Remains of Basingwerk Abbey, near Holywell

Remains of Basingwerk Abbey, near Holywell

Here you can see what is left of Basingwerk Abbey, including remnants of benches where monks sat for hours on end!

The abbey was founded by Earl Ranulf II of Chester in 1131. It belonged to the order of Savigny, which joined the Cistercians in 1147. Patrons included Llywelyn Fawr (Prince of Wales) and King Edward I.

Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Gerald of Wales spent a night at the abbey in 1188 as they toured Wales to recruit for the third crusade. When approaching Basingwerk from St Asaph, they passed an area where mines went far underground. Gerald noted the presence of a rich vein of silver. Continuing towards Chester the next morning, the party rode – nervously – over quicksand and passed the forest of Coleshill (“hill of coal”), where Gerald noted that King Henry II had tried to invade Wales in 1157 but didn’t listen to local leaders.

After rebuilding works in the 13th century, the abbey complex included a church, a hospital, a refectory and guest accommodation. The main monastic buildings were grouped around an open square. The abbey’s property then included the nearby St Winefride’s Well, mills and farmland. Abbey buildings were damaged when King Edward I fought the Welsh. Afterwards he paid compensation.

In the 15th century, the abbey had a resident bard, Guto’r Glyn, possibly Wales’ greatest ever writer of poetry praising noblemen. During that century and into the next, Thomas Pennant, abbot of Basingwerk, was a noted patron of poets. He also restored the buildings, after a long period of neglect, but the abbey was dissolved in the 1530s on the order of King Henry VIII.

Valuable items were removed. Some of the lead went to Holt Castle, near Wrexham, and some to Dublin Castle! It’s thought that stained glass from the abbey is still visible at Llanasa parish church. Some of the abbey’s lands passed to the Pennant family (descendants of the abbot), which included the 18th-century travel writer Thomas Pennant.

Today the ruins are listed Grade I and in the care of Cadw. Nearby are the entrance to Greenfield Valley heritage park and a mural denoting the start of the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way.

Postcode: CH8 7GH       View Location Map

Basingwerk Abbey on Cadw website

Greenfield Valley website

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