Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Llansantffraed Ynysgynwraidd-St Bridget's Church, Skenfrith

The Lantern Tower, St Bridget's Church, Skenfrith

(Llansantffraed- Llan-sant-ffraed: holy place of -saint-Bridget pron Thlan-sant-fried)
Ynysgynwraidd-Ynys-gyn-wraidd: Island of Cynffrath(pron -unuss-gun-fryth)


The Great Altar Tomb of John ap Philip Morgan 1557(Above)

Keeper of the Duchy of Lancaster(see the roses on the chevron) is buried in this tomb. He was the principal farmer of the Three Castles area.

SkenfrithYnys Cynfraeth

The Normans built three small castles in the North of Gwent-Grosmont, Skenfrith and Castle Gwyn, which people have translated as 'White Castle' although it was his name. The Normans had superior military strength but they needed to consolidate what they had in England and contented themselves in Gwent with erecting huge castles (following the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings)to keep out the Welsh.

White Castle was built by Gwyn ap Arthfoed-the castle was painted white too!
Grosmont was built by his brother Aethan ap Arthfoed
Skenfrith was built by Bach ap Arthfoed
Obviously all Welsh themselves and a clever move!
Monmouth had a castle
Abergavenny had a castle (de Braose)
Usk had a Castle
Chepstow was the first Castle to be built by William FitzOsbern, one of William the Conqueror's henchmen.
All these castles had either priory churches, or churches attached. Priests would come from the monastic orders initially and be sent for a certain period of time to nearby castles.

Skenfrith then is the Island of Cynfraeth, or island but could mean 'river meadow'.Skenfrith has a history of flooding. The castle there was built on 10 feet of gravel to take it up over the waterline, so maybe a local hill would have been an island during these floods.
Originally it was called Llantilio Castle - so there was definitely a Llan in that area dedicated to St Sulien(Tysilio). And there is also a Llantellen, and a Chapel/well dedicated to Noe (St Noye?).

In 1881 there were 440 inhabitants in this village. The twentieth century saw its inhabitants increased by 5. (Hando)


Easily reached by bus from Ross on Wye. OR Monmouth and head north to Skenfrith.
A great trail is through Usk, Bettws Newydd, Llanarth, Llantilio Crossenny and White Castle'.You can park near the church, cross the meadow and dive into the deep, cold water fresh from the Black Mountains-at your own rist of course- but there is little better, This is the River Monnow from which Monmouth takes its name.

Skenfrith Castle

Good to visit. CADW. It is a Keep, raised on a square mound in the middle, not attached to anything else.. The dungeon underneath the keep is on a level with the Court.It had no stone built appartments and so it seems the garrison were in wooden buildings and huts.

The Church of St Bridget(Anglican Administration after 16th century)

Catholic Resistance, Recusancy and Penal Times- A Hotbed at Skenfrith!

This church is situated in a valley and I believe the Welsh name, from which Skenffrith has been anglicised is the :'Island of Cynfraeth , a sixth century chieftain. The church here is dedicated to St Bridget perhaps from even earlier Celtic times. The church would have also had a dedication to the Virgin Mary , to whom most churches have a dedication because of Mary being the Ikon of the Body of Christ ie the Church.(OS SO456203)is the location of the Church and (SO 462203)the location of St Bride's Well in nearby woods at Coed Angred.

Blessed St John Kemble

This area has a strong link to the Catholic resistance to the Penal laws inflicted on Catholics for almost three centuries, beginning with the late Tudors. Catholics would be baptised at St Bridget's well, buried in Coed Angren and hold secret Masses and rosaries whenever it could be managed. Here at Skenfrith and at Abergavenny runs an unbroken Catholic tradition, possible only because of the bravery and faith of the faithful, the bravery of the Jesuit priests of which four heroically died in cruel ways (largely at the behest of some landed families who had grown rich on obtaining Church property and were determined to crush the church which might threaten their right to it)and finally because of the simple goodness and generosity of local Protestants, laity and sometimes clergy moved by the distressing plight of a Welsh speaking community forced to accept something against their convictions.Many of the arrangements for these covert services and pilgrimages to lonely areas where a rosary might be said were arranged using the Welsh language, while local aristocracy were mainly English incomers and found intelligence difficult, as on the whole, the Welsh held together.

