Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sant y Brid -St Bride's Netherwent and the Ave Maria Bell 1290


The Stained Glass Window of St Brigid of Kildare.A Jewel of a Window!

This is really a beautiful window and there are several other stained glass windows of excellent quality, though from the 20th century. There is no other emblem or symbol of St Brigid left in the church that I could see.
I first read about this little Church in Fred Hando's book 'Journeys in Gwent' and i have never had more pleasure out of a book than this one, which I got in a jumble sale and have reverently kept it safe all my life. This morning I am recovering from yesterday's heat!!!! and my eighteenth Wedding Anniversary. My husband took me out to a little restaurant by the river, called the Fleet Inn at Twyning near Tewkesbury. It had been a dreadful day. The ratchet on my clutch pedal had gone in a really awkward place and we were subjected to constant abuse i'e'_'Silly ******! What a place to park!' etc and the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) had taken nearly 3 hours to find us. I had been to the vet and found my dog might need an expensive course of treatment and so I was screaming inside. It was so hot and the air conditioning had folded up. I could not have it fixed because I had to pay £89 for a blood test for the dog!!So I roasted.

When the breakdown van came and towed me to the garage I was so grateful to cool down in the van. Above all I was grateful to my son, who was wonderful, took the dog out for a walk, walked a mile to the nearest supermarket to get a sandwich , cold drink and some calippos which were still reasonably cold when they arrived and kept me sane, and the dog, who was hanging out of the window, her problems being related to excessive drinking and hmn you know what I mean. The RAC man was so kind as well and dropped my son of at the railway station. Inside I was screaming then I calmed down and did a rosary and something told me to ring RAC again, yes they had sent the man to the wrong place (don't know how!) but they took a fix on the phone.When I got home I went to bed for a few hours with some paracetamols, thanking God for my deliverance.

My husband was very sympathetic but when we got to this 16th century inn, the Fleet Inn at Twyning there was a thunderstorm. It was wonderful that all cooled down and I thinked God the pressure had burst.We laughed hysterically at the rain (and if you know Tewkesbury it always makes you nervous) and we had a lovely meal. Today it is like a bad dream. The dog, Kandi has to go back for another blood test Wednesday for 'Cushings ' which will involve supplements. Whilst serious I hope she will be ok.

St Brides Netherwent

I quote from Hando's book p58 (sadly no longer in print, I believe)

Another bend in the lane and we reach our journeys end, for accross a flat meadow we see the church of St Bride . Small, serene, set sweetly in its stone-encircled island of green, and guarded by tall trees, the grey sanctuary with its brown roof is in perfect harmony with the landscape. We lean on the roadside gate, and watch, and meditate.

Fred's Drawing


" I remember said my friend," at a Church in Wales Convention years ago, a Welsh parson prayed that while God would doubtless answer the prayers of the great guns of the city, He should also listen to the petitions of the little 'pistols' of the Monmouthshire valleys" That was a good opening for our talk. We had travelled thus far to see a little church; in other days we had journeyed to St Pauls and Notre Dame.Could it be that the Mighty Creator was as accessible from St Brides as from Notre Dame? Was the voice that spoke the thunder also the 'still small voice'?

As we talked, the western sky changed to daffodil yellow charged with crimson, and over the deep hillside shadows floated a pale blue haze-the haze of the wood fire-the blue of Mary's robe.

"O yes" came the quiet voice of my friend, " I am satisfied that Godliness is compounded not only of goodness and grandeur, but also with an equal portion of simple goodness. That little church, with its good lines is just as effective in expressing man's love(of God) and man's need, as is the majesty of a cathedral".

The dusk now descended. The colours slowly faded. Yet as we turned for home, the grey stones of the church glowed as with an inner radiance. Strange you may say, to find Welsh Churches dedicated to an Irish saint. Who was St Bride? What brought her to Gwent?In the Lives of the Saints we find the answer.

St Brigid was the pure and stainless Virgin of Kildare. Her father wished her to marry a wild chieftain of the neighbourhood , and when she refused, he threatened to force her into marriage, whereupon the saint made her eyes drop out to the ground. Her father shrieked with horror and fled. Calmly Brigid took up her eyes , washed them , inserted them into their sockets , and made her way to to the sea shore , where she cut little sods of earth and using them as boats sailed to Cambria (the area of Wales known in Roman times. She seems to have travelled all over Britain spreading the gospel and a real devotion for the prayers of this lady ensued.She is reported as changing stones into honey, of shes into butter , of rushes into smelts, but she also changed the Lord Mayor of London into a horse!"


So wrote Fred Hando, Headmaster of Hatherleigh School, and prominent local historian in his poetic prose and flair for entertainment. Of course this was in a book published in 1951. I have to say the area is unchanged. I first came with my son in May and I recognised it from Hando's illustration in the book. It was sunny, the birds trittered quite shrilly in the little island on which the church lay. It seems to be square nowadays, but I understand a considerable Mediaeval village lies buried behind the chuch, with many of the bodies of the villagers buried under the nave of the church. We have no idea what killed the village off, but in 1835 just one small cottage remained lived in by William Pewtrifs and he was married here in the church according to the registers as obviously this church too is adminsitered by the Anglican Church in Wales. From the tithe map we see he kept a neat orchard behind his cottage.

