Taking its Latin name from the ‘vale of the cross’ – the cross being nearby Eliseg’s Pillar – Valle Crucis stands in a lovely valley at the foot of the Horseshoe Pass. This best-preserved of all North Wales monasteries was founded in 1201 by the local Welsh ruler Madoc ap Gruffydd, for the white-robed Cistercian monks whose rule directed that they settle in such isolated places. The shell of their magnificent cross-shaped abbey church is nearly complete, its west front (facing the road) displaying triple pointed ‘lancets’ with a lovely circular wheel window above. The east front – overlooking the only surviving monk’s fishpond in Wales – is still more distinctive, with a beautiful arrangement of five-pointed windows framed by curving buttresses.
The abbey was a prosperous one, the second richest (after Tintern) in all Wales. Its wealth is reflected in the well preserved east range of the cloister, rebuilt in the finest quality stone after a 15th-century fire. Here the serried rank of arches leads to the sacristy; the ‘book-cupboard’ or library with its traceried screen; and the ‘chapter house’ – the meeting room where monks assembled daily to hear a ‘chapter’ of their rule readout. The chapter house is one of the most beautiful parts of the abbey, with ribbed roof vaulting and fine traceried windows. Above is the monk’s dormitory, connected at one end to a first-floor communal lavatory and at the other to the ‘night door’ through which monks processed to their 2.00 am ‘matins’, one of the eight services a day they were required to perform. Here too are displayed a collection of monuments to local Welsh nobles, including the splendid sculptured slab of Madoc, great-grandson of the founder and great-grandfather of Owain Glyndwr.
Well worth a lengthy visit aided by the guide book) Valle Crucis will provide a telling insight into the lives of the monks whose influence on medieval Wales was so strong. It is truly one of the greatest treasures of Medieval Denbighshire.
Open May – September
10.00 am – 5.00 pm daily. Entrance charge.
In winter, free access to the grounds at all reasonable times.
Valle Crucis Abbey: CADW
The chapter house, Valle Crucis Abbey: CADW