About Llanthony Priory
Seven miles north of the town of Abergavenny in south-east Wales is Llanthony Priory, a partly-ruined, thousand year-old Augustinian priory sitting in the beautifully secluded Vale of Ewyas in the Black Mountains, part of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The original priory was built by nobleman William de Lacy and the story goes that while out hunting, he took shelter in the chapel of St David, a ruined Celtic chapel on the site and was ‘overcome by devotion’ to solitary prayer.
He was accompanied by Ersinius, a former chaplain to the wife of King Henry I and the church that emerged was consecrated in 1108. It was originally dedicated to John the Baptist but reversioned to a priory in 1118.
Endowed with land by Hugh de Lacy and enjoying royal patronage, a community of around 40 monks came from England and formed a Canons Regular, an order of priests living under a rule (Latin ‘regula’ and most often the Rule of St Augustine) who were committed to public ministry of liturgy and sacraments.
Around 1135, the local ‘barbarous people’ forced the monks to retreat to Gloucester and Hereford and completely destroyed the original priory. The spectacular late 12th/early 13th century priory that emerged still stands today and was considered to be one of medieval Wales’ greatest buildings. The architecture is a mix of Gothic and Norman and even today, the stunning arches and windows are a thing of beauty and give visitors a clue to the grandeur of the original structure.
In the 15th century on a crusade to reclaim Welsh land from the English, Owain Glyndŵr, the last Welshman to hold the title of Prince of Wales attacked Llanthony Priory and forced the men to once again return to Gloucester and Hereford from whence they originally came.
By 1504 there were just a handful of canons left at Llanthony and like every house of religion in England, Wales and Ireland between 1536 and 1541 the priory was closed in 1538 by Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The site was sold for £160, the remaining canons were pensioned at £8 each and in the subsequent centuries the priory fell into ruin.
The land changed hands a number of times from the start of the 19th century, firstly owned by Colonel Sir Mark Wood (1799) and then by poet Walter Savage Landor (1807). A few years later beset by debt, Landor left, never to return and the house which was built returned to ruin.
Today, Llanthony Priory is under the care of Cadw, the Welsh government’s historical environment agency, entrance is free for all and if you are in the Brecon Beacons, a visit to Llanthony is a must for history lovers!