Architecture and art, Culture and religion, Western Europe

Tintern Abbey – The hidden jewel in Wales

tintern abbey

Tintern Abbey. Image via Internal Program

Deep in the rural countryside of the UK, on the Welsh bank of the river Wye, time forgot how to move forward. Everything is green, people smile and are always in the mood for a talk, and even the river seems in no rush to get to the sea, meandering along the green foothills.

It’s here that you can find one of the most spectacular abbeys in Europe, even though it’s been abandoned for many centuries — they call it Tintern Abbey, and they say it inspires poets.

Ancient History

Tintern Abbey (Welsh: Abaty Tyndyrn) was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow, on 9 May 1131. It’s a mere 30-minute drive away from Bristol, and just a tad more from Cardiff, at the border between Gloucestershire in England and Monmouthshire in Wales. You can also take several buses to the site, although public transportation is notoriously unreliable in the area and you’re better off going by car.

I visited Tintern on a cloudy day. It made for limited visibility but some awesome eerie views. Image credits: Andrei Mihai / ZME Travel.

The White Monks (or Cistercians) who used to live at Tintern diligently wrote down their rules of obedience, poverty, chastity, silence, prayer, and work in the 12th century. Most abbeys strictly followed this simple lifestyle, emphasizing manual labor and self-sufficiency traditionally supporting themselves through activities such as agriculture and brewing ales. The white monks were among the most popular religious orders in the country for over 100 years.

But as years passed and political tensions rose, so did their troubles — and when the plague struck in 1349, they found it almost impossible to find new recruits. But everything went crazy when Henry VIII did his thing, which included a complete dissolution of monasteries; he basically ended monastic life in England overnight, closing down Tintern and many other monasteries. Many metal parts from the roof were sold, and a long decay began.

After almost a thousand years, you can still feel that Tintern was once a carefully arranged place. Image credits: Andrei Mihai / ZME Travel

Pretty much nothing happened at Tintern for two centuries, but in the 1850s, mid-Victorian period, it became fashionable to visit the “wilder” parts of the country and to go exploring. Partly inspired by the book Observations on the River Wye by the Reverend William Gilpin in 1782, tourists flocked to Tintern Abbey. William Wordsworth also published a famous poem, called “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey”, and over the years, several other artists were inspired by the decaying structure.

Tintern Abbey had become a hotspot for artistic and scholarly tourism as well as people that want a reminder of the “old days”. People started to care about how the abbey looked like, and they wanted to at least preserve its structural integrity since the roof had completely fallen down anyway.

Tintern Today

Image credits: Andrei Mihai / ZME Travel.

The interest and fascination have not waned over the years. The Wye Valley is a favorite of many people, with its lovely landscapes and of course, lots of delicious beers and ciders, and Tintern is not a spot to miss. Not only can you visit the abbey and the surrounding archaeological sites (for a hefty price of £5.50; you can visit its surroundings for free), but there are also plenty of footpaths you can follow.

It’s a great place to take your family, it’s a great place to explore the outdoors, you can even do some extreme sports in the area – there’s something for everybody, but the ruins definitely take the crown. They’re impressive, rich in history, and overall, it’s a sight you won’t see in many other places on Earth.


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