Monday, May 5, 2008

The Magical Churches of Llangwm Uchaf and Isa

An early Welsh monastery island would have looked something like this:Other pictures of Llangwm Uchaf. More pictures in the gallery at the bottom of the blog.

The Welsh monasteries of the Early Catholic Church of the Celtic culture gave a central unifying point around their culture. This culture was distinctive in the way it integrated so many of the values and beliefs of the Christian Celts' pagan ancestors, especially regarding kinship relationships with nature, family, and tribe, as well as the ideals of the early desert Christians who valued simplicity of life, discipline, and the need for spiritual guidance in one's life. The Celts' common landscape also significantly affected the way they viewed the theology of the church and their perception of the sacred. This, in turn, shaped the emerging Celtic Christian spirituality that bound individual Celtic churches together, and became the ‘ground’ or ‘spiritual soil’ out of which soul friendships grew. In the union of Celtic monasteries and churches the spiritual community called the Church in early Wales was born.

St Kenfig one of the Saints of Llangwm

In the grant made by Carddog, son of Rhiwallon of Villa Guntucc in Guartha Gwm in the church at Llandaff in the time of Bishop Herewald who was consecrated in 1056. he made mention of the four saints of Llangwm. These are recorded as four saintly confessors, and one seems more famous than the others St Mirgint, St Huui, St Eruenen and St Cynfic(sometimes Cywys). There s a chapel to Cynfic or Cyws at Pyle in Glamorgan and another thatCamarthen as recorded in the Book of Llan Ddu of Camarthen . This gift to the Church at Llandaff was made by the monk Eliniui described as a monk of Llangwm (monachus de lanncum, who must have had some legal training and seems to bear testimony to the fact that there were still monks there is the 11th century.St Mirgint, seems to have een a confessor too, was well as Eruen (reputedly ‘The Wise’) In 1119 a bull of Pope Calixtus III confirmed 'the vill of Lann Cum, with the churches' to Llandaff, showing that both St. Jerome's and St. John's were already in existence. This was the Pope who canonised St David.

The Monastery in Cynfig’s , Mirgint, Huui and Eruen’s time.

Reading around these saints, of which there is little information, indicates that the Latinised form of Eruen is Urban and indeed there is a Bishop Urban later in the eleventh century (the one who arranged for Dyfrig’s body to be brought back to Llandaff), but there is also an earlier Urban mentioned in the ‘Lives’ –and even a Cardinal from Early Gwentian times called Pederyn in the 'Lives'!

What would we have found in sixth century Gwent? We would have seen something very much like the picture above, but the valley here was fertile enough to sustain two communities next to each other. Early Christian life in Wales was essentially monastic, so these would have been small communities and probably resemble very much like the tiny houses and farm houses which surround the churches today, Let us remind ourselves about the way these saints would have lived their lives. There were originally no towns, just small settlements, hence the church was more monastic rather than diocesan. St Mirgint, Eruen, Cynfig and Huui were all listed as confessors and may have been the four priests of these communities. It is also possible that these saints were four consecrated priests who followed on from each other, rather than living at the same time. Priests, according to tradition of the church, were always consecrated by a Bishop (in this case either at Caerleon before St David’s time) and at Llandaff afterwards, either by Dyfrig or Teilo at this time.This sacrament of Holy Orders was conferred on the Feast of St Peter’s Chair, the date kept for this event following training at Tatheus’ college at Caerwent.Bishops were often consecrated at Rome or at Jerusalem, both were valid, as, at this time, there was only one church, the Pope as Successor of Peter was First among the Bishops with the Eastern Side of the Church also in full communion with everyone else.

Liturgy and the Mass

While they kept to the basic tradition of the Church’s teaching, these small monastic settlements developed their own ways of delivering these liturgies, rather as they do today and were interested in the Eastern way of monasticism which is where we get the idea of the ‘desert’ and the ‘island’ where they could creat their little piece of the Kingdom of God. EWTN recently advertised a new film coming about the life of St Anthony of the desert The leader also decided often their own ‘Rule’ just as St Basil, St Augustine of Hippo all had their own rules-some stricer than others. Monasteries were often villages often associated with a ‘monarchy’ with family ties, along with slaves, freemen, celibate monks, married clergy, professed lay people, men and women living side by side, and monks were often married. There was a strong emphasis on family and kinship ties and these traits remain today among the Welsh.

