Monastic Wales.

Remnants of Neath Abbey

Much of abbey is upstanding with significant remains of the church and claustral ranges which were rebuilt in the thirteenth century, as well as remnants of a gatehouse which stood to the north-west of the site.

The church
Abbot Adam (1266-89) initiated the rebuilding of the church at Neath in the late thirteenth / early fourteenth century, to replace the rather modest Romanesque church that was probably built within the first ten years of the abbey’s foundation; the layout of this earlier church has been recovered. Whilst it's not known for certain when work on the new church began it was certainly underway in 1284 when Edward I visited the abbey and gave a ‘baudekyn’ which was perhaps a canopy for the High Altar.
The church was cruciform in design and over sixty metres in length. There was a narthex or porch (galilee) at the west end of the church and an impressive central doorway church. As was usual in Cistercian churches the lay brothers occupied the nave of the church, which had seven bays, and was separated from the monks' choir and presbytery in the east by a stone screen - the pulpitum. The foundations of this screen survive. A central doorway in the screen provided access to the monks' choir where their wooden stalls were set on stone foundations. The site of the high altar in the east end of the presbytery is marked by stone foundation. The ceiling above this was painted and depicted the arms of kings, the shields of princes and archangels.
Remains of a doorway in the south aisle probably provided access to the infirmary from the church. A doorway in the north transept likely led to the monks' cemetery. There were two chapels here and also in the south transept where remains of the altar bases survive and also of a piscina where the holy vessels were washed. A doorway here led to the sacristy. Remains of the nightstairs can be seen on the west wall of this transept. These stairs provided the monks with sheltered access to their choir from the dormitory, for the celebration of the night office. A fine stone handrail set into the wall here is a rather unusual surviving feature.

The monastic buildings
The claustral ranges which housed the domestic buildings and were arranged around the cloister garth were rebuilt in the thirteenth century. The east range abutted the church and began with the sacristy, where the vestments and holy vessels were kept. A doorway in the south transept gave direct access to the sacristy form the church. The chapter house stood next to the sacristy and was one of the most prestigious buildings in the monastery. The stone-vaulted ceiling was seemingly borne by four central piers; two of these survive. Little remains of the parlour which was adjacent to the chapter house. A large vaulted undercroft was likely the monks' day room and continued to be used after the dissolution of the abbey; hence its preservation. The day room was rib-vaulted and had five bays; the bases and capitals were moulded. The monks' dormitory ran along the upper level of the east range and is regarded as one of the most interesting and impressive medieval buildings in Wales. This was joined to the monks' latrine block (reredorter) by a first-floor bridge.
The south range includes remains of the daystairs, which provided access to the monks' dormitory during the day; and the warming house. The refectory dominated this range and was built in the preferred Cistercian style, i.e. at right angles to the cloister. This allowed for more light and space. The refectory was entered by an imposing entrance which is today marked by the bases of its jambs. Lavers were placed in rectangular recesses on either side of the doorway. The kitchen was adjacent to the refectory although little of the medieval building survives as it was used for industrial work in the eighteenth century.
The west range was separated from the cloister by a lane to keep the lay brothers, who occupied the range, from the monks. The lay brothers' refectory was on the ground floor of the range and likely occupied the four bays at the southern end. The entrance to the cloister stood in the middle of the undercroft - this was essentially a passage to which a porch was added in the fourteenth century. The remainder of the undercroft comprised three bays and was probably used as cellarage. The lay brothers' dormitory was on the first floor of the range and would have been well lit, with windows on either side. Chimneys on the east wall of the building are not medieval and date from its industrial use in the eighteenth century.
Another important remnant is the late medieval abbot's lodging which probably dates from c. 1500. This would have been two or three storeys providing impressive lodgings for the abbots. Following the Suppression the building was converted into a Tudor house and it is now difficult to distinguish medieval from later features.
Remains of the great or inner gatehouse survive to the north west of the site. This was single storeyn and is now roofless. A porter's lodge likely occupied the west part of the gatehouse. A jamb between two large arches indicates where the gates once stood that allowed access to carts and pedestrians. The room to the west of these arches was probably the porter's lodge. [1]

[1] Robinson, Neath Abbey; Robinson, Cistercian Abbeys of Britain: Far from the Concourse of Men, pp. 149-150; Robinson, The Cistercians in Wales; Neath Abbey - Coflein database.

Monastic sites related to this article

Neath, Neath Port Talbot(Abbey)