Monastic Wales.

Remnants of Margam Abbey

The former nave of the monks' church is now St Mary's parish church and whilst it was considerably restored in the nineteenth century the west front is a fine example of the starkness and austerity of twelfth-century Cistercian architecture [see photo]. Little remains of the claustral buildings that stood to the south of the church but there are remnants of the polygonal chapter-house [see photo].

The abbey church
Much of the former nave of the abbey church survives for following the Dissolution the six westernmost bays were used as the parish church; the twelfth-century nave comprised eight bays. In the late eighteenth century the site was used as a pleasure garden and the building was neglected but extensive restoration work was carried out in the nineteenth century and today the church once more serves the parish.
Although the church has been heavily restored it still displays the austerity and starkness favoured by the twelfth-century Cistercians, with its unmoulded piers and round-headed arches. The aisles were stone-vaulted and the roof seemingly timber.
The presbytery occupied the east end of the church and was significantly remodelled in the thirteenth century when the chapter-house was rebuilt. The new and extended presbytery was aisled and comprised five bays; large piers were constructed to support a central tower. The fine architecture would have marked a stark contrast to the simplicity of the nave.
It seems that in the mid-fourteenth century parts of the church were floored with glazed tiles.
Decorative roof bosses survive in the east end vault; one bears the arms of the de Clares.

The cloister was accessed via a moulded doorway in the south aisle; it dates from the late thirteenth / early fourteenth century - probably when the cloister was remodelled.

The claustral ranges
Much of the cloister and its ranges were destroyed following the suppression of the house when a secular residence was built on the south-east part of the precinct. The main survival is the polygonal chapter-house which dates from the early thirteenth century. It was accessed from the cloister through a magnificent triple doorway built in the Gothic style; the central doorway was especially ornate with dogtooth ornamentation. The entrance led to a vestibule housed within the the east range. This opened out into a magnificent and perfectly circular room having nine exposed faces; each of these was lit by a lancet window. The vault ribs rose from a central pillar which was supported by twelve triple-respond wall shafts. This survived until the end of the eighteenth century.
The monks' dormitory and toilet block (reredorter) occupied the upper level of the eastern range and ran over the vestibule of the chapter-house.

Nothing more remains upstanding at Margam but there is documentary evidence for a gate that stood to the south east of the church and was destroyed in 1744. To the north west of the church there are remains of a pond and a mill ('Cryke mill'); a chapel ruin on the hill above the abbey ('Cryke chapel') may have been the chapel outside the gate used by pilgrims and perhaps also women.[1]

[1] For further details see D. Robinson, The Cistercians in Wales: Architecture and Archaeology 1150-1540, (London, 2006), pp. 253-261; D. Robinson, ed. The Cistercian Abbeys of Britain: far from the concourse of men, (London, 1998), pp. 138-141.

Monastic sites related to this article

Margam, Neath Port Talbot(Abbey)