St John Kemble

The recently canonised Saint, John Kemble was a famous Catholic son of Skenfrith, and a shrine is maintained to his memory at the Catholic Church in Monmouth. In addition, Monmouth Catholics annually visit his grave in pilgrimage. It must have been wonderful to stand in St Peter's Basilica when his name, and that of the other martyred priests was read out back in the 1970s.Father John Lloyd, Father Philip Evans, Father David Lewis and Father John Kemble-the last two over 60 years of age were hung drawn and quartered, the first two in Cardiff, Father David at Usk and Father John in Herefordshire.I will write more about these later on. These were not dissident terrorists, they died because of the anxiety and lies spread by Titus Oates, that Catholic priests were plotting to overthrow the crown.When his lies were discovered Oates himself was executed, but so had 120 innocent Catholic priests. In many cases, threats and coercions, especially of women forced them to testify against the priests, but often people were bribed to perjure themselves to get a death sentence.More of this later.

The Woods and Catholic Chapel at Coed Angred

The Catholic chapel at Coedangred, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, was erected in 1847, and has a cemetery attached.The Chapel was dedicated to The Immaculate Conception.It was fitting that a church was built here where so many faithful were furtively buried in those terrible times.St Bridget's Well would doubtless have been used for Baptisms and for the washing of the faithful departed before the burials. The ancient usages came back into being, just as at St Maughams and Rockfield, two ancient Welsh Llans turned into Norman Churches in the middle ages and which buried actually in the churchyard, the remains of two Catholic recusant priests, and several more at Rockfield, including Bishop Matthew Pritchard, Vicar Apostolic of the Western Region, who lived at the Catholic house at Perth-hir and who is buried beneath the altar in the now Anglican Church.Catholic monuments in graveyards often had IHS written on them, and where the local Lord of the Manor was a recusant Catholic, with the responsibility of appointing an Anglican priest to the living, they were more than happy to oblige.

Ffynnon Ffraeth-St Bridget's Well

The Well of St Bridget is nearby and this could possibly mean there was an earlier Llan development here in Celtic times, but it is so difficult to be sure in the sixth century. The cult of St Bridget was extremely popular all over England in the middle ages too. If anyone reading this can confirm this or put a gloss on this I would be grateful.There is a distant picture of the well on 'More ictures of Skenfrith Blog on Friday.

St Brigid's Well in Kildare

However it seems certain that the church was an Old Welsh dedication to an Irish Saint, which common to other developments (and the castle itself) seems to have been built on the pattern of a Saxon Hall with a central nave and side aisles, the earlier church may have been rebuilt in Old Welsh times in Stone,as well as at Llanhylleth, but certainly the earliest church on this site was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin (as were all monasteries and churches, in 1207, possibly served by the monks of the nearby Priory of Our Lady and St Florent in Monmouth or from Abergavenny.There is an ancient head of a nun over the porch which is said to represent Bridget.

The Church of St Bridget

The originally ancient Catholic Church of St Bridget stands next to the River Monnow (Afon Mynwy) close to the border with England. The tower dates from a time when the Welsh borders were often raided by the English and people would need to take refuge. The walls of the tower are five feet thick.The old yew tree by the gate is older than the present church, and as I said there were probably a series of churches, mud and wattles, wooden or otherwise. The dedication is definately from an earlier source.The guidebook, written by Emeritus Professor E.G.Bowen writes that the Normans were in Skenfrith by 1075 and had built a motte and bailey castle on the site soon afterwards.Further 'I doubt if these Marcher Lords, whatever the harshness of their lives, would have lived there for five generations from 1075-1200 or thereabouts without a church.This present church was built during the time of King John (1199-1216)and not from the time of William the Conqeror, or obviously the sixth century time of Bridget herself.The style was known as Gothic or Early English, although there are plain round pillars in the church reminiscent of Norman ideas.

