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Cistercian Abbeys: VALLE CRUCIS

Name: VALLE CRUCIS Location: nr Llangollen County: Denbeighshire
Foundation: 1201 Mother house: Strata Marcella
Relocation: None Founder: Madoc ap Gruffydd Maelor
Dissolution: January 1537 Prominent members:
Access: Welsh Historic Monuments – open to the public

Valle Crucis west front
© Stuart Harrison
<click to enlarge>
Valle Crucis west front

Valle Crucis was founded in 1201 by Madoc ap Gruffydd (d. 1236), ruler of the Welsh principality of Powys. The abbey was named after the ‘Valley of the Cross’, the lush green landscape in which it was situated. The valley itself took its name from the ninth-century Pillar of Eilseg, a memorial cross which stands near to the site of the abbey. This was built as a monument to the glories of the former kings of Powys, whose armed intervention contributed to the maintenance of Welsh independence after the Norman Conquest of 1066. During the Middle Ages, Valle Crucis Abbey was also known as the abbey of ‘Llanegwestl’, from the original Welsh name for its site. Thirteen monks and an abbot arrived from Strata Marcella, near Welshpool, and building work began almost immediately. The monks were granted access to extensive grazing lands for their flocks and herds on the granges at Mwstwr and Buddugre and also held arable fields, water meadows and woodland areas. The abbey had a comfortable income, although it is doubtful if the number of monks increased from the original thirteen. A few years after the foundation, the General Chapter of the Cistercian Order reprimanded the abbot of Valle Crucis, along with those of Aberconwy and Caerleon, because it was reported that they rarely celebrated Mass or even received the Holy Eucharist. It seems that the community lived a lifestyle bordering on luxury. In the fifteenth century Guttyn Owain praised the hospitality of the abbots, remarking that the table was usually spread with four meat courses served in silver dishes and accompanied by ‘sparkling claret’. During the late fifteenth century the monks' dormitory was completely taken over to be used as a grand set of apartments, in which the abbots must have lived in semi-secular comfort.

The abbey suffered some misfortunes throughout the centuries. Some time during the first fifty years of its existence, and before the abbey could be completed, a disastrous fire swept through the monastery, necessitating considerable reconstruction. Evidence of the damage can still be seen on the lower stonework, which was stained deep red by the fire. During the Welsh wars of King Edward I, in 1276-77 and 1282-83, the abbey suffered at the hands of the English and the buildings were significantly damaged. In 1284, Valle Crucis was granted £160 by way of compensation for the losses incurred. Some scandal surrounded the last years of the monastery. In 1534 the penultimate abbot, Robert Salusbury, was accused of many crimes and excesses and the following year was arrested for his part in a highway robbery. At the time of the Dissolution the abbey had a net annual income valued at £188 and the monastery was finally surrendered in January 1537. Following the Dissolution, the site passed to William Pickering and later to the Wootton family. The church soon fell to ruin, but the east range was converted into a dwelling house. The house was later used as a farmhouse and continued to serve as such into the nineteenth century. In 1950 the property passed into the care of the government and today is managed by Welsh Historic Monuments. Extensive remains include the church, the east range of the claustral buildings and the foundations of the south and west ranges. The site, noted for its great natural beauty, is accessible to the public and can be visited at all reasonable hours.