Monastic Wales.

Remnants of Basingwerk Abbey

The layout of the church and monastic buildings at Basingwerk was fairly typical for a Cistercian house - a cruciform church and a south-facing cloister. This plan had been set by at least the mid-thirteenth century. Much of the site has been excavated and the outlines of the precinct are visible on the turf. Standing remains date mostly to the thirteenth century and incude the church, chapter house and refectory. But there are some earlier, twelfth-century remnants, namely the cloister walls and parts of the east range.

The church
At just over fifty metres in length the church at Basingwerk was relatively modest for a Cistercian church. Originally there was no western processional doorway but this was added later. The lay brothers' choir occupied the nave of the church, as was common, whilst the monks' choir was in the east; the High Altar lay beyond this. Following the dissolution of the abbey in the sixteenth century the monks' timber choir stalls were removed to Chester, to the church of St Mary on the Hill. Traces of the monks' night stairs can be seen in the south transept. They provided sheltered access to the choir from the dormitory, for the night office of vigils. During the day the monks entered the church through the processional doorway in the south aisle of the nave.

The monastic buildings
All the buildings necessary for daily living were arranged around the cloister, in ranges. The covered passages or alleys that bordered the open space (garth) were at first fronted by open arcades but later, in the fourteenth century, were replaced with trefoil-headed arches.
The eastern range abutted the church and began with the sacristy, where the vestments were kept and the celebrants robed. Next to this are the remains of the chapter house where the community gathered each morning to discuss monastery affairs and deal with any disciplinary matters. The chapter house at Basingwerk was extended eastwards in the thirteenth century and this new stone-vaulted area was entered via an arched vestibule. Beside this was the parlour or slype, which was the one place where a little necessary conversation was allowed. The parlour may also have served as the prior's office. The parlour was entered from the cloister and there are remains of the early-thirteenth-century doorway; there was also a doorway in the east.
A room thought to have been the monks' day room was adjacent to the parlour and beside this a four-bay chamber that was built as an extension to the range, probably in the mid-thirteenth century. It was expanded and renovated in the late fifteenth century when a fireplace was built and from this time it may have been used by as the abbot's private lodgings. The monks' dormitory occupied the upper level of the east range and was lit by lancet windows, three of which survive. It was accessed via stairs in the south-east corner of the cloister which were known as the day stairs; the base of the stairs survives.
The monks' refectory was originally housed within the southern range but later, in the mid-thirteenth century, it was rebuilt in the new style favoured by the Cistercians. It now projected outwards from the cloister, which provided more space and light. The refectory extended over twenty metres in length and had a timber roof. It was lit by lancet windows and was evidently a striking building. Several interesting features survive in the northern part of the refectory. On the east wall the remains of a cupboard can be seen and this was evidently shelved within. Opposite, on the west wall, is a hatch which would have been used to pass food from the kitchen to the servers. Little now remains of the kitchen which stood adjacent to the refectory although there is evidence of a fireplace and drain on the south wall. Almost nothing survives of the west range which would have accommodated the lay brothers.

The building to the southeast of the cloister is thought to include some medieval features and it may have served as a hospice. However its date and use are not known.

Following the dissolution lead from the abbey buildings was taken to repair the castle at Holt, and some was transported to Ireland for use at Dublin Castle. Basingwerk gradually fell into ruin. [1]

[1] Robinson, Basingwerk Abbey (2006); Robinson, Cistercians in Wales (2006); Basingwerk Abbey, Coflein database.

Monastic sites related to this article

Basingwerk, Flintshire(Abbey)