Hidden away in the Cothi Valley are the ruins of an abbey, but this one has a slightly different history to any of the other monasteries in Wales. Talley Abbey was founded by the White Canons, the Premonstratensians. I have to admit that I’ve never heard of this order before, but I’ll try not to feel inadequate though, but this was the only site on Wales that this order occupied, though there were a number of monasteries in England. The Premonstratensians were influenced by the Cistercian order and even adopted their white habit. But they follow the activities of the Augustinians in that they are not monks but Canons Regular, and their work often involves preaching and the exercising of pastoral ministry, frequently serving in parishes close to their abbeys or priories (1).
The abbey was originally founded by founded by Rhys ap Gruffydd in or about 1185, and he in turn may have been influenced by Ranulf de Glanvil (2) in his political desire to ‘keep on the good side’ of the English. Something he was good at. Even though the Abbey was sited in a rural and isolated spot, not all peace in the vale and Talley Abbey had a turbulent history. Early in its history the canons had to defend themselves against the ambitions of the nearby Cistercian abbeys of Strata Florida and Whitland. Sometime between 1193 and 1202, Peter the Abbot of Whitland sought to take over the abbey by appropriating its estates and tempting the canons away from Talley (2). Whitland almost succeeded, but not quite and after an expensive battle the White Canons returned to Talley. But they never really recovered financially. Despite continued endowments from the Princes of Deheubarth after Lord Rhys’ death, it seems that the close association between the Abbey, it’s Welsh canons and the Princes may not have been in it’s best interests. Especially after Edward I’s successful campaign in subduing Wales in the 1370’s. Money always seemed to be short, and there is a hint that this was partly due to misappropriation of funds by the canons, but the original ambitious plans to build a large church had to scaled down. On at least 3 occasions during it’s lifetime the Abbey was taken in Royal Custody due to debts (2,3). But they couldn’t have all been bad, Iorwerth, abbot of Talley, was elevated to the see of St David’s in 1215 and continued in office until his death in 1229. He was buried in St David’s Cathedral where his tomb effigy can still be seen. Or maybe he was a more successful political worker than the others.
During Owain Glyndwr’s war of independence, or rebellion depending upon which side you were, the Abbey’s close association with the Welsh cause didn’t do it any good. Around 1410 the war trundled into the quiet valley and the Abbey was ‘despoiled, burned and nearly destroyed’ by the English. Almost 10 years after the war ended, one of the canons Mathew ap Llewelyn Du was still being sought for treason against the crown (2,3). Despite the suppressive English rule, rebellion was seen at all levels of the community.
Financial solvency continued to be a challenge. In 1536 the Valor Ecclesiasticus estimated Abbey to have an income of only £135 (3). This put it firmly in the minor league and 1 year later in 1536 the Abbey was suppressed and duly dissolved as part of Henry VIII’s argument with the Catholic Church. The valley is remote today, and off the main roads, but that does not detract from the beauty of the site. There is not much left today, and after the dissolution the locals mined the abbey to build their houses.Next to the Abbey is a small church, dedicated to St. Michael. This was rebuilt in 1773, having fallen into decay, principally using stones from the ruins of the ancient abbey. It is unusual for Welsh Churches, and is strongly of a Grecian style (4).
Today it stands out proudly with its whitewashed walls, and ordered graveyard on the shores of two small lakes. The Welsh name for Talley is Talyllychau, meaning ‘head of the lakes’. In between the lakes is a narrow bar, and the English built a Motte and Bailey Castle onlåy. Now the old castle and the lakes form a nature reserve.
- Premonstratensians. Wikipaedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premonstratensians. (accessed 29-Aug-2017).
- Rees, S. (1992) A Guide to Ancient and Historic Dyfed. HMSO:London.
- Burton, J. (2015) Abbeys and Priories of Medieval Wales. University of Wales Press. Kindle Edition.
- Talley. Genuki. http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/CMN/Talley. (accessed 29-Aug-2017)