Celibate Priests had always existed-St Paul

The matter of celibate priests was developed at the time of persecution in the Roman Empire, following Paul’s example. It was important Christian women survived to carry on the Christian message and bear Christian Children, necessary for the faith to grow in a hostile world. Priests could then do their job without having to watch their families dragged off to the lions as St Peter had had to do.

Love of Nature and worshipping God

Love of nature and a passion for the wild rugged as a reminder of God's gift, and this is certainly evident in the beautiful places they chose to worship and work for the Kingdom of God, where they sang the Liturgy of the Hours even more than today. This element gave the Welsh great affinity with the Cistercian monks of the Middle Ages who dwelt in these places and became rooted to this culture and eventually to the Welsh nation.

Love and respect for art and poetry.

The Welsh generally are culturally rich. I have already mentioned how there are reports of these ancent monks singing the psalms and being accompanied by harps.The liturgy remained Latin because they handed on (to hand on-tradire=tradition)these things. Latin was the common language for educated people who travelled all over it. Those who were not educated used the vernacular but even so had great memorisation skills. They used beads to help them remember psalms and prayers in Latin. The Fidelma novels of Peter Tremayne very much show these educated travelling saints people to be multi lingual speaking Latin, Welsh or Irish and Anglo Saxon.
Stories and Study

Love and respect for telling great stories and humour

and study of the writings of the early fathers and the scriptures The original Welsh saints nearly all, like St Patrick were ordained at Auxerre under Saint German in Auxerre and eventually these early teachers returned to Ty Gwyn and such theological colleges, like Dyfrig’s-(Dubricius) colleges and at Moccas,at Caerwent cuh as that of Tatheus. Saint Paul had said ‘Make sure you hand on the tradition, and this happened in Wales. The Church had not finalised the Bible until the third century so the tradition was and remains very important, as it contains the beliefs and traditions of the immediate disciples and bishops who were taught by Peter and Paul.It goes without speaking that Abbots of these communities were more powerful than bishops regulating the diocese and secular priests. The Bishops and Archbishop had to travel to Rome often (Cadoc reputedly seven times) to become appraised with the latest news!)Essential when there was no internet or telephone and no reliable post!
Sense of God and the Saints and Supernatural

Sense of God

You only have to read the Latin account of ‘The Confessions of St Patrick ‘to feel the Sense of God and the saints as a continuing, personal, helpful presence. St German was Bishop, Professor and Confessor to Patrick, the headstrong Gwentian youth. In his words which echo down through the centuries, we see the humility and greatness of his faith, which we are privileged to share.

I Patrick, a sinner, the most unsophisticated of men, the least among all Christians and, to many the most contemptible…aged about sixteen I was taken captive . I was then ignorant of the true God and along with thousands of others was taken into captivity in Ireland and we deserved it, because we had turned away from God, and did not keep his commandments and did not listen to our priests who kept on warning us about ‘our salvation’.
And so the Lord poured upon us the heat of his anger and dispersed us among many peoples out to the end of the earth where now my smallness is seen among these men of an alien land’. There God opened my understanding to my unbelief so that, however late, I became conscious of my failings. Then remembering my need I might turn with all my heart to the Lord my God.
For he looked upon my lowliness and had mercy on the ignorance of my youth and who looked after me before I knew him and before I had gained wisdom or could distinguish between good and evil.Indeed as a father protects his son, so he protected me’.
You can read the rest in Oliver Davies Book’ Celtic Spirituality’by Olver Davies published by Paulist Press New YorkISBN0-8091-3894-www.paulist

Early Sacraments and Mass

Theologically the early saints were Catholic, reflected the teaching and tradition of the Early Church and teachings of the Apostles and the Bishops they appointed to carry on their work, and the Apostolic line from Christ. There was a heavy emphasis on the Trinity,(poem published elsewhere on the blog in preceding posts) and a love and respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary , the Incarnation of Christ, the Liturgy of the Hours and the Holy Mass, very much the same as hours today-except there was usually an extra Gospel-called the final Gospel at the end.

