Monday, 1 February 2010

"Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang"

Some photos today of the ruins of nearby Tintern Abbey, a few miles up the road from here. I’ve always found it a melancholy place, haunted by its past glories, but it was good to spend an hour or so there on a recent cold and sunny late January afternoon before adjourning for coffee and then on to a local bookshop.

The otherwise rather good guide book to the Abbey (published by CADW, the body responsible for Welsh “historic monuments”) repeats the now rather exploded mythology about the spiritual exhaustion of the monasteries in the early Tudor period, yet does admit that Cistercian spirituality was still very much alive and even thriving at Tintern itself.
 The abbey was handed over to Henry VIII’s commissioners on 3rd September 1536. Its still impressive ruins stand not only as a witness to the ages of faith and their enduring legacy but also to the greed and cruelty of those, in tune with the spirit of the age, who seek to destroy and tear down for their own material profit. It is an uncomfortable feeling, but perhaps at this juncture a salutary exercise - something necessary, to confront one’s own historic complicity (even if only by default after nearly five hundred years) in such an act of barbarism.
Ut unum sint.

“Draw near and behold how all is made desolate: and how the enemy hath destroyed all that is in thy sanctuary.”

The modern statue of Our Lady of Tintern by Philip Chatfield


  1. Thank you for this post. I live near Hereford and visit Tintern regularly. My response to being there is much as yours - sadness and regret at all that has been lost and wondering about the lives of the men who lived there for so long. The guide book does tend to distance us from it all. Listening to the comments of other, often young visitors there is no sense or understanding that the monks who entered the life there were just ordinary welsh and english men just like us. Not some foreign and exotic breed. How sucessful has been the project to seperate us from that faith.

  2. I also experience such feelings of melancholy when visiting these ruins. I often wonder who was the last priest to say Mass at that altar? What happened on the last day that the abbey functioned as a community? What was the reaction of the locals to the destruction of the abbey?


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