Matthew de Hereford Priest in 1207-Transfer to Grace Dieu

In 1207 it is recorded that the "Priest of Skenfrith-Matthew de Hereford-paid ten marks to King John to sent letters to William de Braose (lord of Abergavenny) to permit him quietly to enjoy his church at SKENEFRID which he had of the gift of the King".(Professor Bowen)Then Henry III gave the rights of the church to Edward Cruxback who in 1291 transferred it to the Abbot of Grace Dieu, a Cistercian Abbey whic stood "in a wood twixt WISK (Wsg-Usk) and Rzglande (Raglan). Grace Dieu will be incuded in later blogs on the Cistercians. The remains of the Abbey still lie in a meadow there-unfortunately, it had been pouring with rain and I had no wellies so was not prepared to go yomping over the fields for photos-but I will go back prepared!'I did not find them between Usk and Raglan but south of Hendre nearer Monmouth. Henry VIII changed to his religion in the sixteenth century and seized the land and avowson of Skenfrith for his own new church.

Oliver Cromwell and General Fayrfax-17th century-Puritans

The new church itself had problems under Cromwell with Puritans installed. A'Lewis David' was deprived of it and 'Lewis Parry' put in his place.He probably busied himself with an inscription from Ecclesiastes ' Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools'. Quite an insult to the Lord in this context.

The Cecils of Duffryn had the church and advowson next and 1854,the church was sold about 1890 to Robert Newton Jackson of Blackbrook. In 1921, the Church in Wales was disestablished and so private patronage ceased.

The Altar is original

The stone altar is the original Catholic one and actually dates from 1207. It was thrown down and buried by Thomas Cromwell's agents, but was then buried in situ for a number of years, forming part of the floor. It was restored on its present new pillars only a few years ago. Since the penal times, the wooden table by the door was used instead. It would have been interesting to know which relic was buried in the original altar.

The East Window

This window has been leaded up with fragments from ancient glass collected from the churchyard (where it had no doubt been smashed) by a former vicar. The whole of the window glazing has been refixed with this 15th century glass, and releaded.

The Sanctuary Carving is very interesting representing five periods of the church in the form of fifteenth century 'bosses' altough they are French in design.


1)Acorns and Oakleaves representing St Bridget.
2) The Fleurs de lys-the Design was borne by the Prince of GWENT and later gave place to the three feathers of the Prince of Wales.
3)Single Rose of Lancaster -Lords of Skenfrith were Lancasters. Henry de Grosmont, first Lord of Grosmont Castle was born at Skenfrith.
4)Tudor Rose, Henry VII and his Wife, Elizabeth the Rose of York were bth descended from the Lords of Skenfrith.
5)The Pomegranite -from the Royal arms of Spain , possibly inrtroduced by Constantia,Princess of Spain and second wife of John of Gaunt , Duke of Lancaster and Lord of Skenfrith.


This is the stone basin on the side of the altar . It was used to receive water in which the priest washed his hands before the Eucharist and the Chalice after the Mass. It dates from the middle of the thirteenth century and is semi circular even though it belongs toGothic times.

The Rood Screen

A portion of the rood screen is still to be seen here. Professor Bowen writes 'it is pierced in the form of tracery and one carving is in the form of a cross.On the right of the chancel arch are still to be seen the steps which lead to the rood loft.

The squints

The squints were almost like windows to allow the faithful to view the elevation of the Host during Mass.

The Stoup with Holy Water


When you enter a Catholic Church, you take Holy Water (which is blessed in a special ancient ceremony using the Easter (Paschal Cantle) With it you make the sign of the Cross as you enter the church-Forehead, Heart, Left to Right shoulders. This is a special invocation to the Trinity for guidance. It is sanctifying-makes you remember your Baptism, when you died to the World and became a Christian. This stoup at Skenfrith is original and many earth Christians in Skenfrith would have used it.

The Minstrels' Pew

Can be seen, from the times before organs were used in church. The original position may have been above the arch leading to the present vestry.

St Bridget allusions

Acorns, oak leaves and flames can be seen in the sanctuary. I apologise for the bad quality of the picture of Bridget's sculpture on the lectern! I had problems and shall be trying to return to Skenfrith shortly to retake the photos. I think you can get a good idea of this and the Catholic cope.

Time Team-Channel 4

Last night I watched Time Team-a programme of 'fun archeology' on the Discovery Channel. To my delight it was from Llangorse in Brecon (the next county North of Monmouthshire. Llangorse is a most beautiful lake in the beautiful country of Wales. The found the site of two 'llans' there and an Irish settlement. Apparently many Irish uniquely settled in Wales in the sixth century. 8 Ogham inscribed stones have been found using the Irish Ogham alphabet and some in Brecon museum. Now if there was an Irish settlement, and perhaps even raiders had settled down and intermarried with native Welsh, it would account for the enormous popularity of St Bridget and the demand for her intercessory prayers. Bridget herself had come to Wales, but we are fortunate to have four churches dedicated to this Irish Saint.Llangorse is not in Gwent, but well known to Gwent people for day trips, boat trips and beautiful scenery. Cardiff University Archeology department are meant to be continuing the dig near Llangorse Church.

To leave the subject- and I will provide you with better photos(!) I am going back to 1951 and Fred Hando's final remark

'When is Skenfrith most beautiful? In Summer, Autumn, Winter? At Twilight or by Moonlight? To me it is most alluring on a May morning. The hillsides, soft in outline, veiled in silver, frame the lovely church ; fruit trees hold out to it the pearls and opels of their blossoms; the ancient yew breathes over it a Benediction; and the river sings its cheerful, young song as it flows towards the Mill"
The Pleasant Land of Gwent Fred Hando P79

More facts about Brigid

She received the nun’s veil from Bishop Macaile of Westmeath. Afterward, gathering a group of women around her, she founded a nunnery at Kildare (Church of the Oak). Needing to have the sacraments performed, Brigid prevailed upon Conlaed, the leader of a nearby group of anchorites, to receive episcopal consecration and to move with his followers to a site adjacent to the nunnery. This conhospitae “mixed house” based upon the Celtic social concept of equality between men and women was unique among Irish religious foundations. Brigid as abbess of Kildare influenced Irish church affairs and headed a network of nunneries as well. Kildare prospered under royal favour in the seventh century becoming one of the most magnificent churches in Ireland during this time. When Brigid died c.525, she was buried alongside Conlaed beneath the altar at Kildare. Three centuries later her body was translated to lie beside the remains of St. Patrick at Downpatrick, one of Ireland's most holy shrines. The shrine was despoiled during the Reformation and its relics dispersed.

Cogitosus writing c.650 wrote of her miracles.

Brides, Fertility and corn dollies

Later “lives” added to these miracle stories. Her childhood miracles were associated with the multiplication of food such as providing butter for the poor. This was also the speciality of the Druid deity and her special fertility reputation. The name ‘Bride’ also comes from ‘Bridget’ or briodhe.So our custom of calling an unmarried woman about to marry comes from the name (German ‘Braut’- and Welsh word for ‘marriage’ is ‘priodi’ or something like this). It is customary for brides to carry corn, wheat, corn dollies and in some places Bridget crosses or flowers or a mixture of these things. The British custom of the Father handing over his daughter in marriage comes from these earlier times, but has died out in many parts of Europe.

In addition, the Veil is a Christian addition signifying purity and chastity. The traditional crown of flowers has been changed for a tiara as more money becomes available. Fertility was important in all ancient societies, for animals and people and nature. In Southern Gwent , even today in mid January men in Chepstow, pour Beer on the apple trees to improve their yield.

As an abbess, with the assistance of angels, she caused cows to give milk three times the same day to enable visiting bishops to have enough to drink. Brigid was also credited with taming a wolf at the request of a local chieftain whose pet dog had been killed accidentally by a peasant.

Irish Monks in Wales

Brigid’s cult spread rapidly throughout Ireland, and as Irish monks wandered throughout England, Wales, and the Continent, they carried Brigid’s cult into those areas as well. In England at least ninenteen churches were dedicated to her, most notably St. Bride's Church on Fleet Street in London.

Feast Day February 1st and the St Brigid Cross

A special plaited cross twisted from rushes was made by Brigid. She is often shown on an icon with a cow lying at her feet. Brigid’s feast day is February 1,(which is also the sacred before Christianity , as Imbolc, the Celtic festival of Spring.As a Druid deity, she was also a deity interested in fertility and plenty.

Gerald the Welshman 1186, just before the tour of his native Wales

Brigid is still venerated in Alsace, Belgium, and Portugal. Writing in the late twelfth century, Gerald of Wales noted a feature of her cult he witnessed on a visit to Kildare in 1186. There, a sacred fire maintained daily by twenty nuns (nineteen, after Brigid's death) burned continuously. The walls of the firehouse remained on the hill by the abbey church until the eighteenth century. Today, only the foundations remain, as a result of political problems
Mary of the Gael

As one of Ireland’s most beloved saints, Brigid is known as the “Mary of the Gael.” She is most noted for her compassion to others, especially to victims of violence, the impoverished, and lepers. Once she gave her father’s sword to a leper. Her father, who did not know of her act of charity, became furious and could not control this daughter who gave away his wealth and possessions as commanded by the Way of Christ.

