Thursday, October 9, 2008

Saint Mawgan at St Maughams-A Church with a Secret

The first two pictures of Trivor Farm (with the secret attic chapel) and Hilston House two recusant centres which sheltered priests and Catholic generally.The others are pictures of the present St Maugham's church and the plaque comemmorating the gift of Charles Rolls (of Rolls Royce fame) who restored the church in the nineteenth century.

SAT MAUGHAMS -A LLAN and early Mediaeval Church

Kelly's directory describes this interesting Church as follows:

'ST. MAUGHANS is a parish on the river Monnow, which bounds the parish on the east and separates Monmouthshire from Herefordshire; it is 5 miles north-north-west from Moiimouth railway station, in the Northern division of the county, hundred and petty sessional division of Skenfrith, union and county court district of Monmouth, Monmouth and Skenfrith highway district, rural deanerv and archdeaconry of Monmouth and diocese of Llandaff.
The church of St. Maughan is a small but ancient building of stone in the Early English style, restored in 1866, at the expense of the late J. E. W. Rolls esq. and consists of chancel, nave, south porch and a small western tower with open wooden lantern containing one bell: there are 150 sittings'.


This little church began life as a Catholic Church and when I visited it, I found it , in some ways as being quite mysterious, with many yews and a preaching cross. This church is not far from either Trivor Farm, or from Hilston House, or from Rockfield and Perthir, where the vicar Apostolic , Matthew Pritchard is buried, also in an Anglican Church.

An Early LLAN

The Welsh Name is Llanfocha which I think may have been one of Dubrcius' early monasteries, yet it is dedicated to St Mawgan, or St Meugan, a great early saint whost influence was felt, from Denbigh (North Wales) or to Cornwall, where an RAF airfield still bears his name. The round churchyard enclosure, showing the early deliniation for the Old Welsh of HEaven and Earth. I have covered how the early monks prepared their llans in the post on Trefethin Church as an incident in the Life of Cadoc show the process. Clearing the ground, praying and fasting over it for 40 days and casting out any demons that may be there. The water source is not far away.

To my delight I found it was open.I am not an expert in church architecture, but it seemed the first church (under which a Catholic priest of recusant times is interred) seems to have been an early narrower affair in the Gothic style which the Normans would have built over the original site of the Old Welsh monastery. At some point the mud and wattle buildings would have been created into stone in later tmes and then finally a larger , Norman stone building was built, with a priest installed. The Priest would probably have been a monk attached to The Priory Church of Our Lady and Saint Florent in Monmouthshire, he church and priory there also being built on the site of an old Welsh Llan.

The church seemed to have two naves, half divided into a Sunday School, I think and a wonderful stained glass of the Nativity. I plan to do another visit some time, but many of the 'Catholic' features like the piscina were gone, sadly, although the place had a feeling as if people were still there. I said a quick prayer, but was anxious to explore the circular Churchyard.


At some stage, perhaps in Tudor times, or possibly later still, I am not sure because there is little information, a second nave was added, which in an odd way seems to take the focus of the church away from the altar. The Church became Anglican under Henry VIII but this circle of Monmouthshire was still largely owned by Catholic gentry who owned the livings of these churches and could decide which Vicar was appointed. The owners of Hilston House , Trivor, Treowen and all the local manors were all Catholic and held Masses covertly at their houses and numbers attending the old churches few. The Vicar of Llantiolo Crossenny gave evidence of the mutitudes going to Thomas Gunter's House in Abergavenny for the Mass when at most forty cane to his church. Church attendance was compulsory then.


St Maughams lies at a Crossroad, where the Old Roman Road from Monmouth went down over the hills to South Gwent and the fortresses there at Usk and at Caerleon and Caerwent, so it would have been an important Old Welsh Monastery. As new roads were built it lessened in importance and the area around the church itself, being small and rural is as it always was, with a larger settlement at Maypole just up the road. Nearby is also the ancient Holy Well of St Maughams.

The Church is small and dark and and yet beautifully proportioned and kept. And the Church does have a secret.


Trivor Farm up the road had a secret attic Chapel where Father David, Father Philip, Father John and Father Kemble occasionally said Mass. When we chronologically come to this era, I'll post more about it. When a Catholic person died, there was always the distressing thing about where to bury them. There are many such burial grounds in Northern Gwent. The use of the Welsh language kept the secrets much better from the English overlords, but they still had the difficulty. To lok carefully at St Maughams, you can see how many graves in one portion of the churchyard bear the marks IHS and many the Sacred Heart. These are amonst the oldest in the cemetary. When a Catholic died, the vicar often looked the other way. A funeral Mass would be held at Trivor just down the road, then the coffin make its way up the track to he Church. At the Well, there is an imprint for a head and here the bodies were laid out , washed and annointed. The cortege would make its way up the hill to the graveyard, where the burial service was held. Many Catholics were buried like this, here and in other places, at Llanarth, Skenfrith and Rockfield where the living was held by the family at Perthir, which kept Beishop Matthew, and where he incientally spent his boyhood. Many priests are buried at Rockfield as well. Brave men, who risked their lives just to carry out their calling, in terrible times.


Two priests are buried in the Graveyard at St Maughams and I am trying to trace their whereabouts. Under the altar is another. They may not have been martyred like Fathers David, John Roberts, Philip and John Kemble, but they received the call from God at a dreadful time of Calamity for the Catholic people locally and bravely went out on cold dark nights to minister to the sick and dying and minister the Sacraments of the Holy Church.So indeed the Churches in this area do have a great secret. It could have been that the Requiems themselves may have been said in the church at Midnight, when all this went on, but that would have been risky.

If you visit, please say a rosary at Rockfield Cemetary or in the Church, or at St Maughams. If anyone knows the location in the Jesuits records of their names, I would like to know. I do know that it was Bishop Matthew who attested to a miracle at the grave of John Kemble.

ST MAWGAN, Meugan, Maugham, Sancte Maucanne

I hope to do more research on St Mawgan in Cornwall for you, but there is no 'Life' written about him by Benedictine or Cistercian monks. On the other hand his influence was widely felt in Cornwall and up to North Wales and there is a dedication to him near Brecon as well. Since the Brychan Brycheiniog family were the holiest in Wales, this may have been a possibility. Yet there are also links to West Wales.


Two parishes are named after St Mawgan in Cornwall and he may have been one of the roving Welh monks who travelled around especially to escape the yellow fever which had ravaged around the country and killed so many people, wipng out most of Tewdrig's children even. (see the post on Tewdrig)


Mawgan (possibly even spelt 'Morgan'-a more popular name)was possibly the Holy Abbot of Demetia-now Powys, which is why the parish at Brecon may have been his 'home 'parish) and possibly travelled to Britanny during the yellow fever outbreak) and then been blown back to the British Isles on a 'White Martyrdom' and been blown up on the shores of Cornwall where he ended his days, perhaps.Roscarrock another researcher, believes he was made Bishop of the Isles of Scilly.


Sancte Maucanne Ora pro nobis

Clearly therefore , he had a huge influence on the development of the Kingdom of God. It is possible he first went to North Wales to establish some houses there, then returned perhaps during the Yellow Fever to Brecon, moved south and dedicated St Maughams and then joined the other saints to go to Britanny , returning via the Scillies to Cornwall.

If you have any extra information about either church or St Mawgan, please let me know at

Finally more to enjoy here. St Tydfil's Church, Merthyr Tydfil. Hannah and Caitlin sing 'Panis Angelicus'.

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