The ruins of Basingwerk Abbey are the substantial remains of a Cistercian abbey originally founded as a house of the order of Savigny in 1131, and remodelled in the thirteenth century. The Abbey lies alongside a section of the North Wales coast road, below the town of Holywell, that has little charm, but the old stone ruins are well worth a visit.
Although the abbey church, one of the smallest Cistercian examples in Wales, does not survive to any great height, it is possible to make out the cruciform plan on the ground with the remains of small chapels in the North and South transepts and the cloister on the southern side of the Nave.
The most notable features remaining today are the two fine arches of the extended Chapter House, and their central supporting column. The semi circular “Romanesque” design contrasts with a large gothic styled arch supporting the adjacent stonework.
Much of the fabric visible today, including the church, dates from the early 13th-century, when the buildings were generally refurbished and extended.
The church had seven bays in the nave and two south side chapels in each transept. To its south in the adjoining east range, lay the sacristy, and beyond this the chapter house, which was provided with a vaulted eastward extension which still survives; beside this lay the parlour.
On the south side of the cloister, the impressive dining-hall dates from a little later in the 13th century. It was provided with handsome lancet windows at its south end, a pulpit, from which readings were given during meals, and a serving hatch, connecting to its kitchens next door.
A visit to Basingwerk Abbey will be enhanced by continuing through the Greenfield Valley Heritage Park with a series of ruined mills from the industrial revolution, cotton mills and copper plate mills all powered by the stream that runs down the valley.
St Winifreds Well, once 'The Lourdes of Wales' sits at the top of the valley. The present shrine was erected in the first decade of the sixteenth century and is a popular place of pilgrimage to this day. The “sacred” spring rises in the lower open crypt and flows out into the large exterior bathing pool. Above the crypt is St Winefride's Chapel.
In the early 15th century, the Pope granted the monks at Basingwerk, who took charge of the well up until the Reformation, the right to sell special indulgences to all pilgrims visiting Holywell.
Following the coronation of her son Henry V11 (Henry Tudor), Margaret Beaufort, Lady Stanley Countess of Richmond, who was particularly devoted to St Winefride, had a new two-storied chapel built over the well.
The chapel and church is known as one of the several Stanley Churches to be seen in parts of North East Wales.
How ironic that it was her grandson Henry VIII who conspired to destroy Basingwerk Abbey with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Review Basingwerk Abbey.