Friday, July 4, 2008

Llanoronwy or Rockfield,Rockfield 'llan' and Church, St Cenhedlon and St Kenelm

Below you can see various scenes of Rockfield Church and I apologise profusely that some of the most beautiful of the stained glass did not come out well on my pictures. I was just beginning with my camera at that time. However below you see Bishop Matthew's tombstone, the graveyard come of so many Catholics and atholic priests. In addition there is also part of the Mediaeval rood screen in the vestry used in the making of the cupboard there (which I have photographed)Also the porch and Mediaeval preaching cross. When Catholic pilgrimages come, the churchwardens put up a marquee in the grounds, which is very kind of them.

If you leave the main A50 at Monmouth, and take the pleasant little road wet to Rockfield, you caome to some of the most stunning scenery in all of Monmouthshire, The Anglican Vicar, Rev Guest arranged for me to view the church, which is interesting for everyone from a Catholic background, as it has generations of interesting artifacts. As I am , at present focusing on the first milennium I shall describe or try to the origins of the site) however of enduring interest for us is the grave of the Vicar General of the Western region of the United Kingdom during penal timss, Bishop Matthew Pritchard. Residing secretly at the House of Perthir locally(now just a wall and a window) Bishop Pritchard is buried under the altar of the church. Several other Catholic Priests of the Persecution period are to be located in the churchyard, although I was not able to find the graves . I did say a rosary for them while I was in the church on my own.

The present church is a beautiful building, sadly needing a great deal of work on it.There are beautiful stained glass windows and, as the churchwardens, who kindly let me in explained, many Catholics come here to pray and on pilgrimage. Bishop Matthew had a very hard earthly life tramping around fields, sleeping in hedgerows. To have been found would have been dire, but as one resigned person exlaimed once that Monmouthshire hath ever been a true daughter of Rome-and this because most recusants in Wales lived here and had access to the powerful families who protected the faith all through these times, who still remain Catholic today and support the Church.

However I will do a separate post of Bishop Matthew when I write about the penal times.

Today I want to talk briefly about the origins of the Church, which seems to have a muddled origin.Firstly the name Llanoronwy is mysterious as obviously Llan means Holy place-Church but I can find no Saint Goronwy, only a reference to a figure in WElsh Bardic Legend. Perhaps after all, Goronwy was just the leader of the monastic settlement. You can see the tell tale circular wall of the island around the church on the side of the hill, and the nearby Holy Well at the bottom, which has been made more firm and as a proper drinking trough.

St Cynheiddon, Virgin-English Cen hed lon

A few days ago, I mentioned the Holiest Family in Wales-that of Brychan Brycheiniog who according to Welsh Genealogy was descended from the ancestors of Joseph of Arimathea. If you remember all the Jewish names which gradually became Welsh, the family arriving in Wales after the crucifixion, the monastics being given the twelve hides of Glastonbury and the families the property at Garthmadrun. They were later located by Arthur the Leader of Soldiers to Llangollen with St Collen the Abbot of Glastonbury. Now Cynheiddon was the Virgin daughter of Brychan Brycheiniog. She is mentioned in the Vespasian or earlier versions of the Cognatio 'Keneython in y mynid cheor in Kidweli'.Now Kidwelly is in Camarthen where there is also a Capel Llangynheiddon but its chapel is extinct. probably fell out of use at the sixteenth century. The parish is Llandefeilog. Cenedlon as a saint on Mynydd Cymorth occurs in the list of Brychan's children and grandchildren, but we have no definitive location for this mountain. One it appears as the Mynydd (mun-ithe-i pronounced is in 'with)y
Cymmod (The Mount of Atonement). It would be fascinating to find it, but I feel the Cynheiddon dedication, might signify that the 'Mount of Atonement' may be none other than our Skyrrid in nearby Abergavenny. It would be good to think so.The Skyrrid, split in half by the Archangel Michael at the Crucifixion, beacon for St David, which attracted the Holy Augustinians and Ervistus in Norman and MEdiaeval times to found Llanthony and then the Skirrid which became the Mount of Salvation during penal times, with hundreds of Faithful climbing the mountain for secret Rosaries and Masses with the Priestly heroes such as the Fathers David Lewis, John Kemble, Philip Evans John Roberts and countless others who climbed up there to administer the sacraments.Farmers to this day fetch earth as fertiliser to put on their land if the land needs nourishment and the Benedictine Parish of Abergavenny climb the Skirryd with the Cross on Good Friday for Veneration and then again on St Michael's Day.

However, there are many mountains in Wales, but the Skirryd still the province of the Archangel Michael and Our Lady.

St Kenelm-an English Saint venerated at Rockefield

However, the area was overrun by Saxons quite early, being on the border with Saxon England, and a very important story of a Saint commemorated at Winchcombe became accepted tool, possibly because people forgot who Cenhedlon was (although this was a Welsh Speaking area of Monmouthshire as was all of Abergavenny, which made things difficult for the English Church to catch the recusants, as it was difficult to find people who would betray a fellow Welsh person to the English Authorities, especially those who had benefitted from the sale of Church lands at the Reformation. The Saint I am speaking of is St Kenelm.

