NESTLED in St Dogmaels is the remains of St Dogmaels Abbey and a coach house which now houses a museum.

Here we take a look at the history of the abbey.

St Dogmaels Abbey was founded in 1120 on the site of a previous pre-Norman church.

The abbey is a Tironian Abbey and the only one to be established in England and Wales. It came about as the regime of existing monasteries in France were becoming dissatisfactory and a lot of the Benedictine and Cluniac monasteries had lost much of the essential spirit of the rule of their sixth century founder St Benedict.

Many monks left the larger abbeys to live the lives of hermits, with a number moving to the forest of Craon near Brittany. Bernard was one of these monks who had left his old abbey of St Cyprian to move to Craon.

Later in his life, after moving to Chaussey, returning to St Cyprian to become abbot and returning to hermitage, he founded the Nogent monastery with his followers in 1109. They attempted to return to a strict interpretation of the rule of St Benedict and five years later, the abbey moved to Tiron.

Groups were sent from Tiron to establish new colonies, one of which came in St Dogmaels. The Tironian congregation was insistent that the monks should be skilled craftsmen but much of their time was taken up with prayer, organising their days around a series of services in the abbey church. They were also expected to keep the rule of silence and order light grey habits which were later changed to black.

Tivyside Advertiser: Picture: Angie ThomasPicture: Angie Thomas

It is believed that St Dogmaels may have been one of the first Norman abbeys to recruit Welshmen who may have previously found calling in a classic church. The vows for monks at the abbey included laying great stress on poverty, chastity and obedience as well as charity as the abbey would have taken in any pilgrims and travellers requiring hospitality, as well as potentially the poor and the sick.

St Dogmaels Abbey had its own library, highlighting the fact that studying was an important part of a monk’s life. There is a surviving book from the 13th century called Eusebiuss’s Historica Ecclesiastica, which was moved from the abbey to the library of St John’s College, Cambridge.

The abbey became a cultural centre, with it being the place where the silver harp of Henllys was traditionally kept for safe keeping according to poet Sion Mawddwy.

In 1402, there was considerable deterioration of the abbey in both standards and finances. The bishop of St David’s visited that year and it is said that the number of monks had been reduced to four, but they were consuming food for a much larger number.


Howel Lange, one of the monks, was ordered to stop drinking wine and mead for a year after being found drunk. He had been found drinking in taverns in St Dogmaels and Cardigan. The monks had also been ‘consorting with women,’ and ordinary people had been allowed to wander in and out of the cloister.

The bishop ordered this to stop and banned the monks and lay brothers from going outside of the monastery without special permission.

Life did improve at the abbey, but it paled in comparison to what the early monks had aspired.

The abbey was closed in 1536 under King Henry VIII’s dissolution as it was bringing in an annual income of less than £200. Two years earlier, the abbot and eight monks had acknowledged the king’s supremacy and made no attempt to block the move. The annual value of the monastery at the dissolution was £87 8s.6d, with rentals and tithes assessed to be £140 8s. 8.5d.

Most of the abbey’s possessions were leased to John Bradshaw and in 1543, he was able to purchase the properties he was leasing.

Tivyside Advertiser: St Dogmaels Abbey and St Thomas' Church. Picture: Angie ThomasSt Dogmaels Abbey and St Thomas' Church. Picture: Angie Thomas

He built a mansion within the abbey precinct and it is believed he used stone from the abbey buildings to build it. However, this also fell into disrepair and there is no visible remains, although there is a possibility that the later alterations and additions at the end of the west range are part of the building.

Bradshaw was excused from keeping the chancel in repair as it had already been stripped of its lead and in the early 1600s, the abbey was described as a ruin by George Owen. David Parry bought the site in 1646.

It is believed at some point, part of the abbey church was altered to be used again, as the nave at the western end was blocked off to form a vestibule, and it is believed that would have replaced the existing parish church which stood on the other side of the stream.

It is also suggested that the north transept was used as a private chapel because it is divided from the rest of the abbey church by the base of a wall.

A new parish church was built alongside the abbey church in the early 1700s, which was replaced by the current church in 1847. In 1866, the vicarage and the coach house were built with materials from the old abbey buildings.

The remains that can be seen today include some of the 12th century build including the cloister and church, 13th century tall west and north walls of the nave and a north doorway with 14th century decoration and a Tudor period north transept.

The remains of the abbey were placed in state guardianship by the representative body of the Church in Wales in 1934 and between 1947 and 1968, the site was cleared, and the masonry consolidated.

The ruins are now in the care of Cadw.

You can find out more about the abbey’s history as well as Christian life over the centuries in the restored coach house’s museum and visitor centre.