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Tintern Abbey

Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales

Feature Location Guide

Tintern Abbey is a near complete ruin of a Cistercian monastery. It was the first Cistercian monastery in Wales and the second in Britain. Today its one of our most spectacular ruins.


Prior to the road being put past it this was a remote place, and this probably accounted for its survival when so many other monasteries were used for supplies of stone and destroyed. In the mid eighteenth century it became fashionable to visit 'wilder' parts of the country. The Wye Valley in particular was well known for its romantic and picturesque qualities and the ivy clad Abbey was frequented by 'romantic' tourists. After the publication of the book 'Observations on the River Wye' by the Reverend William Gilpin in 1782, tourists visited the site in droves. The site was best approached from the river until 1822, when a new turnpike road, now the A466, was opened through the valley, cutting through the abbey precinct. The railway brought still more tourists after 1876. An engraving of Tintern Abbey was among the decorations of Fanny Price's sitting room in Jane Austen's, Mansfield Park. William Wordsworth created the poem "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey",  and more than one painting by J. M. W. Turner was based on Tintern Abbey.

The general layout of monasteries follows a standard pattern, but there are variations, some caused by geography, but usually only in minor changes. Tintern Abbey  is unusual, but not unique, in that its back to front, with the cloisters to the north instead of the south. Gloucester is another, and earlier, with a back to front arrangement.

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Its history

Tintern Abbey was founded in 1131 by the Anglo-Norman lord of Chepstow, Walter fitz Richard de Clare. He granted land to a small group of monks from the Cistercian Abbey of l’Aumône,  in the diocese of Blois in France. The position of Tintern Abbey is typical of the remote sites chosen for the monasteries by the Cistercians.

In time, Tintern established two daughter houses, Kingswood in Gloucestershire (1139) and Tintern Parva, west of Wexford in south east Ireland (1203).

The Cistercian monks (or White Monks) who lived at Tintern followed the Rule of St. Benedict, but with more vigar, and less luxury and details in their buildings than the Benedictines. See our article on The development of Monasteries and Abbeys in Britain . The Carta Caritatis (Charter of Love) laid out their basic principles, namely: Obedience, Poverty, Chastity, Silence, Prayer, Work.  With this austere way of life, the Cistercians were one of the most successful orders in the 12th and 13th centuries. The lands of the Abbey were divided into agricultural units or granges, run by lay brothers and on which local people worked and provided services such as smithies to the Abbey. Many endowments of land on both sides of the Wye were made to the Abbey. There is the remains of one of these granges on the side of the entry road into the abbey, opposite the best door of the abbey church (free entry).

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It is thought that at first, the monks probably lived and worshipped in temporary timber buildings, though by the mid-twelfth century they had erected a stone church and cloisters. The community grew and during the first half of the thirteenth century the abbey buildings were expanded. The superb Gothic church that still stands, though in ruins, was begun in 1269. It was consecrated in 1301, almost certainly in the presence of Roger Bigod, fifth earl of Norfolk, who supported the abbey.

The present-day remains of Tintern are a mixture of building works covering a 400-year period between 1136 and 1536. Very little remains of the first buildings,  a few sections of walling are incorporated into later buildings and the two recessed cupboards for books on the east of the cloisters are from this period. The church of that time was smaller than the present building and was slightly to the north.

During the 13th century, the Abbey was virtually rebuilt, first the cloisters and the domestic ranges, then finally the great church between 1269 and 1301. The first mass in the rebuilt presbytery was recorded to have taken place in 1288, and the building was consecrated in 1301, although building work continued for several decades. Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk, the then lord of Chepstow, was a generous benefactor, his monumental undertaking was the rebuilding of the church. The Abbey put his coat of arms in the glass of its east window in gratitude to him.

It is this great church that we see today. It has a cruciform plan with an aisled nave, two chapels in each transept and a square ended aisled chancel. The Gothic church represents the architectural developments of its day in the contemporary Decorated style. The buildings are constructed in Old Red Sandstone, of colours varying from purple to buff and grey. The main church building is 72 metres long.

Image by Roy Parkhouse

In 1326 King Edward II visited Tintern and spent two nights there, while trying to recover the country he was rapidly loosing, he was captured shortly after, the following year murdered at Berkeley Castle not far away in Gloucestershire, although between these dates he had been held in several other places. He was buried in Gloucester cathedral.

