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Tintern Abbey & The Devil's Pulpit

Bending the rules just a tiny bit here, but as part of the legend is on the Mercian side of the River Wye I'm sure you won't mind.


Tintern Abbey is a huge ruin sitting on the banks of the Wye, an iconic landmark that still takes the breath away no matter how many times one first sees it. The remains we have today are what is left of the main church which was first started by a Cistercian order of monks during the late 1200s and completed in 1301. Tintern was built in the English Gothic Style with the features you'd expect in that type of architecture - stone roofs, great tree like vaults to take the weight and then buttresses built up against the outer walls to again spread the force of the enormous weight carried by the structure as a whole.


How did such a magnificent building and religious centre end up like this? The downfall began with the Black Death in 1349 as it became impossible for the white robed Cistercians to recruit new lay brothers and workers so the industries owned by the abbey had to be rented out to outsiders. During Owain Glyndwr's rebellion against England abbey lands including mills, forges and farms were seized by the rebels and destroyed. Tintern stood firmly in The Marches, the borderlands along Offa's Dyke that were ruled by independent lords with leave to rule the frontier area virtually as they saw fit. The very name of Mercia derives from this term and also the titles marquis and marchioness. The abbey never recovered financially from these events but kept going for the next 120 years before becoming a victim of the Dissolution under Henry VIII. Most of the abbeys of England were seized and taken for the crown, usually handed over to various lords after being looted of their valuables. Tintern was officially handed over in 1536 with ownership passing to the lord of Chepstow Henry Somerset – who immediately stripped all the lead from the roofs and sold it. With no protection from the elements and no interest in maintenance, Tintern died.


High up on a forested hill on the opposite side of the river, just on the English side, is a curious spur jutting out from the cliff. This is the Devil's Pulpit, it has a stunning view over the valley and looks directly down at the abbey. Legend tells that the Devil himself stood on this rock platform to shout demonic sermons and offer temptations to the white robed monks at Tintern. They apparently gave in to his exhortations and abandoned the abbey, explaining it's state of abandonment.


Another tale tells us that a group of rogue treasure hunters arrived at the abbey at some period in later history, to dig around the orchards that still grew around the ruins. They found two skeletons and seemed very happy with this discovery, setting up a banquet among the crumbling vaults to celebrate. As they began to drink, the sky turned suddenly dark and clouded. Thunder rolled, and a mist began to rise around the abbey. A figure began to form in this fog, a fully armoured knight who began to walk towards the men. The visor on his helm was lifted and his eyes glowed red with menace. As the spectral man at arms clanked closer, smoky figures of monks arose, forming a circle and closing in on the group. As the knight held his arm out straight and pointed directly at them, the hapless treasure hunters fled in terror, turning only to see the mist was now a wind that scattered their things in all directions.


Who these figures were supposed to be is anyone's guess, but even today people still claim to see shapes around the ruins, the classic figures of hooded monks moving among the walls. Several national tabloids ran a story showing a picture of a cowled shape standing in front of the main window, taken by an “urban explorer”, to me it looks like a perfect reflection of the shape of the window behind it...in fact I managed to capture the same “ghost” in one of my pictures. Others claim to have seen rows of monks holding torches.


In any case, Tintern Abbey has a very unique atmosphere of it's own, seeing it's gothic grandeur in weathered, skeletal, ghostly form for the first time is an odd experience. The interior is closed for now but walking around it is fine and a definite must-see if you are in the area. As for the Devil's Pulpit – a demanding walk/clamber will take you up to it through an almost Tolkienesque rocky path through the woods, and you'll be glad you did it.



The main tower and window of Tintern

Tintern Abbey

Looks like I captured the ghost the tabloids were raving about, lower left window. It's a "reflection" of what was once the wooden frame of the window behind it

Tintern Abbey from the river

The view down to the abbey while actually standing on the Devil's Pulpit

The Devil's Pulpit, the view a little obscured during the summer

Handy marker in case the Devil got lost

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