Set in a meandering section of the Wye River valley about ten miles north of the border town of Chepstow, the skeletal ruins of Tintern Abbey evoke a peacefulness and solitude that is at odds with its turbulent past.
Tintern was the model for the fictional Cymllyn Abbey in The Excalibur Parchment. My monks Thomas and Owain were at the abbey, as was the traitorous Gethin—a Druid leader infiltrating the Christian church.
Tintern itself was abolished by Henry VIII in his dissolution of the monasteries. The lead roof was removed for its value, but the stone skeleton was left. Over the years the magnificent old church deteriorated but still retained a stark beauty. In 1798, the poet William Wordsworth wrote his famous poem “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey”. Interest in the old site picked up and it is now a well-restored ruin and a major tourist attraction.
In the abbey ruins you see the outlines of the various supporting outbuildings—the Abbot’s residence, the infirmary, the monks cells and others. It stands on the banks of the Wye River in a fairly flat area surrounded by hills. It is rich agricultural land and, as you walk around the site, you can easily imagine the hustle and bustle of the monks and lay workers as they tended the crops and animals. You can also understand how this became one of the wealthiest Cistercian monasteries of its age—a wealth Henry was determined to seize.
Standing inside the ruins of the magnificent church with its ornate stone decorations and window shells, you can also let your imagination run wild. I deliberately loaded some medieval chants onto my iPhone, plugged in my earpiece and let my imagination wander the monks deep melodious singing hymns accompanying me as I strolled down the nave.
But in my mind, I was not at Tintern. I was at Cymllyn Abbey with Thomas and Owain as they served and then found themselves challenged with the discovery that the Abbots of Cymllyn had hidden and protected a tremendous icon for more than 700 years—the mighty Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword.
From the ruins, I could see the river down which they escaped. And not too far away, the forested hills into which they fled and, beyond that, the open moorland they had to cross, pursued not only by vengeful Druids but by the soldiers of Lord de Tuberville.
All in all, and evocative, peaceful and contemplative spot.