Dore Abbey, Herefordshire


South side of the church
Presbytery screen

Atmospheric, cathedral-like church occupying part of an ancient monastery; fragments of other sections adjoin the current structure
The village of Abbey Dore, 14 miles north of Abergavenny; HR2 0AA
Photo Tour (32 images)
The little village of Ewyas Harold, deep in the Herefordshire countryside near the Welsh border, may seem an unusual place to establish a major Cistercian monastery yet the local lord, Robert FitzHarold, was rich and influential, and after an abbey was founded by him in 1147, the place prospered, up until the Dissolution of the Monasteries instigated by Henry VIII in 1537. The abbey then suffered the same fate as many others; most of the subsidiary buildings were demolished and the main church fell into disrepair, though part was restored in the 1630s and henceforth used as a parish church, occupying the transepts, crossing, presbytery and ambulatory of the original, after all of the nave and choir were removed, their foundations now hidden beneath the adjacent graveyard.

The church - officially named Holy Trinity and St Mary but generally known as Dore Abbey - has a quiet, peaceful, rural setting beside the River Dore within the Golden Valley, in the tiny community of Abby Dore along the B4347. A few poignant traces remain from the vanished components of monastery including the ruins of the sacristy, and a column and an arch from the old choir area, while the church exterior is unusually grand, but the main attraction of the place is the interior, which is cathedral-like in size and atmosphere; tall columns, carved stonework and traditional vaulting, mostly unchanged from medieval times, plus stained glass, wall paintings and other relics from the 17th century restoration. The wall surfaces are largely unaltered from the 1630s; grey, austere, sometimes a little stained and mouldy but this merely adds to the authentic ambience.

The church is not well signposted and receives few visitors, seemingly not regarded as a major attraction. There is no designated parking area, just space for a few vehicles along the road, beside the gate to the short entrance path. The course of an old railway runs past the far side of the church, with the River Dore beyond and the village just to the north, all overlooked to the west and east by low, partly wooded hills.


The approach is from the south, along a path through the graveyard, which extends to the northwest incorporating the site of the nave and choir, both of which were lined by full-length aisles. Remnants include a few low foundations, a taller section of the north wall, and, the most substantial and photogenic part, two columns from the midpoint of the choir, one still connected to the church via an arch. The other main relic is on the north side of the church, bordering the north transept - the wall and two arched doorways of the sacristy (book room), plus a small fragment of of the adjoining chapter house, originally a 12-sided structure supported by a central column. Other buildings, all to the north side, included cloisters, refectory, hospital and dormitory, but no visible traces of these remain. The surviving church is about half from the late 12th century - the crossing, transepts and the two adjacent chapels, and half from the early 13th century - the presbytery, aisles and ambulatory.


The church is open from 9 am to 5 pm and is usually unattended. Information and a plan is provided inside, plus a box for donations, the suggested amount being £3. Entrance is to the original south transept, beside the crossing and the north transept, and the walls of all these sections are adorned with faded wall paintings, the largest an orange coat of arms from Queen Anne, drawn around 1710. Some others are earlier, from the late 17th century. The church is centred on the presbytery, entered through a carved wood screen from the 1630s, bearing several coats-of-arms. The presbytery is lined by north and south aisles and has a twin-passaged ambulatory on the far side, now partly filled with salvaged fragments of sculpted masonry, including decorative bosses from the nave roof. The ceilings of these passages, and the aisles, are supported by the original vaulting, while the remainder of the church has a high, flat, wooden roof, from the 17th century. The presbytery contains the original altar, salvaged from a local farm during the 1630s. Adjoining the transepts are two small chapels, north east and south east, this latter now known as the Hoskyns chapel, and containing the tomb of John Hoskyns (died 1638), a benefactor. Also of interest are two stone effigies, thought to be memorials to Roger de Clifford (died 1286) and his half-brother Robert of Ewyas (died 1265).


Robert FitzHarold was Lord of Ewyas Harold, a title (and settlement) named after his father, Harold FitzRalph, the 2nd Earl of Hereford. The monastery was founded and managed in association with Morimond Abbey in France, probably after Robert met the resident abbot whilst on the Crusades. The main construction phase was from the late 12th to the mid 13th centuries, and the finished church, consecrated in 1280, was a fine example of the early English style of Gothic architecture. The abbey was affluent and well known, supported by a number of local farms, many of which had become prosperous owing to the local wool trade, and it flourished until the abrupt closure due to the Dissolution. The monastery was then purchased by landowner John Scudamore, and remained with his family for over a hundred years, though during this time many buildings were dismantled, and the church became disused, and roofless. Restoration was instigated by another John Scudmore, the 1st Viscount Scudmore, in the 1630s, and the building was subsequently reconsecrated as the parish church; changes included construction of the wall on the northwest side, at the junction with the former choir and nave, addition of a square tower, and changes to the interior decorative structures. Further significant repairs were carried out in the first part of the 20th century under the guidance of architect Rowland Paul, who also carried out an archaeological investigation of the whole site.