Visiting Tintern

TINTERN ABBEY

The abbey stands at the point where the River Wye ceases to be tidal.  In 1131 Walter de Clare, the Marcher Lord of Chepstow, founded this abbey for the Cistercians, the monks of Citeau in France, who took themselves into the wilds of a Wales that had to be secured and settled by the new Order.  The church belonging to it, which has become its chief feature, was not consecrated till 1288 and is in the later style called Decorated,  grand design and architectural detail of great proportions. 

The shell of the abbey stands open to the skies almost to its full height, an outstanding example of the elaborate decorated style of Gothic architecture. It has no roof now and stands by itself among the meadows by the river.  It is 228 feet long and 150 feet wide.  Sacristy, chapter house, parlour still exist as reminders of the monks' sacred duties and the places where they met in community.  Kitchen and dining place or refectory, also survive and the quarters where the brothers who were laymen and not in order, could do the business the Abbey demanded.  There is nothing but silence and green grass along the nave, but in many ways one of the architectural triumphs of Henry VIII was that he should be by his Act for the Sissolution of the Monasteries have given to Tintern a state of ruin that makes its beauty all the more impressive. 

The tall grey walls seem to move upwards as you watch them much as you get the impression when looking at a tree growing in the silence of a woodland.  The structure is remarkable for the artistry of its balance and shows all the signs of that delicately managed capture of line which is the mark of great sculpture.  As you move about the feet of the great arches and follow the lines of tracery in the east window, 64 feet high you get the sense that the place was never meant to be roofed but always to reach the sky.  

Visitors are invariably captivated by the vast windows with their delicate tracery and the wealth of decorative detail displayed in the walls, doorways and archways.  This extensive site also gives a facinating insight into the monastic way of life in medieval times.  Wordsworth was inspired by his visit to write his famous poem, 'Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey'.  But Tintern's true character can perhaps never be captured in words, Cistercian Father, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, 'You will find among the woods something you never found in books'.

For further information visit http://www.cadw.wales.gov.uk/

 

 

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