The Black Death swept the country in 1349 and it became impossible to attract new recruits for the lay brotherhood. Changes to the way the granges were tenanted out rather than worked by lay brothers show the difficulty Tintern was experiencing with labour shortages. In the early 1400's Tintern was experiencing financial difficulties, due in part to the effects of the Welsh uprising under Owain Glyndŵr against the English kings, and Abbey properties were destroyed by the Welsh rebels.

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On September 3, 1536 Abbot Wyche surrendered Tintern Abbey to the King's visitors, during the suppression of the monasteries, and Henry VIII seized all its land and wealth. The buildings and land were given to Henry Somerset, the Earl of Worcester. Lead from the roof was sold, and the decay of the shell of the buildings began.

He began to rent out parts of the land to local people and soon the area around the abbey was crowded with cottages, workshops and industrial buildings. Iron wire was produced here and further up the valley. The buildings fell into disrepair, and the church was used for playing quoits.

It became a fashionable place to visit some time later as we have covered above and in the nineteenth century ruined abbeys became the focus for scholars, and architectural and archaeological investigations were carried out. In 1901 the Abbey was bought by the crown from the Duke of Beaufort for £15,000. It was recognised as a monument of national importance and repair and maintenance works began to be carried out. In 1914 the Office of Works were passed responsibility for Tintern, and major structural repairs and partial reconstructions were undertaken — the ivy considered so romantic by the early tourists was removed.

On our visit in August 2008, substantial work was being done and two areas were covered with scaffolding, I have decided therefore to show some of my images and some by others when the scaffolding was not present.

J. M. W: Turner 1794 -The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window, pencil and watercolour on paper.

Tintern Abbey from the South East By Roy Parkhouse  
Notice the size in relation to the farmhouse, in the foreground


Image by Tom Pennington

Further information Grid



Tintern Abbey, nr Chepstow, Monmouthshire

Ceremonial County: Monmouthshire

Grid Reference:


Map Link:


Aerial photo: Google Aerial 



Best Times to Visit:

Most times but check opening times. Its also floodlight at least a part of the time, so night shots a possibility from the roadside.




Cadw     PDF Schools handout with plan

Other useful websites:

Wiki  Shef

Nearby Locations:  
Other Relevant pages: Abbey Section, including all major Christian buildings, religious orders, normal layouts and history.


Planning Grid


Tintern Abbey, nr Chepstow, Monmouthshire

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

From England via M4, J21 to M48, J2 to A466  north. From Cardiff take  M4, then J23 to reach  M48. M48 is the old part of the M4 that goes over the Severn Bridge (suspension bridge) rather than over the lower Severn Second Crossing used by most traffic now.


Off side of road, well signposted, or see maps


Free onsite parking


Gift shop, exhibition, wc.

Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Buildings, architecture, views.

What to take:

Tripod, level, wide angle lens.

Nature highlights:

A country location, with River Wye flowing next to site visable from car park


Tintern Abbey




NP16 6SE


When open  01291 689251  
Central all office hours  01443 336000.

Opening times:

Mar-Jun Daily 9.30am-5pm
1st Jul-31st Aug Daily 9.30am-6pm;

1 Sep-31 Oct Daily 9.30am-5pm

Check website for up to date information


Adult - £3.70, Concession - £3.30, family - £10.70

Free to Cadw members and English Heritage members in second year of membership and on, 50% off in first year.

Photo Restrictions:


Other Restrictions: None, other than don't climb on monument
Special Needs Access: Most of the site is level, so access is not difficult, there are perhaps parts that cannot be reached, call if you have specific needs.
Special Needs Facilities: Yes
Children Facilities: Ideal place for children, no obvious dangers but watch children in car park, the large and fast River Wye runs alongside, although it is fenced. Once inside they cannot get to the river.
Dogs Allowed: Guide dogs, otherwise ask. Not a good site for dogs.

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote the Page Ref at the bottom of the Planning Grid above. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Keith Park Section: Abbey and Religious Buildings Key:
Page Ref: Tintern_Abbey Topic: Abbeys Last Updated: 02/2011

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