4 SEPTEMBER 1869, Page 11


EVERY one who may find himself in Abergavenny should see ' the Sugar-Loaf Hill, a miniature Peak of Teneriffe, green up to the top with bracken and heather and whortleberry plants, and Lantony Abbey. His best way of reaching Lantony will be by taking the train as far as the station of Llanvihangel-Crucomey. (It is a noticeable thing, by the way, how scrupulously the Celtic populations both in Wales and elsewhere pronounce the long names of their villages, streams, and hills. Is it something of taste— observable indeed of them in many other things—which forbids the Saxon vulgarism of clipping any more remarkable name ? or may the Saxon say that his is a business habit and economical of time ?) From Llanvihangel a walk of not more than six miles will take him to the Abbey. His way will lie along a very pictur- esque valley, giving one in a singular degree the idea of remoteness and quiet. Near him and sometimes crossing his path is a bright quick trout stream ; the strath of pasture and corn land, both of them studded with trees, of which the beauty must be greater than the profit, is bounded by ranges of hills, clothed on their lower slopes with woods, which approach each other and show a bolder outline as the road ascends. The Abbey stands on the right hand in a remarkable recess, resembling in shape an irregular amphitheatre, formed by the Black Moun- tain, which here begins—for the traveller is still in England, if, indeed, Monmouthshire is English—to divide Brecknockshire from Herefordshire. The ruins one naturally compares with the other great Monmouthshire relic of monastic life, the Abbey of Tintern. They are, it is almost needless to say, vastly inferior, wanting especially in the consummate grace and delicate beauty which dis- tinguish Tintern ; at the same time, there is a certain solid magnifi- cence and dignity about them which cannot fail of hay"- ; its effect, —and the situation makes a great impression. It s4 as as natural that men should build on the banks of the Wye ; but is place is the very end of the world, a fitting spot for a hermitage, one would think, but not for a building of almost cathedral-like mag- nitude, for such the Abbey church must have been. Of the buildings that still stand, all of them, of course, roofless, the principal is the nave, with its eight arches and massive columns on either side, measuring more than two hundred feet in length. Other noticeable remains are those of an adjoining chapel, the choir, and of what is said to have been the refectory.

The history of the Abbey is a very curious one indeed. In early days there stood here a chapel of St. David, of which the chief ornaments, says Gildas, were ivy and green moss. (The Welsh name of the place is still Llan-Devi-Nant-Honddy, i.e., St. David's Church on the Honddy.) The sight of this chapel is said so to have impressed one William, a follower of a neighbouring baron, De Lacy, that he resolved to retire to the spot and live a hermit's life. Before long he was joined by a priest, Ervistus by name. The two associates were overtaken by a popularity which they first endeavoured to resist, but which proved too strong for them. Royalty patronized them, Queen Matilda, of Scotland, thrusting with her own royal hand a purse of gold into the priest's bosom. Wealth of all kinds poured in upon them, and in a few years' time an abbey was founded, which soon numbered forty religious followers of the rule of St. Austin. But this prosperity did not long continue. The place, indeed, was pronounced to be most suitable for meditation and a pious life. The air was healthy, though it was rude. But the inconveniences of violent winds, of very frequent rains,

and even of bills which, according to the lively fancy of Gildas, intercepted the light of the sun till past noon-day, might have been endured, if it had not been for the character of the native inhabitants. "They were a fierce race," to quote a description which an inmate of the Abbey has given, "uncul- tivated by the ploughshare of the Word of God, wandering, faithless, loving to subsist by plunder, and not knowing fixed habitations." The annoyance to which they subjected the monks soon came to a climax. A neighbouring Welshman, pursued by his enemies, took refuge in the outer court of the monastery. Finding himself not safe there, he fled with his woman-kind into the innermost offices. The party harassed the monks by taking possession of the refectory*, where, says the chronicler, "they were not ashamed to sing, and to profane the place with their light behaviour. The religious could not pray, nor even eat." To quote the chronicler again, "Martha mourned because she was not permitted to feed, Mary grieved because she was deprived of the feast of holy refreshment." There was clearly no alternative but flight. The monks accordingly removed first to the Bishop's palace in Hereford, and afterwards, in 1136 (the original settlement of the hermits is not placed earlier than 1103) to a new house which was founded for them near Gloucester, and which was known by the name of Lantonia Secunda. But the original Abbey was not allowed to remain uninhabited. Some of the monks returned thither, and a long contest for supremacy was maintained between the mother Abbey and her richer and more powerful daughter. The chronicler complains bitterly of the oppression and neglect which they experienced from those who ought to have honoured and supported them. They were left, he tells us, without surplices, so that they could not duly perform divine service ; sometimes without breeches, so that they could not even attend it. And the body suffered as well as the soul, for they sometimes had to make one day's bread serve for two. An attempt was made to settle these disputes by Edward IV., who ordered that Lantonia Secunda should assume the first rank, and support at Lantonia Prima a prior and four monks. It is doubtful, however, whether this arrangement was carried out. When the Monasteries were suppressed by Henry VIII., the two appear as separate establishments, the revenues of the Welsh house being estimated at £71 (according to another account, £112), those of the Gloucester house at £648 for £748). The estate of Lantonia Prima was granted at the Dissolution to one Richard Arnold, and remained in that family till it was purchased by Treasurer Harley.

A curious episode in the history of the place was yet to happen. Something about it seems to have struck the fancy of Walter Savage Landor, who disposed of his patrimonial estates for the purpose of acquiring it. A more unlucky purchase was never made. Landor impoverished himself for life, did not reside at the place for more than seven months in all, and in fact had nothing but infinite annoyance in return for his money. Mr. Foster's lately published "Life" will give the reader all the details of thestory, which, indeed, though doubtless it was needful to tell them, are dreary enough. The upshot of Landor's account of the matter was that it was impossible to get on with the people of the place. He was himself, it must be allowed, with all his great qualities, one of the most impracticable of human beings, but his story finds a sort of confirmation in the experiences of his monastic predecessors. It would not be easy to conceive persons more different than Landor and the Augustinian monks ; and it is very curious to see how the wild Welshmen, little changed, it would appear, by seven centuries, were too much for both of them. The property is still in the hands of Landor's family.

The visitor must not neglect, after he has examined the Abbey, to climb the Black Mountain. It is not a very trying task, and the result will repay him. If he will pass along the ridge for the six or seven miles which separate Lantony from Hay, he will see a very remarkable and suggestive sight. On his left hand, he has Brecknockshire, with its sea of mountains more than usually barren of aspect ; on his right, Herefordshire, more rich and beautiful to look at than almost any other English county, with what seems at least a more intense green in its pastures and yellow in its corn- fields. Here is the border, in fact, marked out by nature with a singular distinctness, between poor Wales and wealthy England. As one looks, one does not wonder that Offa, King of Mercia, made his " dyke " (still to be traced, though dwindled to a petty ditch and mound), that the burghers of Herefordshire towns and the tenants of Herefordshire homesteads dreaded their fierce neighbours of the hills, and that the Lords of the Marches had no sinecure post.