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Talley Abbey

5 1/2m N of Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, Mid Wales
Welsh name: Abaty Talyllychau

Photographs copyright 2002 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

 

Below: general view of the abbey at Talley looking eastwards towards the remains of the crossing tower and the presbytery.

 

Set in beautiful hills, at the head of the Talley Lakes, the abbey at Talley is unique in Wales in being founded for the monastic order of the Premonstratensians, or White Canons. The cannons had a constitution and way of life based on Cistercian lines, even adopting the same white habit, but followed the Augustinian cannons in their undertaking of duties within the parish. The order was well supported in England at the end of the 12th century, and Henry II's chief justiciar, Ranulf de Glanville, was prominent among its patrons. It may have been this man who influenced Rhys ap Gruffydd, the Lord Rhys, in his choice of the White Canons for the new house which he founded at Talley in the late 1180s, a time of peace and concord between the Welsh prince and the English crown. The downfall of Ranulf soon afterwards may in turn had some bearing on the fact that no other Premonstratensian houses were ever founded in Wales, and that Talley was only poorly endowed.

 

 

The princely descendants of the Lord Rhys continued to support the abbey, and his great grandson, Rhys Fychan, was buried there in 1271. The endowments made through the years to the abbey included grants of land both near to Tally and further afield in Ceredigion, Gwent and the Gower, and the rents from the estates brought in much-needed income. Nevertheless, the monastery was never wealthy. Indeed, soon after its foundation, the cannons were involved in an extensive lawsuit against the abbot of the Cistercian house of Whitland, who evidently regarded Tally as a dangerous rival. This may have been the reason for the abandonment of the original ambitious building plan of the church.

 

Below: view from the middle of the nave west towards the modern entrance to the site.

The remoteness, which contributed to the relative poverty of the community, now adds to the peace which surrounds the abbey at its site at the head of the two lakes from which the village takes its name. Much of the monastic building has fallen and now only the abbey church, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist, and part of the cloister remain. The modern entrance leads into the church from the west, but immediately below the entrance gate, the stone footings of walls on the right, and of three pairs of columns ahead belong to the church that was begun but never completed. In the event, only the eastern four bays of the nave and south aisle were actually built higher than foundation level, and of the planned north aisle, only the easternmost bay was built as a small room accessible from the north transept.

Below: view of the later church next to the ruins of Talley Abbey from the abbey nave.
Note the ruins of one of the nave's massive piers in the left foreground.

View from the north transept through a doorway which may have led to the cannons' cemetery (left),
and Stairs leading from the chapel (right).

     

Below: detailed view of the crossing tower at Talley Abbey. Upper passages that ran through the walls can be seen near the top.

 

 

 

     

 

 

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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas