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No. III.-JULY, 1846.
LLANTHONY PRIORY, MONMOUTHSHIRE.
ALTHOUGH Llanthony was founded at the commencement of the twelfth century, and flourished only thirty years, there is no other monastic establishment, within our knowledge, which possesses the advantage of a contemporaneous history from several hands. Indeed, remote as was this priory from the world, yet the fame of its first establishment, and the singular circumstances connected with its desertion, neglect, and decay, seem to have made a deep impression upon an age, when religious fear, amounting to superstition, began to exact from the feudal system a compensation for wrongs inflicted by a mailed hand upon English freedom.
In the many works which have, incidentally or purposely, touched upon Llanthony, we have not hitherto met with any succinct and satisfactory account of its foundation, derived from these authentic sources; fragments, indeed, from one and the other have been inserted in the county histories both of Gloucester and Monmouth, and are to be found scattered about the pages of tourists from Wyndham down to Roscoe. No apology, therefore, need be required for an attempt to elucidate the early history of a conventual house, which lays claim to the deepest interest, both on account of its situation, its origin, its architecture, and its singular destiny.
The authorities are these : 1. “The Mirror of the Life of the Venerable Robert de Betun,
Bishop of Hereford, by William de Wycombe.” Robert was Prior of Llanthony up to the year of his consecration to the see of Hereford, 1131, and his biographer William, one Prior only intervening, succeeded to the same office in 1137.
ARCHÆOL. CAMB. VOL. 1.]
2. A Latin manuscript in the Cottonian Library, under the title of Julius, D, ii. fol. 30. b. purporting to have been written by a monk belonging to the house, and entitled :“ The Monastery of Llanthony, of which the beginning was first
in Wales, but afterwards transferred to the neighbourhood of Gloucester. The history of its foundation and subsequent
removal.” From internal evidence we fix the date of this author during the time of Clement, who succeeded William de Wycombe, the biographer of Robert; consequently he flourished for the greater part of the twelfth and at the commencement of the thirteenth century. His account commences 1103, and ends about 1203. It is a very small book, about six inches by three inches, the leaves shrivelled up, and otherwise shewing traces of the fire which injured the Cottonian Library. Extracts are given in Dugdale's Monasticon. The history of Llanthony occupies the latter half of the book, commencing at page 31, with these words: “Sæpe et multum cogitanti.” The extracts in Dugdale commence at leaf 32, reverse side, second line: “Benedictus Deus qui vult.” The table of contents is not given in Dugdale, but is as follows:
P. 31, rev. last line. “Explicit plogus. Incipiunt capitula. libt I.
.... pore quarto.
De impedimtis & -iis p-u
The original author seems to have finished his chronicle with the name of Galfrid, the seventh Prior, who, as will be seen, was consecrated Bishop of St. David's, A.D. 1203; for the rest of the MS. is written in a modern hand, and the catalogue falls under suspicion. It should be observed that the MS. itself is in a much injured state.
3. Giraldus (Cambrensis) de Barri, dedicates a chapter in his Itinerary to a description of Llanthony and its history, although Archbishop Baldwyn with his companions passed to the north-west of the abbey, without visiting the vale in which it lies. But the church was situated within the archdeaconry of Brecon; and perhaps Giraldus was unwilling to omit noticing a place so celebrated, under his own jurisdiction, and only removed a few miles from his residence at Llandell, near Brecon. The Itinerary was written A.D. 1188.
I. THE SITUATION OF THE PRIORY.— The deep vale of Ewyas, surrounded by the Hatterell Hills, which belong to the chain of the Black Mountains, lies secluded in the extreme northern angle of Monmouthshire. The monk of Llanthony, in describing it, before the abbey was built, dwells with much delight upon its wild and rugged character. The broken rocks scarcely afforded a safe footing for the swift, light-footed deer. The mountains were clothed to their tops by lofty trees, and under their shade, sunk as it were into a narrow deep abyss, the middle of the valley was always inclement from the snows in winter, and from a deluge of rain in summer.
The torrents, descending from the hills, tore away masses of rock, uprooted the trees, and choked the narrow passage through the glen. Giraldus admits the boisterous state of the weather, and the ungenial nature of the climate; but is not inclined to condemn the spot as unhealthy. Though the mountains are ever wrapt in clouds during the winter, and though the air is heavy, yet he says, diseases are rare, and the brethren from the daughter priory at Gloucester, when afflicted by long suffering, renew their