Psalms and Mass Tunes

Also the tunes to which the psalms were sung would have been developed to ancient Welsh tunes and folk songs. It has been a common element to this day in the Catholic Church. Many mass tunes and have been developed in France for polyphonic masses. However Pope Gregory had required certain tunes be learned from Jewish tradition and which had been part of the tradition from early times for the ordinary (unchanging bits of the Mass) for greater unity. (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, It Missa est.)Individual Confession developed from the Early Celtic culture Church

Developed the the older custom of a "soul friend" (anmchara) developed the idea of individual confession and absolution given in the name of Peter, who had been told by Christ that the church founded by him could forgive sins in his name. Indeed all Sacraments were there in their infancy. Baptism by water and by spirit as advocated by St Paul was already there, penance at first for very serious sin which could only be given once, requiring years of penance gradually gave way to individual reconciliation with God.

Closeness to God and the Saints

Thin boundaries between the sacred and the secular. Visions and dreams given to individual saints. Angels tell the saints what to do, and they are obedient to this sixth sense- a great gift. There was a sense of closeness and immanence between the natural world and supernatural world of God.

Early British used the Julian Calendar

The Early Welsh used the ancient Julian calendar for calculating the dates for Easter and Lent. However in the time of Pope Gregory this was changed to.the newer Gregorian calendar, the one we use today was far more accurate but there was reluctance to change. In addition Pope Gregory, sent Augustine to England to explain this new directive as well as to bring the faith to the English. The British Church, after centuries of being martyred and attacked by the heathen invaders, who had laid waste the churches and martyred huge numbers of saints was completely refusing to do this, and Augustine sent as a missionary to try to heal matters. This was successful, though the British branch of the church held out for a long time. Gregory also wished monasteries to modernise and have a greater delineation of monastic and lay life, but was willing for this to happen gradually.The date of Easter and Lent was key and I will speak about the Synod at Whitby again.


A mandate for hospitality. Welsh monasteries and hermitages were commanded to welcome the traveller and provide them with what they needed. They did not pay for this. Footwashing was offered and if the person accepted it meant they would stay the night, if it was refused a meal only was given. They would give the traveller whatever they needed.

Llangwm and how to get there-My VisitThis should give you a good idea of what this community at Llangwm would have been like. I was unprepared for the beautiful Norman Church at Llangwm. I had been recommended to go tot see Llangwm Churches, as both of them, in close proximity were originally early monasteries and clearly possess the round church yards, though St John’s is ,uch stripped out of its originally feature. I drove of the main road from Monmouth to Newport at Gwernesney near Usk and then took the Left Hand turning at the Bridge Inn.
After what driving through what seemed to find a farm yard and then be directed on down a small track. The weather was a fabulous morning in early spring and the air as fresh with the smell of other wild flowers-campions, stichworts, daises, dandelions and many others. The car park stood at the top looking down ot the little stone church below. Appleblossom and the new interloper cherry trees different shades of pink and white, yellow forsythia and dog wood took away my breath. I walked down, noting the round church yard and was so thrilled to find it open. All the hedges were covered with white cow parsley and suddenly the hawthorn, also known here as ‘May’ above the hedges had suddently burst out into its white glory. No wonder May is the month to remember Our Lady as cow parsley sprinkling on the green hedges is called ‘Our Lady’s Lace’

The name of Llangwm This is from Llan=The holy place Gwm=in theValley (modified ‘Cwm’)
The Mediaeval Stone Church at Llangwm Uchaf (Dedicated to St Jerome from Mediaeval Times feast day: September30.)
The Church had a huge oak door at the ceremonial entrance, but I gained entrance through the porch. There was a small metal screen keeping out wild animals, but opening the door of the church I had such an amazing experience viewing that wonderful screen. The stone church of St. Jerome, was erected in the 13th century, and in the Early English style.There was a sacnctuary nave and south porch, and a large square tower on the north side of the chancel, containing 3 bells; There is room for about 150 people, and the Protestant register dates from the Year 1663. In 1870, this Church was thoroughly restored by two London architects at a cost of about £1,500, including the roodscreen. This intricately carved and colourful mediaeval screen spans the whole width of he church and is considered one of the finest in Britain. The fact the church is so hidden and tucked away no doubt saved it from being destroyed in Puritan times.

