Cistercian Archaeology Web Site


Cistercian Abbey at Cymmer, Powys, Wales.

Cymmer was founded in 1143 and was settled with a colony of monks from Whitland. The original settlement was at Dyvanner (now Ty faenor). It seems that the community was unsuccessful at this site and moved to Cymmer just over thirty years later. Cymmer was a gift of land from Cadwallon ap Madog, the chief lord of the Welsh district of cantref of Maelienydd. He was killed three years later by the Marcher lord Roger Mortimer, who then assumed patronage of the abbey. Cymmer was the most remote of all the Welsh Cistercian houses and was described at the beginning of the thirteenth century as situated ‘in a mountainous district remote from parish churches’. The monks of Cymmer Abbey were confronted with a problem of conflicting loyalties: the abbey was endowed by both Welsh and Anglo-Norman lords, and whilst being Welsh through and through, it was important that the monks showed allegiance to the English king. This dilemma caused many problems for the community over the years. In 1228, for example, royal forces burnt one of its granges for supporting the Welsh cause. Three years later, the English army was apparently tricked into an ambush by a Cymmer monk and in revenge Henry II burned one of the abbey granges and levied a fine of 200 on the abbot.

The abbey also suffered from some internal problems. In 1195 the lay-brothers of Cymmer stole their abbot’s horses because he had forbidden them to drink beer. The offending monks were to make their way to Clairvaux on foot and abide by the decision of the abbot of Clairvaux. The abbey was originally intended for sixty monks but, after the Welsh wars, it is unlikely that the abbey was wealthy enough to support such a large community. The economic difficulties of the fourteenth century, alongside heavy damage incurred during the revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr (1401-1402), also greatly impoverished the monastery. In 1535, there was a tiny community of three and an annual income assessed at just 25. The house was surrendered two years later. The site later passed to the Fowler family who defended the property for the royalist cause during the civil war of the 1640s. Despite their best efforts, the house was unfortunately stormed and wrecked in 1644. Modern excavation of the ruins began in the late 19th century.

    The Cistercian's in Yorkshire, Sheffield University


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