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Llanthony, Monmouthshire. The remote and beautiful Vale of Ewyas forms the valley of the Honddu river as it runs under the Black Mountains of Talgarth, West of the hill-top known as Mynydd Myrddin (Merlin's Mount). It holds the remains of what was a priory of Austin Canons, founded between 1108 and 1136 by Hugh de Lacy, the Marcher Lord of Hereford. The Black Mountains here stretch between Abergavenny, the Roman station of Gobannium, and the Roman fort that was set at Clyro. Humphrey Lhuyd, in the 16th century, set “Euas” as a district a little East of Hay within the Deheubarth, or South province of Wales, and on the border of the principality of Powys. The Welsh rulers who succeeded to the Roman controllers of Britain in these parts were harried by the Saxons.

under Harald, and by the Norman border barons who followed him. Clyro has, not far from it, the remains of a Norman stronghold. Llanthony shows the same historical succession. Before the present structure was built, there was a chapel on the site dedicated to St David of Wales, called Llanddewi Nant Hodni. De Lacy, in the midst of his wars against the Welsh, suddenly had a transformation of spirit, and became an anchorite; together with Ernisius, Chaplain to Henry I, he retired to Llanddewi Nant Hodeni. They rebuilt the chapel and created a community of forty canons that Queen Maud was pleased to patronize. Something in the air of the place seems to have had a profound spiritual effect; for Walter de Gloucester, Constable of England, joined the community, and under Robert de Bethune, who succeeded Ernisius as prior, the present structure was completed. In the beginning, its influence must have been great; for near Gloucester was created a second Llanthony, whose remains were later embraced by the railway sidings of a more enlightened age.

The very remoteness of the place seems to have attracted men who wished to escape from the evils of the world; but this same remoteness was its downfall. Gerald de Barn visited it in 1188 on his tour of Wales, and he tells us how the first anchorites who settled there would not clear the woods or till the soil in case the place should lose its solitude and wildness. “Here the monks,” he says, “sitting in their cloisters enjoying the fresh air, behold the tops of the mountains touching the heavens and herds of wild deer feeding on their summits; the body of the sun does not become visible above the heights of the mountains, even in a clear atmosphere, until the hour of prime. A place truly fitted for contemplation, a happy and delightful spot, fitted to supply all its own wants!” But, he adds, the extravagance of English luxury, the pride of a sumptuous table, gradually corrupted the inhabitants of the priory. The first De Lacy who discovered the place had prayed that it might never become wealthy, since the faith decreased in virtue whenever it increased its riches. Gerald takes occasion to inveigh against the desire for creature comforts that he saw was already inclining the monks to turn from the beauties of nature that surrounded them. Perhaps Gerald may have been a little prejudiced, since he himself lived remotely and poorly, as he says, close by in a little place called Landeu, which he dearly loved.

By the reign of Stephen, most of the monks felt no longer inclined (in their own words) to sing to the wolves, and they preferred to migrate to the daughter house at Gloucester. Only a prior and four canons remained, and it had no more than a shadowy existence until the Dissolution under Henry VIII.

Gerald insists that the name was properly Llan Nant Honddu, after the river that runs there. Of the great effort in building, from 1180 to 1200, not much remains. There is now among the ruins an inn, which was once the priors own lodging. The whole is in the late Norman style known as Transitional, having magnificent walls with tall and pointed doorways and windows; the gatehouse has been used in the 20th century as a barn. A small parish church close by is a contemporary of the priory. The ruins have a strange beauty, and they give a sense of strength and determination, unfortunately lacking in the monks, but reflecting the character of the hills and meadows around them, the things that Gerald so much loved. A century ago, as old prints show, much more remained.

The priory, now known as Llanthony Abbey, was bought in 1811 by Walter Savage Landor, the poet and friend of Browning and Swinburne. His early writings which included his verses to Rose Aylmer, his first love were done in Wales. But Landor's grace in writing was not matched by his temper, and his attempt to revivify the priory failed largely because he could not adjust himself to his neighbours, who combined to make life there impossible for him. In 1814 tenants, local authority, and county society together drove him in disgust to live abroad.

Some 4 miles higher up the valley is Capel-y-ffin, where Llanthony Monastery was built in 1869 by Father Ignatius (Joseph Leycester Lyne) for the Order of Anglican Benedictines. The building was the property of Eric Gill, the sculptor, and in 1935 was converted into a girls' school. The road to it from Llanthony is along a valley of solitary beauty.

Other places of similar interest in the near neighbourhood are Llantilio Pertholey, with a church apparently built by spontaneous inspiration in Decorated style; and Llanfihangel Crucorney, where stands a lovely Tudor mansion once magnificent with trees; and Alltyrynys, a farmhouse claiming to be the original seat of the Sitsilts, a Welsh name Gerald gives several times as Sissul, and which became further Anglicized as Cecil. This was the family that attained high position through the Robert Cecil who became Lord Burleigh and Queen Elizabeth Tudor's most trusted adviser.

But Gerald de Barn contributes another tale to the interest of this part of the Vale of Ewyas. For, as he left Landeu and proceeded to Talgarth, he passed through the narrow wooded tract called Coed Grono (Wood of the Gronwy river). And he recalled how one Richard de Clare, Norman Lord of Cardiganshire, under guard from Brian de Wallingford, lord of the district, had come that way, and, when he entered the wood, had dismissed his companions and gone forward only with a minstrel and a singer, the one accompanying the other on the fiddle. Perhaps De Clare had been won too much by the beauty of the Vale of Ewyas; and he paid the penalty. The Welsh were waiting for him under the command of Iorwerth, brother of Morgan of Caerleon; they slew him and fell upon his escort, with great slaughter. The place where this happened is still called Coed Dial (Wood of Revenge). For Richard was the first of his line; he had arrived under the Norman Conqueror, and was set by William I to the task of invading Wales and destroying its inhabitants. He paid for this temerity, as Gerald relates, in the year 1136.

There are gentler memories to be found at Cwmyoy, lower down the Honddu river, where, under an old bridge that may have taken the pack-trains of the past, the river runs slow and deep and the trout sleep grey against the stones.

Nearby cities: Hereford

Nearby towns: Abergavenny, Hay-on-Wye, Monmouth, Talgarth

Nearby villages: Abbey Dore, Bacton, Capel-y-ffin, Clodock, Crickhowell, Cwmdu, Cwmyoy, Ewyas Harold, Glasbury, Grosmont, Llanbedr, Llanbedr, Llancillo, Llangattock, Llangattock Lingoed, Llangenny, Llantilio Pertholey, Llanvetherine, Llanveynoe, Llanvihangel Crucorney, Longtown, Michaelchurch Escley, New Castle, Oldcastle, Pandy, Partrishow, Peterchurch, Pontrilas, Rowlstone, Tretower, Turnastone, Tyberton, Velindre

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