Llantarnam Abbey: stained glass in the nuns' chapel

Llantarnam Abbey

A modern religious community on the site of a medieval Cistercian abbey.

Llantarnam Abbey: the nineteenth-century mansion

Grid reference on route: ST 30958 92505

Llantarnam Abbey was founded in 1179 by Hywel ab Iorwerth, Welsh king of Caerleon, as a daughter house to Strata Florida. The community may have moved site at least once before settling in their final location. Some early documents describe it as ‘Caerleon Abbey’ but there is no evidence that it was ever in or near the town of Caerleon. Its position at the southern and eastern extremity of Hywel’s territory at the high point of the twelfth-century Welsh revival suggests that politics may have been involved in its foundation. The gift of extensive tracts of debatable frontier land to an emphatically Welsh foundation served to keep them in Welsh hands and created a buffer zone against the inevitable Norman drive to the west.

More about the history of the abbey at http://www.monasticwales.org/site/29 .

Nothing visible is left of the medieval buildings. The site seems to have been comprehensively redeveloped by William Morgan, who bought most of the abbey’s lands after the dissolution. This is ironical, as he was one of the most devout Catholics in the county. The house was completely rebuilt again by Reginald James Blewitt in 1834-5. The barn near the visitors’ car park may be medieval, but some experts have suggested that it is more likely to be seventeenth- or eighteenth-century. Archaeological excavation has located the tentative outline of the medieval abbey church and cloister and the foundations of the great gate which separated the inner precinct from the world. Pilgrims visiting the abbey would not have had access to the monks’ church, but would have been accommodated in a guest house (possibly on the banks of the Afon Llwyd) and might have had a separate chapel.

Reginald Blewett’s house has been occupied since 1946 as the provincial headquarters of the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy. Genuine pilgrims are welcomed at the Abbey whenever possible. There is a flourishing retreat centre, and it is always worth contacting the sister in charge.

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