Valle Crucis means the ‘valley of the cross’. The cross refers to Eliseg’s Pillar which was erected in the 9th Century by the last king of Powys. Wales is now a principality and not a kingdom, and it’s laws of inheritance meant that when a prince dies, his land is divided amongst his sons, legitimate and illegitimate. As a consequence, Wales was turned into little fiefdoms by a troupe of princes.
Valle Crucis abbey is in the valley of Elwyseg River, which feeds into the River Dee in north Wales near Llangollen and the pillar stood guard over the tributary until twelve monks in 1201 arrived to found a new abbey. The monastery was the last Cistercian abbey to be built in Wales and its patron was another Prince of Powys, Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor (ap means son of).
Unfortunately, the site chosen was already occupied by a village. This wasn’t going to stop the founding and the whole village was forcibly moved to another site. Not an auspicious start to the life of an abbey. Things weren’t further helped when not long after the first abbot died, fire burnt down the abbey. The rebuilding continued throughout Edward I’s campaign against the Welsh princes, although he did offer some compensation done for the damage done by the soldiers.
Things weren’t always tough for the monks. The abbot had a small suite of heated rooms in the abbey – heating was a luxury and somewhat of a relaxation of the strict Cistercian rules. The dormitory was turned into guestrooms and, in the 15th Century, the abbey gained a reputation for being a hospitable place. Several Welsh poets stayed there, demonstrating the abbot’s appreciation of the arts. While the abbot entertained, the lay workers toiled, kept separate from the chanting monks in the church by a screen. The two sets of inhabitants didn’t mix much. However the lay brothers must have worked hard. By 1535 Valle Crucis was ranked the second richest Cistercian abbey after Tintern.
Royal decree dissolved it in 1537.