St Dogmael's Abbey was founded as a priory by Robert fitz Martin on the site of a pre-Norman monastery around 1115AD. He came to Wales from northern France with a group of twelve monks of the Order of Tiron. It was raised to the status of an abbey in 1120AD, by which time there were two dozen monks in residence. It remained under the rule of Tiron until its dissolution in 1536AD.
St Dogmael's was the only Tironian house to be founded in Wales or England. Although a number of abbeys were established in Scotland, these eventually broke away to form their own order. Unusually, Tironian monks were expected to be skilled craftsmen, allowing them to practice such skills as carpentry and blacksmithing. Nevertheless, they were still subject to the strict rule of St. Benedict, and the majority of their daily life was taken up by prayer and devotional activities.
Although domestic dwellings were soon established, the abbey church was not completed until the mid thirteenth century. This was a time of prosperity for the monks, but the fortunes of the abbey were soon on the wane. By 1402AD when the Bishop of St. David's visited, St. Dogmael's was suffering from serious financial decline. The plague had devastated its numbers, and only four monks remained in residence. The bishop found these monks living decadently, drinking in the local taverns and consorting with women - practices which he swiftly curtailed.
By the sixteenth century, the abbey's fortunes had improved somewhat, but by the time of the dissolution, there were still only eight monks in residence.
Today, the ruins of St Dogmael's abbey sit nestled in a quiet corner of the small Welsh village that shares their name. Despite the proximity of local buildings, they intrude little upon the setting. Few of the abbey's structures remain, but the site still makes for an intersting visit. The north nave wall of the abbey church is still standing along with much of the north transept, as is the infirmary building and some of the chapter house. An interesting feature is the remains of an unusually placed crypt at the east end of the church, behind and below the presbytery, which it's believed may have housed the relics of St.Dogmael.
Next to the abbey, there is an information centre featuring a small cafe, shop and exhibition containing a collection of inscribed stones and crosses. This is built and funded by the local community, and offers a pleasant respite when the Welsh weather takes a turn for the worse.
Update (04.04.2012): Updated gallery with photographs taken during better weather in the summer of 2011.