is recognized that the monastery church was already completed then. However, even in the same year, a great fire destroyed the abbey buildings, forcing further construction works. Anglo – Welsh wars during the times of king Edward I in 1276 and 1282 brought to the abbey subsequent damages. It is known that he offered the monks compensation for the damages caused by his people.
About 20 monks and 40 secular members of the order (lay brothers) lived in the completed abbey, performing daily duties, including farming. In the fourteenth century, the number of monks fell, probably due to the devastating consequences of the plague, and at the beginning of the fifteenth century Valle Crucis suffered damages during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr. The prosperity of the abbey grew at the end of the 15th century. It became known for its hospitality, several well-known Welsh poets, such as Gutun Owain and Tudur Aled, spent time here, and one of them, Guto’r Glyn, spent the last years and was buried here in 1493.
The Reformation and the dissolution of the order by Henry VIII in 1537 brought the end of splendor. The monastic buildings were rented to Sir William Puckering and his descendants. At the end of the 16th century, the eastern range of Valle Crucis was transformed into a manor house, and at the end of the 18th century, the building, which had not yet fallen into disrepair, was roofed again and started to be used as a farm. The first security and excavation works were undertaken in the nineteenth century.
The abbey consisted of a church and buildings south of it, which surrounded a square patio. The church was an orientated building towards the sides of the world, erected on the plan of the cross. It consisted of a three-nave corpus in the form of a basilica, northern and southern transepts, a small tower at the intersection of naves, chapels adjoining from the east to transepts and a short, straight ended chancel. In the fourteenth century, it was divided by a rood screen, which separated the nave, intended for lay people, from the presbytery, where only monks could stay.
The courtyard adjacent to the nave from the south, was surrounded by cloisters, which provided access to every range in the abbey. In the western part there was a dormitory, or a bedroom for secular members of the monastery, and later also for monks, pantries and storage rooms, and a chancellery for the monk who was responsible for them. It was the oldest range in the abbey, created in the first half of the thirteenth century. From the fourteenth century, it was accessible through the porch on the west side. The southern range from the mid-13th century, occupied a kitchen form the west, then a perpendicularly set refectory, and on the east end a small warmed room for use in winter. The eastern range was created at the latest, since around the mid-fourteenth century. On the ground floor in the northern part there was a sacristy and a library and a magnificent chapter house with a vault supported by four pillars. To the south of it was a small corridor room and the latrines at the end. The first floor was occupied by private rooms of the abbot, bedrooms for guests (initially it was a monk’s dormitory) and also latrines. This part was enlarged in the 15th and 16th centuries by galleries on the eastern side. The east range was connected through the so-called night stairs with the southern transept of the church to allow the monks to quickly get from the dormitory to the holy masses.
To this day, fragments of the abbey church have been preserved in Valle Crucis in the form of a magnificent western facade with an entrance portal, three gothic windows and a rose window, the southern transept and the chancel. From the southern monastery buildings in the best condition, the eastern range has survived with the chapter house, the dormitory and later abbot’s chambers. The remaining buildings are testified only by the foundation parts. Behind the buildings there is a monastic fish pond, apparently the only surviving fish pond in Wales. The abbey is open to visitors from March 24 to November 4, from Wednesday to Sunday from 10.00-17.00, entry on Monday and Tuesday is free.
Website coflein.gov.uk, Valle Crucis Abbey.
Website wikipedia.org, Valle Crucis Abbey.