“A World Untouched”
Eric Gill, artist
The evocative ruins of Llanthony Priory lie sheltered in the Vale of Ewyas. This priory has a long history that reaches back to the 12th century when a group of monks settled in the valley. Even before they came, the Valley of the Honddu River in the Black Mountains housed a holy spot.
The first hermitage of St David, Wales’ patron saint, is reputed to be here—its 6th century remains were uncovered by William, a knight of Hugh de Lacy, who founded the priory. The remains of St David’s cell were repaired, and the monks built their church. The ancient church was oriented to the rising sun on March 1st, the day of St David’s death. They were officially recognized as a group of Augustinian canons, and the Priory was completed by 1120.
But it was the very remoteness and wildness of the location that proved to be the undoing of Llanthony. In 1135 there was a Welsh uprising that put the Priory under siege. Most of the monks deserted Llanthony for the relative comfort of monastic life in Gloucester where a second Llanthony Priory was established on the River Severn. One of the monks recorded the notion that the Welsh were savages.
Towards the end of the century, around 1175, attempts were made to revive the priory with the replacement of the old church and the building of a new one, whose remains we can enjoy today. But only a few canons lived there during the ensuing years.
At the beginning of the 15th century Owain Glywndwr rebelled against the English, and, in the resulting warfare, much of the priory was destroyed. By the time of the dissolution of the monasteries around 1539, Llanthony was in a ruinous state. The site was sold and passed into private ownership.
The English writer Walter Landor bought the priory in 1808, but was driven out (according to him) by the inhospitable people of the Black Mountains after a few years. Englishmen still considered this to be a lawless territory as late as the 1800’s.
Higher up the Honddu Valley from the priory lie the remnants of a monastery, founded in 1869, by ‘Father’ Ignatius (Joseph Lyne), an Anglican deacon, ordained by a man of debatable credentials. It was a short-lived order. By the time of ‘Father’ Ignatius’ death in 1908—the roofless church and his tomb before the high altar remain—only a few monks were around, and they soon left.
The stone ruins of the crossing tower, the chapter house, the church’s east end and the northern arcade of the nave with its arches all attest to the former Christian community set in the wilds of Wales. Even the unobtrusive hotel and restaurant on the site incorporate the old monastic quarters and vaulted cellars. Surrounded by high moors, this area along the River Honddu is one of peaceful beauty. Llanthony’s romantic ruins enchant the visitors who find their way there today.
(Note: The word ‘Llanthony’ comes from the Welsh words, Llanddewi Nant Honddu, meaning the Church of St David on the River Honddu).
Llanthony Priory is on a minor road (narrow with passing places) northwest of Llanfihangel Crucorney, north of Abergavenny, off the A465.
Photos courtesy Wales Tourism and Barbara Ballard
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