St Dogmaels Abbey

St Dogmaels Abbey on the opposite shore of the Teifi estuary from Cardigan, was the dream of the Norman Knight Martin de Turribus, Lord of Cemais, sometimes known as Martin of Tours.

In his last years Martin had turned to religion and was laying plans for the construction of an Abbey at St Dogmaels when he died in 1086.

His son, Robert Fitz Martin, who had been granted Caldey Island by Henry 1st in 1113, was determined that his father’s plans should be carried through and by 1118 the Abbey was completed on the site of a religious house founded by St Dogmael, who is believed to have died in about 500AD.

Robert arranged with William, the Abbot of Tiron, to send over 13 monks for the new Abbey’s foundation, so St Dogmaels became the first dependent Abbey of Tiron in Britain. Robert endowed it richly with lands in St Dogmaels and other lands in Devonshire while his wife Matilda gave the Abbey Moylegrove. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and within a few years a sister monastery, also dedicated to St Mary, was founded on Caldey Island. Robert subsequently brought over another 13 monks from Tiron and received permissin to accord the monastery Abbey status, which made it one of the richest monasteries in the region. The first Abbot of the new Abbey was Fulchard, who was enthroned by Bernard, the first Norman Bishop of St Davids, in September 1120. The constitution of the Tironian abbeys was a strange mix of traditional Benedictine and reformed practice monks and abbots were appointed by the Abbot and convent of Tiron, a late 13th and early 14th centuries when the chapter house, infirmary, cloister and refectory were rebuilt and enlarged. The abbey recruited monks from the native Welsh, diluting the original French community, and by the end of the 12th century, like Whitland Abbey, was recruiting from the sons and relatives of the Canons of St Davids. It had a dependent Priory of about 12 monks at Pill, Milford Haven. The famous 13th century priest and chronicler, Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald the Welshman), highlighted a problem at St Dogmaels when he described Walter, Abbot of St Dogmaels, as “a fool and wholly illiterate...waiting for the end and now no more than a shadow of a man.” But Gerald had an axe to grind, for Walter, who was his cousin, was also one of his rivals in the contest for the See of St Davids between 1198 and 1203, a coveted position which, much to his disappointment, Gerald never gained. Walter withdrew from a literacy test to scotch rumours of his  illiteracy. and his shortcomings and the antics of another apostate monk of St Dogmaels named Golyon, reflected badly standards at the Abbey during Gerald’s day. In 1402 and 1406, two episcopal probes revealed that St Dogmaels Abbey had dwindled to only three monks who were, however, “consuming the sustenance of a very large number.” Medieval benefit fraudsters, no less.

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