More than one great artist has immortalized the secluded vale, where, on a bend of the Wye and surrounded by wooded hills, the ruins of Tintern Abbey stand. The somber-looking heights, which close in to the east and west, create the atmosphere of loneliness and separation from the world so sought after by the Cistercian monks, who doubtless found inspiration in the grandeur of the surrounding mountains and in the peacefulness of the sweet valley below. Tho the church of the Early English abbey is roofless and the central tower gone, the noble structure, with its many graceful arches, seems to attest to the spirit of religious fervor and devotion so intimately associated with the history of its gray and lichen-covered walls.
The finest part of the ruins is undoubtedly the church, which, with the exception of the roof and the north piers of the nave, still stands complete. It has a nave of six bays with aisles, a choir of four bays with aisles, the transepts with eastern aisles having two chapels. A transverse Galilee stood formerly beyond the western entrance. In the north transept are remains of the dormitory stairs, and on this side the cloisters, too, were situated. The aumbry, parlor, sacristy, chapter-house, slype to the infirmary, day-stairs to dormitory and undereroft were on the east side of the cloisters; the postern and river gate, over which was the abbot’s lodge on the north side, and also the buttery, refectory, and kitchen. The delicacy of design and execution to be seen in the ruins is unrivaled in the kingdomthe tracery of the windows being particularly fine. The ruined church possesses the grace and lightness of architecture peculiar to the twelfth century, and is, even in its decay, of truly sublime and grand proportions. Time has been unable to obliterate the skilful work of our forefathers, for the Early English transition arches, the delicate molding, and the exquisite stone tracery in the windows still delight the eye.
The history of Tintern is almost a hidden page in the chronicles of time. On the surrender of Raglan Castle to the Cromwellian troops by the Marquis of Worcester, the castle was razed to the ground, and with it were lost the abbey records, which had been taken from Tintern when the abbey was granted to the Marquis’s ancestor by Henry VIII. It is known, however, that the first foundation on the site was in the hands of a cousin of William the Conqueror, Richard Bienfaite by name. He founded the abbey in 1131, and was succeeded by his nephew, Gilbert “Strongbow.” His granddaughter Isabel married the then Earl of Pembroke, and her daughter, marrying Hugh Bigod, brought the estates to the ducal house of Norfolk.