I’ve been visiting the Cadw site of Valle Crucis Abbey for over 8 years and I co-directed fieldwork investigating the fragments of 9th-century cross upon a prehistoric mound nearby: The Pillar of Eliseg. In that time, visitors have been able to enjoy a virtual tour of the abbey as it may have looked in the 14th/15th century based on a computer model commissioned by Llangollen Museum in collaboration with Thomas Crane Associates. Installed in the lodge beside the fishpond, it was originally narrated by ‘John Porthlock’, the fictitious monk who also was featured as an animatronic figure in the lodge (now moved to Llangollen Museum). The tour is now in silence without narration.
To my surprise and shame, I confess that only recently, on a visit to Valle Crucis Abbey with Drs Lorna Richardson and Paty Murrieta-Flores plus my twins, did I realise that at the very start of the virtual tour, the Pillar of Eliseg is shown on the horizon to the north of the abbey! This is a nice touch! The medieval mill and dovecote are shown too, hinting at the complex hydraulic and agrarian landscape of Cistercian monasteries beyond the modern ruins and now obscured by fields of tents and holiday homes.
Now this VR looks rather dated now, but it is still an integral part of the visitor experience and I’m pleased the Pillar makes an appearance. This is because the Pillar is featured as an element of this landscape, since the monument persisted as a landmark throughout the Middle Ages, described as the ‘ancient cross in Ial’ by the 15th century.
However, there’s one snag with the depiction of the Pillar. We tend to presume the abbey was called Valle Crucis because the Pillar was originally a cross. Indeed, it is argued by Professor Nancy Edwards that the cross-head was most likely only lost in the 17th century when the cross fell (or was pulled) down – the result of agents (natural or human) unknown.
Unfortunately, the reconstruction, though small and distant, demonstrably shows the Pillar as a pillar – not as a cross – in the Middle Ages. Unless the Cistercians ruined it far earlier than we thought, they named their abbey after another ancient cross, or this is an anachronistic cock-up!