Tuesday, April 17, 2012

St Mary's Church, Tintern, Wales

Above the remains of Tintern Abbey stands the burned out remains of St Mary's church. A sign in the graveyard said that the church was rebuilt in the 1800s, and burned down in the 1970s (or was it 1960s?). It was decided to not rebuild the church and it was abandoned.

I don't know when the church was originally built, but the presence of a piscina to the south of where the high altar would be indicates that it could have been built prior to the reformation. A piscina is a niche with a bowl carved into the base for holding water. After the communion section of the mass ceremony was over, the priest would wash the vessels (chalice and paten) in the piscina. The piscina had a hole in it that would be plugged to hold the water in. After being used the water would drain out of the hole. It is possible that this piscina was added by the Victorians, who were very fond of recreating their version of the past. At the same time high church practices were becoming more popular among the Victorians, and the piscina was a symbol of high church (and Catholic) traditions. This piscina is interesting to me because it has two bowls for holding water, not one.
The church is set up pretty conventionally. You enter the church though a north porch, which also houses/did house the bell. There is a nave, with no aisles, leading to an eastern window in front of which is a raised platform on which the altar once stood. On the south east side of the nave is a doorway (above) leading to two smaller rooms. One seems like it could have been a side chapel. The floor is fallen in and it is hard to tell what was there.
The other room through the door way is smaller, and has this fireplace in the north east corner. It is strange to see such a thing. I am guessing the fireplace is a Victorian addition. The small size and fireplace, as well as its location in the church, make me think it might have once been the vestry (the room where the clergy dressed).
This is another shot of the doorway leading to the possible chapel and vestry. You can also see the east window, which looks out to Tintern Abbey.
You can see the fallen in floor in the chapel here. The entire church was overgrown with trees both inside and out, with the exception of the central aisle in the nave, whose tiles seem to keep the plants down in that one strip.
Cool shot!
In this shot you can see the west window, as well as get a good idea of the tree growth inside the building.
This is the view from one of the north windows of the church looking out over the village of Tintern. When I asked for directions to the church, the woman gave me directions to the other, still operational church in the village, not thinking anyone would want to see St Mary's. I had no idea that when Rick Steves recommended seeing the view of the abbey from the church that it was just the ruins of a church. It was so amazing to turn the corner on the cobbled road and see the gutted building, covered with ivy, surrounded by a graveyard. When Wordsworth wrote his poem "Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey", the abbey was derelict and covered in ivy, just like St Mary's is now. The condition of St Mary's is as close to Wordswoth's Tintern as we can get today. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is in south Wales. Well worth a day out.


  1. Thank you for your informative post! It is difficult to find descriptive photos on St. Mary's, and we are hoping to visit as well! :)

  2. Dear Jason, I'm working for a French documentary film on the evolution in economy in which I'd like to integrate your photo of St. Mary's church in Wales. Can you give me your permission for it? thank you very much in advance, best regards, barbara