St Kenelm is a muchlater saint, and to their credit, the Church have not altered their dedication. It may have been. however, that when, as so often happened the crumbling wooden or wattled old British Church was replaced by Saxons or even Welsh at that time with its first Saxon structure that it was remamed at that point.

The Legend of St Kenelm of Mercia

In AD 819, King Kenwulph of Mercia died leaving two daughters, Quendryda and Burgenhilda, and a son, a child of seven years old, named Kenelm who was chosen to succeed him. Quendryda envied her little brother and thought that, if he were killed, she might reign as Queen. She therefore conspired with her lover, Askobert, her brother's tutor and guardian, and gave him money, saying, 'Slay my brother for me, that I may reign'. In the Forests of Worcestershire, on a hunting trip, the opportunity arose.

The night before the hunting trip, Kenelm had a dream in which he climbed a large tree decorated with flowers and lanterns. From on high, he saw all four quarters of his kingdom. Three bowed down before him, but the fourth began to chop away at the tree until it fell. Then Kenelm transformed into a white bird and flew away to safety. On waking, the young king related his dream to his nanny, a wise old woman gifted in interpreting dreams. She wept, for she knew that the boy was destined to die.

In the middle of the hunt's first day, young Kenelm, tired and hot, decided to lie down beneath a tree to rest. Askobert began to dig a grave, in preparation for the murder, but the boy suddenly awoke and admonished him, 'You think to kill me here in vain, for I shall be slain in another spot. In token, thereof, see this rod blossom'. As he thrust his stick into the ground, it instantly took root and began to flower. It grew, in years after, to be a great ash tree, which was known as St. Kenelm's Ash. Unperturbed by this turn of events, Askobert took the little King up to the Clent Hills, and as the child began to sing the 'Te Deum', the assassin smote his head clean off and buried him where he fell.

Kenelm's soul rose in the form of a dove carrying a scroll, and flew away to Rome where it dropped the scroll at the feet of the Pope. The message on the scroll read: 'Low in a mead of kine under a thorn, of head bereft, lieth poor Kenelm king-born'.

Accordingly, the Pope wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who commissioned a party from the Mercian capital, Winchcombe, to seek the body. As they walked, they saw a pillar of light shining over a thicket in Worcestershire and beneath it the body of Kenelm. As it was taken up, a rushing fountain burst out of the ground, and flowed away into a stream, which brought health to anyone who drank from it. The body was then solemnly carried towards Winchcombe, but at the ford called Pyriford over the River Avon, the burial party was met by an armed band from Worcester Abbey who also claimed title to the remains. The dispute was settled as follows: whichever party woke first on the following morning could take the prize. This proved to be the monks from Winchcombe. Despite their agreement, however, they were closely pursued by the Worcester party. Exhausted from their rapid march, they stopped just within sight of Winchcombe Abbey. As they struck their staffs into the ground, a spring burst forth, and this refreshed them so that they were able to press on to the Royal Mercian Abbey at Winchcombe, where the bells sounded and rang without the hand of man.

Then Quendryda asked what all this ringing meant and was told her how her brother's body was brought in procession into the abbey. 'If that be true,' said she, 'may both my eyes fall upon this book', and then both her eyes fell out of her head upon the Psalter she was reading. Soon after both she and her lover died wretchedly, and their bodies were cast out into a ditch. The remains of Saint Kenelm were buried with all honor and he has since been revered as a martyr. His feast day is celebrated on July 17.


In fact, according to other accounts he was not a child but 25 when he died (not that age should be a consideration)and the Church wisely kept the earlier dedication when the Normans refurbished the church to its present form. Nevertheless you can see the Saxon dedication coming during Saxon times.

The church is in need of offerings. It remained the property of the Catholic family at Perthir until fairly recent times and they were able to choose their own incumbents to the post for many years. The last three Sisters of this family are buried in the church, but it did mean (as at St Maughams another church-llan locally) that Catholic Faithful could be buried there during penal times.

At my rosary there I did remember all the priests of those times, plus Kenelm and Cenhedlon. Weshould preserve St Cenheldlon as a shrine for all those who had died on the Faith remaining true in the most terrible times.

This is a lovely church and very welcoming, as both the Vicar and Churchwardens attest. As for Goronwy , said a prayer for him too!

Thought for Today

Do you feel disappointed and in despair because someone let you down? People can fail; ven your best friends pr those you love the most can fail. But God will never fail you -if you put your trust in Him.

This is the last busy period of the term. I have been travelling down to London, Wales and more locally to Malvern, Gloucester and Cheltenham. And am looking forward to the rest.

Next Week I am accompanying the Nidus Children's Choir of Cwmbran to Graz in Austria. Will blog from there if I can find an Internet Cafe-but will be away fr a week!

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