Tuesday, August 11, 2009



The rear of the ancient Church, with the pre Norman font and Devon Screen, ancient walls, oak beams and bell rope

We know, that during Earl Harold’s conquest of the Hereford and Gwent lands, prior to the Norman Conquest, it was possible that this peaceful community was scattered and fled to Britanny or France or Armorica as Gaul was then known. Constant warfare between the retaliating Welsh and English put an end to peaceful life. Generally, however, it is possible that the Saxons built an early wooden church on this site. Possibly the mud and wattle earlier buildings so popular with the Celts may have been destroyed. The late Dr Pickford pointed out that some of the stones are of older date than those put there by the Normans (Possibly Saxon?). Following the Conquest, William’s generals, his barons took large areas of the country to subdue.

In this area that Baron, as we have learned was primarily William FitzOsbern, who had his headquarters in Bristol (Bretueil) named after a place in Normandy. The late Dr Pickford also believed the monks accommodation would have been closer to the church than the castle.
So who were the Normans who supervised the building of the little Church of the Priory Cell?
Above Pre Norman font

The Church has recently been restored and saved by an organisation . It is only open every Sunday morning at 8.45 for a Church of England Service and every Sunday afternoon in August. Refreshments are available. It lies just on the road south of Belmont Abbey in studding countryside by the river.

Above note the early 14th Century Devon Screen, which the parish are hoping to have professionally restored There are four panels showing Our Lady and the Child Jesus. There are four panels altogether, which came from a ruined catholic chapel near Seaton Junction Station at Whitford . It was donated by the owner of the property to the newly restored French Urseline Nuns at St Monica’s Priory at Spittisbury. After a while the screen was sold and aquired for Llangua. It is perfectly in keeping with the church’s age and tradition.The Images are of the Virgin Mary, Our Lord, King Edmund, Martyr and a bishop.

It is described and illustrated by Frederick Bligh Bond and Dom Brede Camm in Roodscreens and Roodlofts Vol II pp 212-213.

Nave and Chancel of the Priory Church of St James. Unusual to see the chancel part on the same level as the nave, but it appears the floor has been raised several times to cope with flooding. Notice the barrel roof (although bosses are Victorian!)The Priory Church can only be lit by candlelight.

The manot and priory were given to the Abbey of Lyre before 1183. A cell of Benedictines (black monks) were placed here. The Abbey of Lyre was built in the beautiful Risle Valley in Normandy, which you travel over via a big viaduct on the Motorway to Le Mans.There is no knowledge of what the name means. However, there are some interesting stories to come out of Lire .

Abbaye de Notre Dame, Lire, Normandy

Lire Abbey, Risle Valley,Normandy, drawing and woodcut
Early Eighteenth Century
This was founded by Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester (1104 – 5 April 1168). The surname "de Beaumont" is given him by genealogists, in fact the only known contemporary surname applied to him is "Robert son of Count Robert". Henry Knighton, the fourteenth-century chronicler notes him as Robert "Le Bossu" (meaning "Robert the Hunchback" in French).

He was Justiciar of England 1155-1168.
Robert was very generous to his Abbey at Lire In addition to the abbey of St. Mary de Pré, in Leicester, the earl founded in England the Cistercian abbey of Garendon in 1133, the Fontevraldine priory at Nuneaton between 1155 and 1160, the priory of Luffield, and the hospital of Brackley. He refounded the collegiate church of St Mary de Castro as a dependency of Leicester abbey around 1164, after suppressing it in 1139. Around 1139 he refounded the collegiate church of Wareham as a priory of his Norman Abbey of Lyre.

His principal Norman foundations were the priory of Le Désert in the forest of Breteuil and a major hospital in Breteuil itself. He was a generous benefactor of the Benedictine abbey of Lyre, the oldest monastic house in the honor of Breteuil. The Breteuil was the name taken by the son of William FitzOsbern after this Knight’s untimely demise in Normandy! We have seen that Fitzosbern himself had a big part in the foundation of Chepstow Priory. By 1068 FitzOsbern had gifted six priories to Lire. The property belonged to Lire for almost a hundred years before the priory was built on the site of the earlier foundation founded by Ciwa.

According a charter (ca 1070AD), Lyre owned in Landaff's bishopric The manor of Larquewen(Llankywan) and the tithes of Grosmont's forest, half of the tithe of tollgate of Strigueuil, one half of the tithe of between Waie (Wye) et Ousche(Usk-), namely cows, pigs, feathers, fish, honey and cereals. So we can see here what was produced in the surrounding lands.

