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Buildwas Abbey

Intimate Cistercian Abbey in Shropshire, England

 

THE CISTERCIANS IN BRITAIN

BACK TO WALES, CENTRAL ENGLAND AND EAST ANGLIA

 

 

Buildwas Abbey was founded by Roger de Clinton, Bishop of Chester, in 1135.  The founding monks were drawn from the Norman Abbey of Savigny, a reformist Abbey and later order founded by S Vitalis around 1112, and expanded successfully by Abbot Geoffrey between 1122 and 1139.  By 1147 the order had over 15 daughters in the British Isles in addition to as many again back in Normandy.  However, things were not going smoothly administration wise, and in 1147 the Savignac order, impressed by the success of the Cistercians and in particular by Saint Bernard, voted to be absorbed into the Cistercian Order.

 

So when the building of the stone abbey got underway in the 1150s under the gifted Abbot Ranulf (1155 - 87), it was to the Cistercian template that they turned, except that because of the lay of the land, the monastery buildings adjoined the north wall of the nave rather than the south, which was the normal (Cistercian) practice.

 

Lands were built up, and at one stage in the late 1200s, the Abbey is recorded as sending the wool clip from over 5,000 sheep to Italian merchants for processing in centres such as Florence. 

 

The terrible 1300s had a even more dramatic impact on Buildwas than many other Cistercian Abbeys.  A prosperous, successful and influential place at the beginning of the Century, by its end and in the wake of the Black Death of 1349 (in Shropshire) there were only four choir monks left. Things did not get much better in the 1400s, and the Abbey was handed over to Henry VIII in 1536, then passed into a chain of private owners intent on making the Abbot's residence their country house.  The abbey site was eventually  turned over to the government for safe keeping in 1925 and is now administered by English Heritage.

 

This is a really interesting site, because what you are seeing is the Abbey Mk I (Romanesque), not rebuilt Mk II (Gothic) as is often the case (for example Tintern)  

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The south side of the nave (top) and (above) a view from the south side through the church to the chapter house (east) side of the cloister square.

Looking towards the east end of the nave, again with the doorway to the chapter house on the left.
Classic Cistercian vaulting and columns inside the chapter house

Looking north across the transept and crossing - the stairs from the monks' dormitory area above the chapter house can be seen right of centre.

The abbey church and monastery site from the NW corner of the cloister square.  The foundations of the lay brothers' refectory and dormitory are on the right.  After the black death lay brothers became extinct because of the general labour shortage, and the Cistercians had to resort to renting out rather than managing and working their lands.  In the detail below the roof lines of the monks' dormitory (left) and nave (right) can be seen on the tower structure.

The (Commendatory?) Abbot's residence, now the social club for the nearby Ironbridge power stations

 

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All original material Adrian Fletcher  2000-2014 - The contents may not be hotlinked, or reproduced without permission.