Buildwas Abbey was founded as a Savignac community by Roger de Clinton, Bishop of Coventry, in 1135AD. A small group of monks from Furness Abbey established Buildwas on the banks of the river Severn, making their living by charging travellers a toll for crossing the stone bridge over the river. In 1147, it was merged into the Cistercian order along with all the other Savignac abbeys.
The position of Buildwas made it vulnerable to incursions from Welsh princes who regularly raided from across the border. In 1350, the abbot was kidnapped and ransomed, and in 1406 the abbey was pillaged by the forces of Owain Glyndwr.
Buildwas was only ever a small community, initially home to just a dozen monks. The Black Death later took its toll (as it did with many monastic houses), and by the beginning of the 15th Century, this number had fallen to just four.
Cistercian abbeys also housed lay brothers – un-ordained monks recruited from the peasantry who would carry out the daily work that the ordained, noble-born monks considered beneath them. During the turbulent years following the Black Death, Buildwas was even struggling to recruit these lay brothers. The monks were reduced to renting out their lands, lacking the labour they needed to manage and work the land themselves.
By the early 16th Century, the abbey was once again home to 12 monks, but this figure had fallen again to just 7 at the time of the dissolution in 1536. At this time, the estate was granted to Lord Powys, and the main body of the abbey left to fall into ruin.
Today, Buildwas is one of the best-preserved examples of a 12th Century Cistercian abbey in Britain. Most of the medieval church remains complete, and the ruin is characterised by its distinct Norman nave columns - as striking a sight today as they were in the middle ages. The chapter house at Buildwas also survives in remarkably good repair. Also notable are the vaulted crypt and sacristy.
Buildwas is a fine abbey to visit. The imposing site of the Norman church is offset by the serene setting of the wooded Shropshire valley in which it sits. Visitors are few, and the atmosphere is quiet and contemplative.