On one of the few sunny days in October, I made my way to Tintern Abbey with a party of enthusiastic history students; the visit organised by the U3A History section leader, Keith Bosworth. The coach took only an hour to reach Tintern from Weston-super-Mare via the old Severn Bridge and we arrived in time for morning coffee at the White Monk tea rooms, so named after the Cistercian monk's garment of undyed wool. Tintern abbey is situated in the village of Tintern the Welsh bank of the river Wye in Monmouthshire, which forms the border between Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire.
St Benedict, the founder of the order of Benedictines began his first Monastery in Cassini, Italy in the early 6th century with the rules of obedience, poverty, chastity, silence, prayer and work and "the care of the sick is to be given priority aver everything else; so that they are indeed served in Christ would be served". In the 1st century a breakaway group calling themselves Cistercians accused the Benedictines of indulging in financial and domestic excesses. These Cistercians reverted to a simpler and stricter life and established their first monastery at the Burgundian Abbey of Citeaux (Latin: Cistecium) in 1098. From there they established their first house at Waverly in Surrey in 1128 and three years later on the 9th May, a band of Monks, from L'aumdne, a daughter house of Citeaux, in the diocese of Blois, settled at Tintern on land given to them by Walter Fitz Richard, the Lord of Chepstone-Striguil, and commenced building the Abbey and dedicated it to St Mary. This was the first Cistercian house in Wales. The Cistercians sought to balance liturgical duties by an emphasis on manual labour; this took the form of agricultural work, much of this being done by a class of monk called the converse, or lay brothers.
They often spent short periods of time away from the monastery, living and working in the outlaying parts of the estate in granges or farms. Within the monastery, provision had to be not only made for the monks but also for the lay-brothers. In practice this meant the monks had the east and south sides of the cloister-a four sided enclosure, with a covered walk or alley along each side. Of interest to me was the physic-garden within the cloister and the medicinal herb beds. From a plan of a cloister garden at St Gall, France, in the year 900, the planting plan would follow the seasons.
First roses and lilies and then sage, rosemary and other herbs; doubtlessly the lay-brothers at Tintern would have adhered to the same scheme. A contemporary of St. Benedict describes the cloister as 'close to the infirmary and is very comforting to the brothers, providing a wide promenade for those who want to walk and a pleasant resting place for those who want to rest and those who wish to water the vegetables'. My thanks go to the U3A history group and the Welsh Tourism Office for their help and assistance. Please follow the link below for further information.