Sunday, 24 April 2011
WE decided to put a pin in the map and go on a journey to-day to see somewhere new. We found Croxden Abbey.
Founded directly from a Cistercian house in Normandy, the monks arrived at Croxden in Staffordshire in 1179 to begin building their monastery. Throughout the first abbot's reign, lasting just over half a century, the abbey church and most of the monastic buildings were completed.
Croxden Abbey was one of the later Cistercian foundations and, as such, the architecture was noticeably less austere than the first monasteries built by this strict Order. The abbey church had an unusually sumptuous east end, boasting an elegantly designed French styled 'chevet'. Only fragments now remain of this arrangement of five circular chapels radiating from an ambulatory but it must have presented a splendid picture in the 13th century.
Croxden Abbey, although conforming to the standard late Cistercian plan, was relatively compact and there appears to have been no more than 12 monks living at the monastery throughout its history. The monks here were excellent sheep breeders, and the good quality wool produced was their main source of income. Few details appear to have been documented during the monastery's 350 year existence, and we can only assume that the monks led a relatively undisturbed and peaceful life. At the time Croxden Abbey was surrendered to the crown in September 1538 there were still 12 monks and the abbot in residence.
Today the delightful ruins of Croxden Abbey look fairly disjointed among the various farm buildings, with little more than scattered foundations peeping up through the long grass on either side of the lane. This road splits the site diagonally through the nave of the church, a Georgian farmhouse has now replaced the original abbey kitchen, and its driveway slices through the old west range. However, the massive west front still stands to almost full height quite close to the roadside and dominates the site. Rich mouldings around the central doorway, and three regularly spaced, extremely slender lancet windows confront the visitor with an interestingly different appearance. Over the years the monastic buildings were extended, altered and in some instances re-sited, probably to suit the changing needs and numbers living at the abbey, and then after the Dissolution many buildings were converted to provide domestic accommodation.
Standing among these medieval ruins in this quiet part of the Staffordshire countryside, Croxden Abbey remains undisturbed by traffic and crowds, and it is only the discerning 'abbey seekers' that will be delightfully rewarded by locating this tranquil place.
We sat for awhile wondering if the monks ever imagined life in the 21st century, and our thoughts turned to us wondering what life will be like in another 800 years.