Sacred Places of Wales

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Tintern Abbey and the Wye Valley

Severn Bridge Chepstow WalesMost people come to Southeast Wales via the Severn Bridges, arriving first at Chepstow (Cas-Gwent: Kass Gwent). This is a border region in which the Romans and later the Normans made their presence felt most strongly. The gentle scenery of the Wye Valley and the fertile lands that stretch down to the Severn Estuary shelter a Roman ampitheatre, baths and barracks, ruined abbeys, impressive medieval fortifications and delightful manor houses in which one can relive the days of the Civil Wars. It is here, in the ancient county of Gwent (Monmouthshire) that we begin our pilgrimage.

Tintern Abbey, Wye Valley WalesAs you enter Wales, look for the signs "Croeso i Gymru" (Croyso Ee Gumree) Welcome to Wales, as you cross the River Severn, and have fun reading the bilingual traffic signs. Lovers of Henry Vaughan, the 17th century poet, may notice that the Welsh word for automobile is curiously rendered by the Ministry of Transport as Cerbyd (Kerrbid), the title of one of Vaughan's Welsh poems in which he uses the term to describe a chariot. We soon leave the motorway, however, for it is time to make our first detour: the scenic Wye Valley and Tintern.

Traveling the A466 north, you will soon arrive at some of the most photographed ruins in Britain, those of Tintern Abbey. The abbey is nestled snugly on the banks of the Wye, below the wooded hills made famous by poet William Wordsworth. Originally built by the Cistercians in 1131, Tintern is the most complete of the ruined abbeys of Wales. Much of it was rebuilt between the 13th and 15th centuries at which time it was the largest and wealthiest monastic foundation in the principality.

Tintern Abbey Wye Valley WalesAfter 400 prosperous years at Tintern, the Cistercians left the Abbey at its Dissolution in 1536, at which time all valuable articles were catalogued, weighed and sent to King Henry VIII's treasury. The ruins then decayed in magnificent obscurity until 1782, when Reverend William Gilpin's publication "Observations on the River Wye" began the trickle of visitors to Tintern that became a flood after the paintings of William Turner and the writings of William Wordsworth made the ruined Abbey known throughout Britain.

Today visitors come to admire the greatly decorated church and the exquisite tracery of its windows. Little known is that William Herbert, the first Welshman to address the House of Commons, wanted to establish a college in the Abbey in the 1590's shortly after the Dissolution. The area was also the site of a wire works that lasted from 1566 to 1900, thus making it sacred, to those who study industrial history.

Tintern Abbey WalesAfter enjoying the awe-inspiring remains of the Abbey, the woodland scenery in the hills around Tintern, and paying our respects to those who built the magnificent edifice (and lamenting the depredations of the Dissolution and the Reformation), we retrace our journey to pick up the Motorway M4 at Chepstow.

On the way, you will see perhaps the finest view of the Wye valley with its horseshoe bend and the Severn Road Bridge in the distance. Visit St. Arvans (a mile north of the racecourse on the A466 towards Monmouth) and take the short detour to the Wyndcliff, much beloved by tourists in the last century for its romantic setting. We now head west to enter the town of Newport, the site of our first cathedral.

Next Stop: St. Woolos Cathedral
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