Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tintern Abbey, Wales

Cistercian monks founded Tintern Abbey in the early 12th century. Tintern is located in South Wales, just a few miles from the border with England, which meant it was spared many of the Welsh uprisings that plagues other monastic communities of the middle ages. The monastery was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, being handed over in 1536. For some reason much of the church remains, not having been dismantled and used for building, like in other areas. Below you can see the ceiling-less crossing.

I was first in Wales three and a half years ago, but did not have time to get to Tintern. When I was back in Cardiff with my family I decided I would not miss my opportunity a second time. It has been nearly a month since I was in Tintern, so I have forgotten a great deal of the specific history, but I will try to caption the pictures well.

This is what remains of the south transept looking north. It is so amazing to see the building in partial decay. The walls still stand but the windows are empty, the ceiling has disappeared and the floor is carpeted with green grass. I have never seen anything like it.

Taking pictures of yourself using a tiny tripod is interesting. This is the third one I took and was by far the best. I am standing in the chancel/east transept.

The monks who lived n the monastery were cloistered off not only from the rest of the community in the area, but from the lay brothers who lived and worshipped in the monastery. Lay brothers had not taken the same vows as the monks and were not committed to the order for life. This door, in the north west corner of the nave, was used for the lay brothers to access the church for services, where the lay brothers were then partitioned from the monks, but more on that later.
This is what remains of the church shot from the cloister on the north side of the building (most Cistercian houses had the cloister on the south side, but for some reason it is on the north in Tintern). The cloister was a place that was covered and allowed for monks to exercise outside while still separated from the outside world. The central area in the middle would have been uncovered and used as a garden/orchard.

This is the crossing as seen from the top of the Night Stairs in the north transept (more on the night stairs later).

The stones seen here are the remains of the pulpitum in the nave. The pulpitum is a stone screen used to separate areas within the church. Normally the screen was placed to cut the east end of the church off from the rest of the building, but at Tintern, it was extended into the nave, allowing monks to be isolated from other people during services. The west end of the nave also had a separate area screened by a pulpitum for the lay brothers. I have never heard of such screening in the nave in any other English church, though I have seen them in Spain.

This is the north transept. To the left is a staircase from the early twentieth century. The original stairs would have been used by monks to come into the church for the night time services directly from their dormitory. You can see the remaining wall of the dormitory through the window, which it partially blocks.


The hole in the wall here is one of two original book cupboards in the abbey. The other was filled in years ago. This might seem a little strange to some people, but at a time when each book had to be hand copied by a trained monk (usually) onto prepared animal skins and then bound together, books were expensive! Strangely, the book cupboard is in the cloister, and not in an interior room.
The decaying walls here are part of the remainsof the other buildings of the abbey: kitchen, refectory, dormitories, lavatories, hospital (with its own cloister, kitchen and lavatories) and abbots house, to name a few.

I call this Ye Olde Dishwasher (As a side not 'ye' is pronounced 'the.' The letter commonly miss-transcribed as a 'Y' is called a thorn, and makes the sound of 'th.' The word pronounced 'ye' has never been used as an article). This is a washing area in the refectory (dining hall). The area on the left held water and the right was likely used for storage.
Speaking of the refectory, here it is. You can see ye olde dishwasher to the left of the door. The stairs to the right lead to a pulpit from which a monk would read during meals. You cannot see it, but to the left of the dishwasher is a door leading to a storage room directly opposite that is a pass through that leads to the kitchen.

This is the remains of the warming room. Only this room, the kitchens and the hospital were allowed to have a fire burning in them. This fire was lit on All Saints Day (November 1) and put out in the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25, I think this is the correct date but cannot remember). A large fire would be lit here and monks would be allowed to warm up for only a short amount of time.

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