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Basingwerk Abbey

1m NE of Holywell, Clwyd, north Wales.

Photographs copyright © 2006 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

Map link for Basingwerk Abbey

Below: approaching the ruins of the abbey from the visitor's center.


Basingwerk Abbey was probably founded in 1131 by Ranulf, earl of Chester, as a 'daughter' of Savigny Abbey in western Normandy. In 1147, however, the Savigniac order merged with the Cistercians, and in 1157 Basingwerk was affiliated with Buildwas in Shropshire, also a former Savigniac house. Much of the plan at Basingwerk follows the standard Cistercian layout, similar to that at Valle Crucis. The monastery was probably on this site by 1157, but may have originally been founded three miles south along the coast, at a place then known as Basingwerk, and, as often happened, brought its name with it to the present site.

During the 13th-century Welsh wars, Basingwerk's sympathies lay with the English; the abbey provided a chaplain for Flint Castle. It apparently suffered little, and by the later 15th century had become quite prosperous, owning extensive estates and entertaining numerous visitors in some style. It was dissolved in 1536, and the remains passed to the Mostyns of Talacre.




Only a little of the 12th-century walling apparently survives, around the cloister and in the east range. Much of the fabric visible today, including the church, dates from the early 13th-century, when the buildings were generally refurbished and extended. The church had seven bays in the nave and two south side chapels in each transept. To its south in the adjoining east range, lay the sacristy, and beyond this the chapter house, which was provided with a vaulted eastward extension which still survives; beside this lay the parlour. To its south the novices' lodgings or 'monk's day room was upgraded, and a warming house added to the end of the range in the 15th century. The entire upper floor would have contained the monk's upper dormitory, with direct access to the choir of the church via a night stair.

On the south side of the cloister, the impressive frater or dining-hall dates from a little later in the 13th century. It was provided with handsome lancet windows at its south end, a pulpit, from which readings were given during meals, and a serving hatch, connecting to its kitchens next door. West of the cloister, little survives of the lay brothers accommodations. This range was probably adapted other uses as the lay brethren became harder to recruit. A detached range of buildings south-east of the main complex has been considerably altered by recent use as a farmhouse, but may occupy the site of an original monastic infirmary.


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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas