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Remembering Wordsworth at Tintern Abbey

© By Mike Keenan
  Tintern Abbey As we drive swiftly along the A466 through the Wye Valley now many miles away from Cardiff, the day turns gloomy and moist as a precursor to a sudden arrival at Tintern Abbey just off the roadside, looking quite forlorn and empty as most ruins do.
     Tintern Abbey immediately brings back memories of romantic poetry studied long ago and William Wordsworth who wrote "Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey on revisiting the banks of the Wye Valley during a tour, July 13, 1798" abbreviated thankfully to " Tintern Abbey" or simply "Lines, a poem." Wordsworth loved to gad about, walking throughout the British wilds, and the ruins he encountered had special resonance for him that day as he has just suffered a lost love.
     The Abbey was the only the second Cistercian abbey in Britain, the first in Wales. One of the most spectacular ruins in the country, it annually attracts hordes of tourists who clamber out of buses to snap a few photos. The tiny village of Tintern is close by to the ruins.
     Monks came here from the French diocese of Blois. They followed the strict Rule of St. Benedict. His Carta Caritatis or Charter of Love summarized their basic operating principles, namely: obedience, poverty, chastity, silence, prayer, and work, no easy tasks in any day or age. Nevertheless, the austere Cistercians were one of the most successful orders in the 12th and 13th centuries. Lands were divided into agricultural units or granges, on which local people worked and provided services to the Abbey. Many land endowments on both sides of the Wye River were made to the Abbey.
     The present-day remains are a mixed bag of architecture covering a 400-year period between 1136 and 1536. Little remains of the original buildings. Tintern is laid out with a cruciform plan and an aisled nave with two chapels in each transept and a square ended aisled chancel. The Gothic ruins are constructed in old red sandstone, colours varying from purple to buff and grey.

Tintern Abbey  Tintern Abbey 

     During the Welsh uprising led by patriot Owain Glyndwr against the English kings, Abbey properties were unfortunately destroyed by the Welsh rebels. However, those of you who have been addicted to the CBC series, The Tudors, know that it was randy King Henry VIII in his political struggle with Rome who brought an abrupt end to the traditional monastic life in England and Wales. In initiating his own version of Christianity which became the Anglican faith, Henry established complete control over the church, partly to usurp the considerable wealth of the monasteries. Henry, you will recall, could be quite nasty, and those who displeased him often lost their heads.
     Thus, on September 3, 1536 Abbot Wyche reluctantly surrendered Tintern Abbey to the King and ended a way of life which had lasted four centuries. Valuables were sent to the King's treasury; Abbot Wyche was pensioned off. The building was granted to the Lord of Chepstow, Henry Somerset, 2nd Earl of Worcester. Lead from the roof was sold, and the decay began.
     British painter, J. M. W. Turner, painted the Abbey in 1794. The Wye Valley was well known for its romantic and picturesque qualities and the ivy clad Abbey was frequented even then by tourists. An engraving of Tintern Abbey was among the decorations of Fanny Price's sitting room in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.
     In 1901, the Abbey was bought by the crown from the Duke of Beaufort for £15,000. Ironically, it was the setting for the 1988 Iron Maiden music video Can I Play With Madness.
     Reluctantly, as I vainly try to recall some of the lines from the poem, we press on northward, but now at least, I have established a solid, well not-too-solid (it is a ruin) connection with William Wordsworth. Perhaps I should write my own poem.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

If you go
Tintern Abbey, Wales
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Visit Wales: http://www.visitwales.com/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintern
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Tintern

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