The Castle

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.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Llansantffraed juxta Wsg-St Bridget's Church at Llansantffraed Court

How to find the Church

From ABERGAVENNY take the B4598 the Old Ragland Road and continue approx two and a half miles. Then take a left turn at the signpost to the Llansantffraed Court Hotel.
Follow this narrow road and you will se the church on the Right Hand side.
From RAGLAN roundabout (The Castle geatures strongly in our story so is well worth a visit) take the B4598 road sign posted 'Clytha'for three miles. The Hotel sign is posted on the right. If you wish to view the church, you can pick up the key from reception. The hotel serves wonderful coffee!!!

St Bridget's Church- Llansantffraed

The Welsh name Llansantffraed suggests a holy place at this beautiful spot from a very tearly time. The churchyard has been rationlised into a square following in the donation of some land to the church. The Llantsantffraed Court Hotel has some considerable links with the Jones/Herbert family a noble family of Gwent and Monmouthshire who generally remained Catholics, defended them and gave shelter to priests during the terrible times of persecution.

St Bridget came to Wales following the quarrel with her father. God gaveher father the sign she should be a nun and she arrived in Holyhead in Anglesey (Ynys Mon or Mona(Lat) Her cult spread quickly across Wales. She was known to be a Mother Theresa figure in the Age of the Saints and certainly Tatheus of Caerwent, himslef from Ireland would have known of her and may be responsible for the naming of the church at St Bride's Natherwent after her.

The ancient Druid deity called Bride

There was an ancient deity in the Druid practices who was the goddess of fertility and at certain times of the year like Spring and Harvest was given special attention and libations. Ireland was Christianised by St Patrick who is said to have baptised Bridget and the faith will have been in its infancy when Bridget defied her father, choosing the Christian option of the consecrated life of a nun. Ireland's loss was Wales gain, as this Saint's cult was beloved in Wales. Her special cross is seen in some of these churches as are her emblems of the oak leaf and acorn. Oaks were prevalent in Kildare, the site of the famous British Abbey and incidentally the oak was a sacred tree of the Druids belief.

Bridget demonstrated a great love of God. She loved and cared for the poor and is said to have become a nun at the age of eighteen and returned to found her great Abbey under the giant Oak of Magh Life (possibly when her father had forgiven her or died.)The Convent was called 'The Church of the Oak' or 'Ciff Dara' (Kildare in English)Hospitality and care of all God's people was a hallmark of her convents.

Michael Sadler, the current Rector of the Church (it is now administered by the Anglican Church in Wales)

St Bridget is a great model for the prosperous Ireland of today. The Brehon laws which regulatedcivil law in Ireland in her time, stipulated that a freeman had to give food and shelter to any man or woman equal to or lower than his or her own rank. Bridget made a virtue of this law, seing in it the reflection of Christ's word that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to him.St Bridget's Day is ccelebrated on 1st of February each year'.

St Bride is St Ffraed in Welsh and as I have said she lived in the fifth century. It is likely that the earliest chapel here was built for the small community or 'llan' in the way I described before under 'Trevethin' eg. how the site was selected and cleansed etc. It possibly at some stage remained a small Old British church until the Norman invasion, although Saxons may have created the stone church at some stage. This phase of the Christian settlement here is patchy but in the scheme of things people worked and worshipped there for centuries.When the Normans arrived no doubt the area was given to the Lords of Abergavenny and perhaps the Church was improved then as by the Fourteenth century, this was the country seat and estate of Sir John Morley. Maud, daughter and heir of John Morley married Thomas ap Gwilym of Perth-hir (or 'Herbert' family)The Herberts were heroes of the Catholic resistance to the unjust persecutions of Catholics and murder of the priests. They harboured them, defended other Catholics and kept the faith alive during the darkest days of the persecution.Many of this famous family are buried in the Churchyard. They had to toe a fine line themselves.In many places in Gwent, a Catholic family would own a local family church and appoint a vicar who would need to turn a blind eye to several things. One of the distressing things being secret midnight burials of Catholics in some churchyards, because they had no burial grounds of their own.This was often the case in Rockfield and St Maugham's Churches.