Today nothing can be seen of the tenth century except the church, except a few grassy house sites and a hollow that marks the sunken village street. At the end of this street was the gushing St Bride's brook. It could have been the Black Death in the Middle Ages, It could have been the Great Plague in the seventeenth century, It could have been the enclosure of the land my local land owners, forcing the people out and into the towns in the eighteenth century. Until the site is excavated (the field has never been ploughed by order)we shall have few new clues.

Inside St Bride's Netherwent

I was met at the church by the energetic and enthusiastic Vicar's wife Mrs Heales,who was kind enough to show me around the church's treasures. You can drive into the field where the church is located through the gate and park near the church in the shade, which I was glad of since the AC has gone in the car!

The location of the church makes it highly likely is was also a Llan in early British times, but that the churchyard wall has been 'rationalised' wspecially as the tenth century town was clustered around it.It clearly became an estate church built up by the de Huntleys for their manor. It still remains walled off in a more square way from sheep and cattle to save them from the poisonous yew trees , that were grown in this area-usually in churchyards. The purpose of this was as the parish leaflet says, was to "make longbows for the archers of Gwent" There was a rustic style stone gate ,(see the stone gate for St Materiana's in Tintagel)which has been replaced with a modern wrought iron gate.

The ancient Mediaeval Preaching Cross


This Cross (damaged as we have said in the 17th century) was heavily repaired to commemorate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. You can see the whole cross on the top pictre. The headstones are all quite recent mostly 19th century, the earlier sould being buried under the nave of the Church, where they felt they would be nearer Christ and the Blessed Sacrament prior to the changes in the 16th century.In 19th century towns John Henry Humphries, agent to the Perry-Henrick Estate which maintained St Brides, chose to be buried in the church " So that the hounds could run over my grave". The parish leaflet goes on 'Again in the parish leaflet " Certainly on a crisp winter's morning he might still hear the haunting music of the hounds drawing the dark coppices of the Salisbury Woods behind the church and site of the Mediaeval village.

Only the tower of the church, looking on the outside is really ancient. It's thirteenth century saddleback roof is very French and it has three early lancet windows on the North side. A worn carved stone head is set into the church itself and is evidently from the mediaeval nave or chancel-sanctuary that was so ruinous by 1848 that they were pulled down and rebuilt. A note in the records shows that a northern side had fallen down before 1790 and that in 1812 , the southern aisle collapsed . With little population and its village gone, the church was rebuilt simply, but lost its aisles.

The little Norman Church, was probably served by a nearby priory such as at Chepstow for example, and was rebuilt during the Norman reorganisation by Lord of the Manor-Lord de Huntley, no doubt granted by William Fitz Osbern of Chepstow Castle one of William the Conqueror's stalwart barons.
The door for the priests entrance into the Sanctuary still remains and is covered by a blue velvet curtain.

The Black Death

The death of the mediaeval village, possibly during the Black Death village caused problems all over Britain as the disease ran its course and as the monks(there were few secular priests then) helped most with the dying and dead, many of them died as well. Only two monks remained at Abergavenny after the Black Death from 20 before.William Fitzosbern, Lord of Chepstow died early and although the land passed to his son, Roger de Bretuil after whom Bristol must have been named perhaps, chose to live there and the Prior and monks of Chepstow had a job to establish themselves securely, having few monks, unlike the greater numbers of Cistercians at Tintern Abbey, who arrived later.I think the Death is more likely than the Plague of the `1660s which was confined more to the London region.The Black Death, or the Black Plague, was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, widely thought to have been caused by a bacterium named Yersinia pestis (Bubonic plague),[]

It is thought to have begun in Central Asia or India and spread to Europe during the 1340s. The total number of deaths worldwide is estimated at 75 million people; approximately 25-50 million of which occurred in Europe and killed 30% to 60% of Europe's population. It may have reduced the world's population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in 1400.This visit of the Death seems to have been far more devastating than the later outbreak, although did not seem to penetrate the mountains in North Gwent, largely isolated at that time.

No doubt the inhabitants of the village died at the same time as the monk-oriests were running out of people to serve the churches.Chepstow Priory seems the likely supplier of the priests.These were Norman French in origin(as was the syle of this building and no doubt accounts for the style of the roof of the church.There would have been a barn somewhere in the village near the church to collect the tithes.

'Lady Sophia Perry Herrick'

Moving to the nineteenth century,during Anglican times, the parish leaflet tells us that 'Lady Sophia Perry Herrick would attend a service here with her servants and tenants and was a great benefactress of this church. In her zeal for temperance she had closed down all the local pubs (bet that made her popular)She was a current 'Lady of the Manor'. it seems.She appointed a priest of her choice.