The beautiful rood screen was amazing and dates from about 1500. There are intricate carvings of flowers and vines and Tudor Roses in some panes mixed with pineapples in another – rather sadly celebrating the marriage not doubt of the Tundors with the Royal Spanish House, Henry VIII’s fateful and sad marriage with Catherine.
As I walked into the church itself there was an arresting sight of a huge and very, dated roughly to 1500. There seemed to be roses and pineapples in the screen and as highly coloured and amazing vines and leaves

The Green Man

I walked through the screen to the chancel and saw the two Green men in the pillars behind the screen. They looked weathered but quite discernable, although I saw more on the flash photograph because it was in an unlit part of the Church.these are enigmatic figures, but seem to have been embodied as Christian symbols bythe middle ages, even though earlier associated with Herne the Hunter and Tree spirits lore.Some scholars link him with John the Baptist as he always carries a club!He is sometimes depicted on fonts as well as in Stradbroks in Suffolk. Sometimes he is called ‘Jack o the Green’outside pubs, like Robin Hood figure or was he a Celtic fertility deity? By the Middle Ages he was incorporated into many important churches.Here he is a human face peering through vegetation. He may be a face eating or disgorging vegetation and here looks a bit like a Roman sculture of Bacchus or something like that.Even Martin Luther's books, printed in his own lifetime, include the Green Man on the title page.In one church the Blessed Virgin and Child appear to be standing on the Green Man’s head. In another church he watches over the body of Christ in an Easter Sepulchre. He often appears near scenes of the Creation, Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection. He is shown to be one who devours and disgorges vegetation suggests the mystery of creation - death and rebirth in the world of nature, a theme which illustrates Christian teaching on the death and resurrection of Christ and relevant for our environmental concerns today!
Bringing Tree Spirit into the guidance of Christ
He may represent the bringing of the tree spirit or spirit of nature under the guidance of Christ, in the way that many pagan ideas and rituals have been baptised into Christianity - a common practice in the attempt to lead people from other beliefs into the Christian Faith.

The Green Man as Jesus?

Christ has been equated with the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Also, the act of creation was performed through Christ, the Logos (the Word) has been equated with the Tree of the pre-existent Christ.W Anderson in his book ‘The Green Man’(Harper Collings 1990) thinks that it might be to do with the Spirit, the Creator Spirit, being revealed through created things. These green men are to be found all over Christian Europe from Cathedrals to parish churches.

Mediaeval Lamp of Llangwm

The scholar Jeremy Knight writes that the stone of this lamp high and circular in section, is a fine grained pale cream oolitic limestone of non-local origin. It consists of two bucket-shaped elements joined at their bases by a cylindrical central collar, the collar and upper part being decorated with a broad, loose ribbon-Celtic style plait. The lower element or base is solid, the upper part hollowed out into a bowl, wide at the top. At some date the stone has been reused as a stoup,(a receptacle to hold holy water) for it is perforated by a circular hole I in. in diameter, set below this rim. Parallels from elsewhere make it fairly clear that the piece was originally a standing lamp. Stone lamps were already current in late Saxon timcs From these and fromother examples at least one line of development is clear. The stone stems from a type copying a romanesque capital and shaft the celtic tradition represented in the pattern would not have survived beyond about the middle of the 12 th century, so that a date of 1070 to c. 1150 may be suggested for the LIangwm lamp. It was much larger than similar lamps and so was used for lighting the monastery, especially, obviously in the night hours.

The rest of this interesting Church

There was much to see, the tower and thickness of the walls into windows had been placed. The altar had a picina and a niche in one side which would have held relics (see my podcast!) probably of the four saints mentioned.

Over the altar is a colourful ssimple and delightful scene of the Annunciation (The Angel coming to Mary with thenews of the Incarnation. More pictures at the bottom of the blog.

Since most churches dedicated or rededicated in the Middle ages had a relic built into the (original) altar, this could well have contained a relic from St Jerome. 340-420 priest and doctor Jerome was most famous for translating the Bible from Greek into Latin. was born in 340 in Stridon in north ItalyHe was given an excellent classical education by his parents and was tutored in Rome In 360, at the age of eighteen, he was baptized in Rome by Pope Liberius. After his baptism, he traveled throughout the Roman Empire and was acquainted with many of the leading Christians of his day.

