Last Photographed: Thursday 13th July 2006
Valle Crucis is a Cistercian abbey, dating from 1201AD. It derives its Latin name (meaning "valley of the cross") from the Pillar of Eliseg - an early Christian cross that stands nearby, erected in 855AD.
The abbey was founded by Madog, who led a group of monks from the motherhouse of Strata Marcella near Welshpool. Work on the church began quickly, but suffered a disastrous setback shortly after the death of its founder in 1236AD, when an extensive fire ravaged the building.
Rebuilding work started immediately, but the abbey suffered another blow when it was dragged into Edward I's campaigns against the Welsh (1276-1277 and 1282-1283). Further damage was caused, but the monks received financial compensation that enabled them to again rebuild and expand during the early 14th Century.
By this time, Valle Crucis was a flourishing community, home to approximately 20 choir monks and 40 lay brethren. However like other monastic communities, it found its numbers greatly reduce when the Black Death struck in the middle of the century.
The abbey was to suffer yet more damage during the uprising of Owain Glyndwr in his campaign against the English between 1400AD and 1409AD. This trouble was short lived though, and instigated the final round of major building work in its aftermath. The chapter house and east range date from this period, and it was also around this time that the abbot chose to add comfortable heated living quarters for his personal use, along with lodging rooms for abbey guests. Although the wealth of the abbey had undoubtedly decreased, the number of remaining monks was few. Nevertheless, Valle Crucis enjoyed a reputation as a supporter of the literary arts, with poets giving praise to its hospitality. The abbey is considered to have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance during its final hundred years of existence.
By the time Valle Crucis was dissolved in January of 1537, monastic life was said to be in decline, but the abbey still remained one of the wealthiest in Wales, second only to Tintern.
Following the dissolution, Valle Crucis fell into rapid decay. However, the eastern range was converted into a house for some time, but it was unoccupied and roofless by the 18th Century.
In Victorian times, many of the buildings were re-roofed and called into service for farming. The abbey eventually passed into the hands of CADW who now look after it for the nation.
Today, the ruins of Valle Crucis nestle gracefully beneath the Berwyn mountains, providing a powerful impression of the secluded beauty sought out by Cistercian monks. The backdrop provides a dramatic and beautiful setting for the ruins, making this one of my favourite historic locations.
The ruins are reasonably well preserved. The west front survives, along with the original carved doorway. The eastern end of the church is also in good condition, where it overlooks the abbey's fish-pond. The chapter house survives complete, and sympathetic re-roofing of the southern range allows the visitor to appreciate some of the monastic interior.
The proximity of Llangollen, with its canal, steam railway and the castle of Dinas Bran, makes Valle Crucis an essential destination for anyone near this area with a day to spare.