databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Valle Crucis abbey

A window, Valle Crucis abbey
A window, Valle Crucis abbey
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Valle Crucis abbey stands near Llangollen, and what is remarkable about this monastery today is that much of its medieval buildings have survived. Undoubtedly, it was the most important Welsh monastery of the fifteenth century in terms of the provision of patronage for poets (see also Noblemen’s interests: Learning and knowledge). There were two highly cultured abbots during the lifetime of Guto’r Glyn: Abbot Siôn ap Rhisiart (c.1455—61) and Abbot Dafydd ap Ieuan (c.1480‒1503).

Because some of the stone walls have survived, it is still possible to see the rough plan of the abbey. At its heart was the cloister, surrounded by other buildings such as the church, library and refectory. The abbey was first built in c.1201 but was renovated on several occasions, especially during the thirteenth century and in the early fourteenth century.[1] Renovation also took place in the fifteenth century, as noted by the poets.

Guto’r Glyn and Gutun Owain composed poems to Abbot Dafydd ab Ieuan and both note that the architecture and decoration of the abbey were spectacular during his abbacy:

 Eurodd, adeilodd y delwau – a’r côr 
 A’r cerygl a’r llyfrau; 
 Arglwyddwalch i roi gwleddau 
16O fewn cwrt ni fyn nacáu. 
He gilded and constructed the images and the choir,
and the chalices and the books;
a chieftain who does not wish to refuse
to furnish feasts in a court.

(poem 113.13-16)

The plan of the abbey is also described, including the dortur, which was a name for sleeping quarters, and three other buildings (teirteml ‘three churches’):

 Dodes Duw Awdur deirteml a dortur, 
48Dir eglur i dreiglo. 
God the Creator gave three churches and the sleeping quarters,
[and] marvellous land to wander around.

(poem 113.47-48)

It is not impossible that Guto had his own room or bed at Valle Crucis (poem 112.26). As with any other grand house, there is a cellar and a larder in which to store food and drink:

Af i’w seler fry i’w seilio, 
Af, tra fwy’, i’w fwtri ’fo; 
Af at Dafydd lwyd dyfal, 
I will go to his cellar yonder to establish it,
I will go, as long as I live, to his pantry;
I will go to diligent and saintly Dafydd,

(poem 117.35-37)

According to Guto, the abbey stands within a palis irglwyd ‘newly constructed and sheltering fence’ (poem 116.23). This could be a reference to an external wall or a fence enclosing the abbey to protect the buildings and gardens.[2]

As for the fine decoration of the buildings at Valle Crucis, Guto possibly refers to stained-glass windows, Gwydr a plwm yw godre’r plas ‘of glass and lead are the sides of the palace’ (poem 117.46) (see Houses and Buildings: Glass). The ornamental tiled floor is also mentioned: lloriau cyfun ‘... of smoothly fitting floors’ (poem 112.53).[3] However, it is the carved oak roof of the abbey that seems to capture his attention most of all. It is described as a ‘beautiful roof’ (caead hardd, poem 112.34), wide and beautifully carved:

Newyddodd i Feneddig 
Ei dŷ fry a’i do a’i frig, 
Neuadd fawrnadd i Ferned 
A nen y llys a wnâi’n lled, 
Cwyr, clych, cerrig, gwal i hon, 
Cresti mur, croestai mawrion, 
He renewed for St Benedict
his house yonder and its roof and its crest.
A large and carved hall for St Bernard
and the roof of the court he widened,
wax, bells, stones, a wall for it,
the tops of the ramparts, large cruciform buildings,

(poem 112.47-52)

It seems that wood from the nearby hill of Hyrddin was used to create this carved oak roof (poem 112.34). A similar roof dating to the fifteenth century can be seen in St Collen’s church in Llangollen ‒ the most elegant carved-oak roof to have survived from fifteenth-century Wales. Indeed, it was possibly carved by the same carpenter, and local tradition even states that this was the original roof of Valle Crucis abbey (but that is unlikely to be true).[4] Guto notes that it was Abbot Dafydd ab Ieuan who was responsible for this fine work:

 Doe y coroned ei dai cryno, 
 Dug ar ffyniant (da’u gorffenno!) 
 Dwylys â deuled dwy eglwys dewgled 
72Dan Fened neu Feuno. 
Yesterday his fine buildings were crowned,
he brought to prosperity (may he complete them well!)
two courts which are twice as broad as two sumptuous churches
under the patronage of St Benedict or of St Beuno.

(poem 113.69-72)

For further information, see Monastic Wales, Valle Crucis abbey.


[1]: D.M. Robinson, The Cistercians in Wales: Architecture and Archaeology 1130‒1540 (London, 2006), 290.
[2]: G.V. Price, Valle Crucis Abbey (Liverpool, 1952), 88.
[3]: G.V. Price, Valle Crucis Abbey, 88. See also C. Norton & D. Park (ed.), Cistercian Art and Architecture in the British Isles (Cambridge, 2012), 228‒55.
[4]: G.V. Price, Valle Crucis Abbey, 105.
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