Living at Whitland, the Community at Holy Cross Abbey is very aware of the ancient ties of faith and culture in this corner of West Wales. Consequently, from time to time, the Community goes on pilgrimage to visit places with which we have particular associations.
Whitland Abbey Ruins
Whitland Abbey was founded in 1151 by the first Norman Bishop of St David’s, Bernard (1115-48) and monks from Clairvaux. In 1164 the community sent monks to found Strata Florida, then in 1170 founded Strata Marcella and Cwmhir in 1176 followed by Comber 1199 and Tracton 1224 in Ireland These were prosperous years. Sadly, wars resulted in the Abbey’s decline both economically and in the number of monks present. In April 1539 is was suppressed by Henry VIII. (The Cistercian Abbeys of Britain Far from the Concourse of Men Edited by David Robinson 2002 Published by B T Batsford London).
From the photo above there is very little left of Whitland Abbey ruins, there are mostly fragments of the church which is thought to have been built in the traditional Bernadine style. It a place of peace and for us on the other side of the valley a great joy.
In the summer of 2007 we visited the ruins of the Cistercian monastery of Strata Florida, founded from Whitland Abbey in 1164. With its elegant west doorway, fine 14th Century floor tiles and magnificent natural backdrop, it is an evocative site. Here we sang the Midday Office of Sext. We concluded with the "Salve Regina", which we usually sing at the end of each monastic day and when a sister is dying. We sang it in memory of the many monks who lived and died in this place before the Reformation. And there were many, for Strata Florida flourished as a house under royal patronage and it is the last resting place of many princes of the ancient kingship of Deheubarth.
Hywel Dda Centre and Gardens, Whitland
In July 2008 we were invited to visit the Hywel Dda Centre and Gardens here in Whitland. The Centre provides an interpretative commentary on the code of laws known as the "Law of Hywel", which was codified under the leadership of King Hywel in the 10th Century and was the law administered in Wales until the Act of Union in 1536.
Using imaginatively designed gardens and pavements, together with brilliantly coloured illuminated texts, the visitor is offered a wonderful insight into contemporary thinking on the administration of law here in Wales, with a more humane slant on justice for felons and the rights of women. An illumination in deed when compared with Ango-Saxon England over the border: no wonder the King was named Hywel the Good.
The display had recently been expanded to include facsimiles of Penarth 28, a 13th Century book held in the National Library at Aberystwyth. It is thought that the manuscript may have been prepared in the Scriptorium at Whitland Abbey, hence our invitation.
Monasticism in Carmarthenshire & West Wales
On Saturday 18 February 2012 at University of Wales Trinity St David Carmarthen Campus, Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society (Cymdeithas Hynafiaethau Sir Gaerfyrddin) organized a seminar 'Monasticism in Carmarthenshire & West Wales'. M. Christine Wood was invited and presented a paper 'Living a Cistercian monastic life in West Wales in 2012'. (See PDF below)