Fallen in a Thousand Vales
The Afterlife of English & Welsh Monasticism
Medieval Monasteries + Post Dissolution History + Architecture + Antiquarianism + Archaeology
Romantic Inspiration + Gothic Revival
Fallen, in a thousand vales the stately Towers
And branching windows gorgeously arrayed
And aisles and roofs magnificent that thrilled
With hallelujahs, and the strong-ribbed vaults
Are crushed; and buried under weeds and earth
The cloistral avenues — they that heard the voice
Of Rhone or Loire or some sequestered brook
Soft murmuring among woods and olive bowers
And tilth and vineyard, and the Piles that rose
On British lawns by Severn, Thames, or Tweed,
And saw their pomp reflected in the stream,
As Tintern saw; and, to this day beholds
Her faded image in the depths of Wye;
Nor less tenacious of her rights
Stands Fountains Abbey, glorious in decay,
Before the pious Traveller's lifted eye
Threatening to outlive the ravages of Time
And bear the cross till Christ shall come again.
Extract from ‘The Tuft of Primroses’
William Wordsworth 1808
After a thousand years monasticism in England and Wales came to an abrupt end in the mid-sixteenth century.
At its peak two hundred years earlier, there were plenty of people choosing the contemplative life and plenty of the rich seeking salvation through the foundation or embellishment of religious houses. Much of the nation’s wealth was locked into these complexes through elaborate rebuilding, gifts of precious objects, property donations and flourishing libraries of rare books.
Regardless, in just four years all of the eight hundred plus houses were closed and ten thousand people dispersed with the monastic fortune liquidated and passed to the crown.
We are left with echoes of a time dominated by an enclosed elite, their homes repurposed or derelict or obliterated. Some of these foundations still thrive as churches, schools, homes or tourist attractions. Others though have little physical trace, the casual viewer ignorant of their existence.
This is not an account of why they closed or what happened to the people displaced. It focuses on the monastic buildings their stories and their numerous different fates.