Lady Sophia and her patronage ended their days in 1915. Mrs Healy recounted the tales of Lady Sophia as they had been related to her and also recalled a Mrs Baker who was the wife of a man named George Baker, who knew and accompanied Fred Hando on his rambles in Gwent.Her enthusiasm for all the church 'characters' in the past history of the church was infectious and very interesting.It seems a George Baker was 89 when he died and had been a church warden for 48 years! "His sprightly form leaning over the gate at Manor Farm will long be remembered in these parts - and was the last of the Old time farmers'.(Parish Leaflet)(There is a monument to his grandfather in the church who died in 1813 two years before the Battle of Waterloo.There are other 19th century inscriptions and monuments as well as the Mediaeval Templar tombstone.

The altar Chair

By the altar is a fine old altar chair which may have survived from the earlier church, like some of the memorial tablets.This chair is also made of oak and it is worth remembering in Druid times the oak meant Stability, Nobility,Strength and Endurance and is the emblem of St Bridget of Kildare.


The grounds and church are beautifully kept, The piscina has vanished here completely, possibily in the rebuilding of the 'Chancel'. we used to call it the Sanctuary where a light was kept shining at the Blessed Sacrament, where the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ' was kept. This I found was obviously missing. I did, however find something else.

A Templar's Tombstone has been found in the Church(see photo)

The Great Bell of St Bride's Natherwent-The Ave Maria'

The Church leaflet writes of this bell, that it is the smaller of the two bells in the bell tower. I was not able to see or photograph it . The bell has a diameter of 22 inches and is considered the most interesting bell in Gwent , the earliest inscribed one in the whole of the United Kingdom (how it escaped the vandals' desecration is a miracle!) possibly as it was the only bell at that time. There are only six other such bells in the UK.

It is incribed in Latin +AVE MARIA GRATIA PLN+ and dated 1290

This is the beginning of the Hail Mary,Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us snners now and at the hour of our death.

We call Mary 'Mother of God' (Theotokos) because she assented to be the cause of our Salvation and gave birth to God in the form of Jesus.And so is the ikon of the Body of Christ (The Church or Christ in the world)

I think it is wonderful to note, that in the dedication of the Blessed Virgin of Kildare, a woman dedicated to Christ's service in the world, and then this Bell which has vcalled the faithful to worship for centuries,named for another human woman, Mary the Mother of Our Lord should continue to call worshippers, even in an almost covert way, through all the times of terrible persecution for Catholics when the only places of worship were lonely ruined Abbeys, the top of The Holy Mountain, the Skyrrid and in back rooms in pubs and private houses.There were many recusants in Gwent and the King's Commissioner complained to Henry 'That the county of Monmouthshire hath always been esteemed to have been a true daughter of Rome'. Many fulfilled their obligations to the English church in order not to have to pay the hefty fines payable for non attendance at the English church.The language of the recusant church was Welsh and signals and meetings were arranged though this medium wherever possible.

Now the bell of 1290 was of French influence. In casting such a beautiful bell (which is slightly oval in shape, also a rarity, the parish leaflet says "was a long and difficult procedure in the thriteenth century and we must think of the de Huntleys (lord of the Manor) as having some wealth to equip their parish church with such an object. Today the bell is even more precious - and all the more wonderful that it can still be heard on Sundays calling the faithful to worship There is no more beautiful sound on an early Spring morning, when the mist still lingers on the flat water meados where once was the long vanished village, than the soft muted voice of this bell. Like the church itself, the sound is simple, rustic and exquisite."

Planning to Visit?

If you have a moment to visit this ancient church, go to the Church in Wales Website and put in St Bride's Netherwent and you will find Rev Healey's Contact details.Othersise a key is held at 'The Glen'600 yards north of the Church on St Bride's Lane.

Tomorrow I will move on to the third of our St Bride, Bridget,Briodhe,Brigid Churches at Skenfrith. The Welsh version of the name of Church and town is 'Pure Virgin' and seems to bear testament to a much older religious settlement on the site, also dedicated to the Holy Virgin of Kildare. This church is larger, again the chapel of the Castle at Skenfrith owned by the Norman Lords and has more original Catholic features as well as one 'special treasure'.

A Millenium Prayer for Intercession of St Brigid of Kildare

+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Holy St Bridget from your place of glory, pray for us sinners to the Lord our God. Help us by interceding for us with God the Father as we make our prayers. Pray with us Holy Lady and join us in asking God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: help us keep to the things that really matter-the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.Help us always to keep eternity in mind and not be sidetracked by what is not important .Help us to recognise evil and what is evil.You used your leadership skills wisely in the Great Abbey of Kildare, teaching your nuns to seek holiness, purity chastity and self giving Love. Help us to find holiness in all things, especially the poor in spirit, so that, following the Way of Our Lord Jesus, we can fix our path on God and look for the promised riches and happiness of the next world.

Our Lady Mary of Penrhys Pray for us
Our Lady of the Taper Pray for us
OUr Lady of Tintern Pray for us
Saint Bridget of Kildare Pray for us
St Winefride Pray for us
St David our Patron Pray for us.

Pray for us O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Praising the Holy and Blessed Trinity one God forever and ever in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.


No comments: