Monastic Wales.

Remnants of Valle Crucis

The abbey ruins are now owned by Cadw and include extensive remains of the church and the east range; the south and west ranges survive at foundation level.

The church
The church was cruciform, as was typical, and had a square-ended presbytery and an aisled nave comprising five bays. There were chapels in the transepts and a low tower above the crossing.
Today much of the west front can be seen. It dates from the thirteenth century, c. 1225 x 1240, and was clearly an impressive entrance. The arched central doorway with its dog-tooth carving is of a slightly later date and was built after the fire of c. 1250. The great west window dates from the same time but the rose window above is later. An inscription above reveals that Abbot Adam was responsible for its construction; this was probably the Adam who presided over the monastery from 1330 to 1399.
The lay brother's choir occupied the nave of the church, as was common in Cistercian houses, and was screened off from the monks' choir in the east by a pulpitum. A central doorway provided access from one choir to the other. The pulpitum was originally between the fourth pair of piers and the lay brothers' high altar stood in front of it. Later, in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, the pulpitum was moved one bay to the east. The southern part of the pulpitum survives and includes the stairway which led to a loft where there was often an organ.
The nave likely had a clerestory, that is, a row of windows above the level of the aisle roofs, to bring greater light into the building. The aisle roofs were made of timber but it had seemingly been the original plan to use stone; this was also the case in the presbytery. The aisle walls are original at their lowest level and date from the early thirteenth century; the best examples are in the north aisle.
The monks' choir was below the crossing and was screened off from the nave and aisles, effectively forming a miniature church. The choir stalls were tiered and backed against the screen walls.
The two transepts date from the early thirteenth century, before the fire of c. 1250. The southern transept is in fact the best preserved part of the church with original stone at the base level and mid-thirteenth-century masonry on the upper level. There were two chapels and the altar bases survive in both. The recess in the south chapel was a double piscina - the vessels were washed in one basin and the celebrants' hands in the other. A door in the middle of the south wall connected the church to the sacristy on the east range. To the east of the door there is a cupboard and to the west a thirteenth-century doorway that stood at the top of the nightstairs and led to the monks' dormitory on the first floor. There were also two chapels in the north transept; two aumbries and a piscina survive in the southern chapel. A door in the north wall led to the monks' cemetery whilst a spiral staircase provided access to the tower and was used to carry out maintenance work.
The presbytery comprised two bays. The high altar stood at the easternmost part, raised on a plinth. An aumbrey can be seen in the south wall of the presbytery and has two small recesses for holding the communion vessels.
A processional doorway in the east end of the south aisle led from the church to the cloister.

The cloister
The cloister was south-facing, as was usual, to make optimum use of the heat and light form the sun. The open space in the centre (the cloister garth) was surrounded by covered walkways with open arcades and a lean-to roof, the line of which is indicated by the stringcourse on the masonry below the dormitory window. A rectangular basin (lavabo) can be seen in the south-east corner of the cloister.
The cloister was rebuilt in the late fourteenth / early fifteenth century when the east range was reconstructed.

The east range
The east range is the best preserved part of the monastery for it was converted into a secular residence following the Dissolution. Most of the remaining fabric dates from the rebuilding of the earlier range in the fourteenth / fifteenth century.
The sacristy and library
The sacristy stood at the north end of the range, abutting the south transept, and a doorway connected the two. But the sacristy could also be entered from the round-headed doorway that looks on to the cloister. The sacristy dates from the thirteenth century; it had a barrel-vaulted roof and was lit by a lancet window on the far wall. To the south of the sacristy door is a narrow room fronted by an ornate screen. See photo. This was probably the library and had its own entrance from the cloister.
The chapterhouse
The chapterhouse was entered from the cloister by a central arched doorway. Much of what remains dates from the rebuilding of the range in the late fourteenth / fifteenth century although the north wall dates from the early thirteenth century. The room is square and rib-vaulted. It is divided into three bays, each comprising four compartments. The windows that can now be seen in the east wall are in fact Victorian reconstructions.
Daystairs and passage
A small doorway and stairway immediately to the south of the chapter house led to the monks' dormitory on the first level; these were the daystairs. The stone-roofed passage here probably provided access from the cloister to the infirmary complex. Two corbels survive - one of a female head and the other of a male head.
Monks' dormitory
The walls of the former monks' dormitory date mostly from the late fourteenth / fifteenth century when this was a long, open chamber with beds arranged around the walls. The windows would have been glazed. A doorway in the north wall led to the nightstairs which provided covered access to the monks' choir for the celebration of the night office. A doorway in the south wall led to the toilet block (reredorter); the window to the left opened into the privy.
In the late fifteenth / early sixteenth century the decline in the number of monks meant there was no longer a need for so large a dormitory; the few remaining monks could be accommodated in chambers around the cloister. The dormitory now underwent significant modifications to create sumptuous lodgings for the abbot. A splendid hall was made in the northern part of the dormitory where the abbot could entertain distinguished guests in style. A large fireplace was built in the east wall of the hall. A small rectangular chamber made in the north east corner of the building was the abbot's private quarters whilst chambers for important guests were made in the southern part of the building. Following the Dissolution the building was modified again to make a secular residence; various features and stones were reused but the space was reworked significantly and a larger fireplace was inserted. As a consequence the room as it survives is a mixture of late medieval and post medieval construction.
Latrine block
The monks' two-storey latrine block (reredorter) stood at the south end of the east range and was associated with the first-floor dormitory, and indeed could be accessed directly from it. The privies were on the upper level and ran over a drain below.

The south range
Little now remains upstanding of the south range which was single storey. The lower levels of the walls mostly date from the thirteenth century but the range was modified during the medieval period and indeed following the dissolution of the monastery when the range was converted to farm buildings. The east end of the range may well have been the warming house, or calefactory as it was also known.
The refectory
The south range was dominated by the monks' refectory which stood at right angles to the cloister and seemingly dates from just before the fire of c. 1250. The base of the spiral staircase that can be seen in the far right corner would have led to a pulpitum. This was where the monk stood to read to the brethren while they ate, providing them with spiritual as well as physical nourishment.
The kitchen
The kitchen was rectangular and stood at the west end of the range where it could serve both the the monks' refectory on the east and the lay brothers' on the west; there was probably a hatch in the east wall to serve food directly to the monks' refectory. The building dates from the early thirteenth century and was entered from the cloister. Following the fire in the mid-thirteenth century it was rebuilt and a screen wall was inserted to form two chambers. In the early fifteenth century it was rebuilt again after another serious fire and this time a fireplace was inserted in the south wall; the remains of this can still be seen.

The west range
The west range was a two-storey block and was effectively for the lay brothers'- their refectory was in the southern part of the lower level and their dormitory was above; nothing remains of the latter. With the demise of the lay brothers in the later Middle Ages their refectory was used instead as the cellarer's room.
The west range was not wholly for the lay brothers. There was a parlour beside the refectory. This long, rectangular room provided a place for monastic officials to conduct business with merchants and other visitors and for monks to meet with their friends and family; it may also have been used by the lay brothers when they were not busy working. At the centre of the range was a passage that led to the cloister. In the fourteenth century a stone porch was built onto the outer side of the passage. However what now survives is largely Victorian restoration work. At the north end of the range was the cellar and this now comprises some of the oldest remnants of the monastery although little of the original layout is visible. The base of a staircase that can be seen in the south-west corner likely led to the lay brothers' dormitory on the upper level. A stone-lined drain ran across the centre of the cellar and flowed across the cloister to the lavabo and the monks' toilet block. [1]

[1] See D. H. Evans, Valle Crucis Abbey, (rev. edn, Cardiff 1995); D. Robinson, The Cistercians in Wales: Architecture and Archaeology 1130-1540, Society of Antiquaries of London, Research Committee Report (London 2006), pp. 287-293; The Cistercian abbeys of Britain: far from the concourse of men, ed. David M. Robinson (London 1998) pp. 194-7.

Monastic sites related to this article

Valle Crucis, Denbighshire(Abbey)