Jerome’s Dream

Jerome went to Antioch in 374. In a dream, he saw himself in judgment before Christ, who rebuked him for his vain pursuit of worldly wisdom. Touched deeply by the dream, Jerome withdrew into the wilderness where, beset by temptations of many kinds, he "threw himself at the feet of Jesus, watering his feet with tears of prayers and penance," as he said later. He was ordained by St. Paulinus and went to Constantinople about 380 to study Scripture under St. Gregory Nazianzen. When Gregory left Constantinople, Jerome went to Rome in 382. It was here he translated the Bible into Latin (Biblia Sacra Vulgatae Editionis) which remained in use until the early twentieth century when it was translated into vernacular tongues by the Second Vatican Council. So St Jerome was HUGE as they say today.

Decline of Use

As a restored church, there is little remaining stained glass and the church probably declined after the sixteenth century as the feudal system broke down and people flooded to towns for work and betterment. The enclosure acts probably put the final seal on its fate and it fell into disrepair. During the revival in Catholic interest however by the Anglican Church in the nineteenth century, as I wrote above, the Vicar Rev Price arranged for its restoration to sixteenth century pattern-Thanks to him we can still enjoy it. It remains in use and summer services are arranged there, as there appears to be no heating (I may be wrong!) It was a womderful and magical little island and the saints must ave been lucky to live there.

Llangwm Isa

I also visited the other church further down to the valley. It stands on a small mound adjacent to arm buildings-very much as it always has I think. St. John, named after the beloved youngest disciple of Christ is an edifice in the Early English style, consisting of chancel and nave, and a central turret containing one bell; it was rebuilt in 1850, There are about 70 seats. And 23 acres of glebe(common land) and residence. We know, however that originally it would have had a rood screen and everything the other church had,but seemingly on a slightly smaller scale, although the circular enclose cut into by a road and building of houses about, albeit very rural, with beautiful trees.This could be said to be the link between St Jerome’s Church and the Church today.
Inside the church was much more in the Protestant tradition.Very plain and devoid of decoration, except for a piscina and organ . A small cubicle for a vestry but eaier to heat with fires at points about. You can see pictures above.


This was an interesting visit, with two churches, with very different appearances inside, though originally home to our holy and venerated Welsh Saints. Dedicated to one of the great intellects of the Church in the thirteenth century the Kingdom of God was maintained through all the times of plague and upheaval.The most precious of all, of course the people themselves. These church buildings obviously now maintained by the Anglican population are a common heritage. Over 30 Llangwm parishioners and friends this year, celebrating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, sang as they followed two donkeys from the village to St John's church on Palm Sunday. At the beginning, a passage was read describing the events of Palm Sunday. After the procession a short informal service was held which included hymns, poems and readings. This memorable occasion was concluded by refreshments in the church.
Perhaps the best way to finish-and there will be not update tomorrow as I am away for the day!- is with this article from thelocal website

Anne Clusenaar

In 1992 as a group of parishioners scraped the interior walls of St Jerome's ready for painting, a lady visitor arrived to look around the church. She rolled up her sleeves and joined in the work.
That was the first of many visits by Anne Cluysenaar, the Belgian poet; and in praise of St Jerome's she wrote this poem

Stay here, my footsteps where a thousand years,
And more, have gathered human joys and tears.
In quiet let me reach the deeper thought
Nearly destroyed by daily cares, but sought
Today, in this green cwm, and sweetly caught.
Joyful or sorrowing, I sense that here
Enduring insights overcome all fear -
Read, in those heads the cancel rests on, shoots
Of oak that speak of life's eternal roots;
Mark how the sun, before the coming night,
Enters to touch that screen with living light:
So let me speak, and shine, with Love's delight.

No post tomorrow-so this is extra long!! and worth it!


Luke Mastin said...

Hi Mary in Monmouth,
I was looking at your entry about Llangwm.
I am in the process of doing a website on the Green Man (yeah, I know, another Green Man website!), and I was wondering whether I could have permission to use the photo of the Green Man in St. Jerome's Church from your site. I would of course give you full credit and a direct link to your site (and of course let you see the results).
Anyway, lots of nice photos there and an interesting site. I look forward to hearing back from you.
Luke Mastin

Mary in Monmouth said...

Hello Luke I replied to your email at once, not noticing it was a 'noreply'. You are welcome to use the picture, crediting Maryinmonmouth, There is another green man in Magor Church near Chepstow. The local ice cream shop has church key, and the green man is at the rear of the nave-go to the other side if the nave and you can see it. You could try searching Magor Church in M in M and there may be a pic.
Kind Regards Mary
also email on