The Cistercian Abbey of Margam was founded in 1147 by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, who donated lands between the rivers Afan and Kenfig to the Clairvaux monastery in France. The first abbot was William of Clairvaux. For about forty years a romanesque church and monastic buildings were built, but shortly after their completion, wanting to be up to date with contemporary architectural trends, the entire eastern end of the abbey was rebuilt in the style of early English gothic. The abbey at Margam quickly gained importance in the social, cultural and religious life of South Wales. It was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that the convent suffered from floods, animal diseases, increased taxation, plague and Welsh rebellions. The abbey was dissolved by the king of England Henry VIII in 1536 and sold to Sir Rice Mansel. At that time, only 12 monks lived in the monastery. After the Mansel family, the abbey went over to the descendants of the feminine line, the Talbot family. In the nineteenth century, one of its members built a residence near the abbey, but the nave of the monastery church was still used as a parish church.
The monastery church was a three-nave basilica erected on a cruciform plan with a central tower at the intersection of naves, two transepts and a three-nave chancel ended with a straight wall on the eastern side. From the south to the nave adjoined a patio, surrounded by cloisters. It was possible to get by them to each range of the abbey, which from the west, south and east adhered to a cloisters. To the south of the presbytery there was a magnificent twelve side chapter house with vaults supported by a single pillar.
To this day, survived the twelfth century central nave of the abbey’s church, however shorter than the original one by two bays from the east. Unfortunately, the side aisles have been rebuilt, the church chancel, transepts and the central tower have also not preserved. In the form of a ruin, the chapter house has survived, unfortunately without vaults, which due to neglect have collapsed at the end of the eighteenth century. There are also relics of the eastern monastery range. The ruins are owned by the County Council and open to the public.
Wooding J., Yates N., A Guide to the churches and chapels of Wales, Cardiff 2011.
Website britishlistedbuildings.co.uk, St Mary’s Abbey Church A Grade I Listed Building in Margam, Neath Port Talbot.
Website castlewales.com, Margam Abbey.