The Original Mansion

The original mansion, possibly a small castle (Bradney) occupied a position between the present Hotel and Church-some foundations lie under the beautiful lake. In the later part of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth the house was occuped by the P James Green of Arundel who was buried here in 1814.

Afterwards it was the residence of the Anglican Bishops of Llandaff and was for many years the home of Edmund Herbert the Chief Constable of the County. The main house was rebuilt in 1912 and restored recently, although some parts of the restaurant date back to 1670 and I understand it was restored along similar lines to the original mansion.

It became a hotel and was aquired by the Morgan family in 1997 and is personally run by them. This Anglican parish is the smallest in the county (290 acres only)and the boundary even excuding the gatehouse.There are various monuments in the church to people connected with all the families who lived in the house.

The Church in 1800

Had a south porch and a west window. The porch was rebuilt in the late 19th century, the big era of restoration of Anglican churches by the Victorians and rebuilt in stone on the West Wall.Bell cote could be 17th or 18 century (ties in with its being used as a parish church under new rules)but it seems according to an architect Richard Kay , much of the work is far earlier (late 15th century)

The Font and Rood Screen

The font is Norman, but the stem and base re cut.The foundations of the church building and walling of the nave and chancel-sanctuary area also are Norman (11th century)There is also a difference in the siting of the south window. This drawing of Sir Richard Hoare of the earlier church.The archway is 19th century copy and screen 20th century but using earlier material. The 'King's England-Monmouthshire mentions 'a graceful old chancel (rood) screen of pale oak'.The place where the steps to therood loft were have been found in the North Wall of the nave.Bradney records when visiteing in 1908 there was a chest of oak handsomely carved which stood on the chancel and probably made up from the old rood screen of the mediaeval Catholic church.But remnants of it may be in the present chancel sreen.

The Alabaster Panels


These have been set into the wall on either side of the east window. They still show some traces of the bright mediaeval colours, and show the burial and resurrection of Jesus. They are, as you can see very fine. These probably came (Bradney) from the original catholic altar of the church, removed in 1786, when repairs were made. These were early fifteenth century and there were schools in York, Nottingham and London producing this, but they are quite unique among small Welsh churches and they would be of special historical significance if they could be proved to have been in the church since before the Henry VIII period.


The piscina

The small special sink used to pour away the water used at Mass can be seen in the south wall of the chancel.(Previously Sanctuary where The Blessed Sacrament waskept))

The Mediaeval Preaching Cross

The base of this cross used for preaching by Franciscan Friars and Preaching Monks ;lies outside the door of the Church. These crosses, the heads of which contained scenes from the Bible were all universally destroyed when Oliver Cromwells model army and General Fayrfax, who destroyed Raglan Castle went rampaging round desecrating churches and crosses in the name of Puritanism. The destruction at that time also took in some of the mediaeval stained glass of the Priory Church of Our Lady, Abergavenny (now St Mary's Parish Church).

One thing is sure, there is little evidence of emblems of St Bridget inside the church today, but the church head Mass here from the sixth century to the sixteenth centuries-nearly a thousand years, before Henry VIII made his alterations.

Maeleine McCann

Now that it seems the Portuguese police have decided to temporarily shelve the church, disgraced Policeman Amaral has published a book. He had decided the parents and Murat were guilty and ignored other possibilities, although it seems certain leads were followed up. Like the mother of Yeremi Vargas, another Portuguese mother who wandered around Lisbon with A5 leaflets showing the picture of her son because of lack of support by anyone it seems, and Mrs Cipriano, who seems to have got a lot of bruises during her interrogationshortly before being gaoled, I actually hope tha people will support them with their prayers. Madeleine is not the only missing child, but one which symbolises all the others, including Ben Needham. A vigil is kept up at the internet site given on the Left in one of the items.Above all pray for support for Gerry McCann, Kate McCann and all the parents of these children. Above all.what you can do is to contact your MEP and MP and ask them to support the Amber Alert scheme, which has proved so good elsewhere.

Recently I visited the little church at St Brides in Wentloog for this blog, and there in the childen's corner a framed picture of Madeleine-always in their thoughts until the wicked person who took her returns her to her parents.