Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire
The beautiful Welsh heritage site in the Wye Valley in all its rich architectural and historical splendour will host Notre Dame de Paris aka The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Each an artistic symbol of the religious power of its country, these magnificent edifices built with staggering community effort have seen adaptations throughout history, suffered from regal oppression and changes in ideology, and ultimately received salvation from their people’s love for them to reach their current state.
Founded in 1131 by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow, the first Cistercian convent in Wales and the second in Britain, Tintern Abbey serves as an outstanding example of the 13th century English decorated gothic. Three decades later, Bishop Maurice de Sully ordered the demolition of Paris’ previous Cathedral, St Stephen’s, to make way for the new Notre-Dame de Paris.
The monks of Tintern Abbey came from Chartres, near to Paris, and in the 12th century it was a temple of Cistercian simplicity that can be likened to the Romanesque form of the Early Notre-Dame. Unfortunately very little survived from these monastery buildings despite being the richest Welsh monastery, its building was still given away in 1549 under Henry VIII’s first Act of Suppression of all religious houses making under 200 pounds a year. Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester, took the lead from the roofs thereby setting off the ruination of the medieval buildings.
In Victor Hugo’s novel, the Cathedral’s legal and religious right as a sanctuary for the convicted highlights the power play of monarch and Church while the power of the death penalty is ridiculed when at first Esmeralda is whisked away from the gallows by the hunchbacked bellringer. Two years before publishing The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hugo had written The Last Day of a Condemned Man to express his opinion that the death penalty should be abolished.
Tintern was one of the few Welsh abbeys to avoid damage from the wars of Edward II perhaps thanks to its own use as a sanctuary in 1326 when the King sheltered there for two nights, fleeing Roger Mortimer’s army.
A distant precursor to the fate of Notre-Dame, restored in the 19th century at the demand of petitions fuelled by Hugo’s tale and growing tourism, Tintern in the 14th century was saved by pilgrims, faithful in the powers of the statue of the Virgin Mary that the abbey sheltered.