Eventually, I believe the area involved was too far from the established centres at Monmouth and at Abergavenny to make for easy administration from Grosmont. In addition the Lord of Grosmont, was happy to allow the small number of monks possibly only two achieve a stone building on the site of the present Church. The original Celtic Church buildings, possibly any Saxon building was built upon. The monks were useful for all sorts of reasons. They could supervise the fishing rights on the Monnow and administrate the Mill, collect the rents and tithes, make accounts and records.

Hilaire de Llankywan was the prior in 1196 Prior Peter Maunsell was the Prior in 1268 at the time of Henry III and Brothers Robert and Thomas Turberville and Gilbert Talbot were also the monks at that time and it is unlikely that there were ever any more than two or three. During Mediaeval times, there would have been considerably more people in the Llangua area, since most people were then involved in architecture.

Secret Catholic Associations,Recusancy and St James as a Mass Centre?

An early record of Llangua Church also mentions ‘a blocked priest hole.’ This is very important as the land was owned by one of the most extreme Catholic haters in the entire country. In the the chapter ‘Dangerous Times for Catholics’ you can see the terrible persecution of Catholic Christians that went on from the time of Elizabeth until the first of the Relief Acts.
Llangua Priory Church from the Mill
John Scudamore obtained the lands and priory building from Shene at the time Henry VIII seized the Abbeys and was anxious to keep them. He and John Arnold hunted down priests all over the county and were zealous in their desire to kill priests. There was a political dimension to all this too, but in the case of the three Monmouthshire and one Herefordshire Martyrs, they were simply the sons of local people who had been led by the spirit to train and minister in the ways of the faith from the time of the Apostles. David Lewis (linked with Llantarnam) John Lloyd (linked with Trivor ) and Philip Evans (linked with Abergavenny and the Gunter’s House) were the Gwent Martyrs . After the priory was attached to Shene and later sold to Scudamore, I suspect little was done to improve the fabric of the church. From the time of Richard Gwyn, (during the reign of Elizabeth I) young local boys went off to St Omer and Douai to train as priests and come back to be pastors to their flocks.

Two things happened to panic the general population:
1.A group of desperate young men, became terrorists and persuaded Guy Fawkes to try and blow up parliament, hoping there would be an end to the persecution with a change of King! It was an act of God that this did not happen , since Guy Fawkes had packed enough explosives into the cellar of the House of Commons to blow up half of London, and the loss of life would have been terrible. It was a disaster for the Catholic population as regards public relations.

2.In the time of Charles II, Titus Oates told terrible lies and stories against Catholics, particularly priests. The fear of Spain could no longer be used to turn people against Catholics This was the time when the Anglican Church itself was under attack by Puritans and Presbyterians following the legacy of Cromwell. .The people were ‘spooked’ by these lies about ‘foreign spies’. Evidence shows that Charles II never believed any of it, especially as he remained a secret Catholic all his life, although living as an Anglican. Titus Oates was later found to be lying and was executed, but not before 120 priests had perished by hanging, drawing and quartering as well as many lay people , By the seventeenth century perhaps the Scudamoresno longer took a very great interest in the church, because to have a priest hole in the church itself meant that the Holy Mass must have been offered there, in the Church for many years by priests willing to’ lay down their lives for their sheep’. To be fair many Anglican clergy were becoming uncomfortable about the treatment of Catholics and Catholic priests and faithful.They often buried Catholics at night in their churchyards after their Requiem Masses. St Maugham’s Church was not far away and two Catholic priests were buried there-Francis Dormer (who died in 1770) and John Williams (died 1793).Perhaps they offered secret Mass at Llangua in later years, whilst Father Kemble or Fathers Lewis,Evans or Lloyd must have at one time

What other changes did the monks make?
The Gwent Saint Iago Shrine!!St James the Apostle

Well it seems they actually rededicated the Gwent Shrine to the Apostle James. We know St James as being in the inner circle of Christ. He was one of the the first disciples that Jesus called after Peter and Andrew with his brother John. Jesus called them ‘Sons of Thunder’ so perhaps they were a bit loud and bombastic but also courageous. James is there throughout Jesus life but takes no special role and does not become an intimate friend of Jesus like his brother John, yet receives some great insights. James is there at the Transfiguration. Jesus went up to a high mountain and sood there praying and suddenly he becomes completely filled with a bright light, the glory of God. This frightens the disciples, but they see, once and for all the Divinity of Christ. One minute he is walking and eating with them , the next he is shown to them as God. Next to him appear Elijah and Moses, Old Testament prophets who have been promised in personal contacts with God that they will see the Saviour

Above:.This statue,beautifully crafted, is of St James, himself dressed as a pilgrim on the way to Compostella. He wears the shell pilgrims badge on his hat and carries the pilgrim’s staff. St James would not have been carrying a Bible of Course, as he could not read and the Bibe was not written for some time after Jesus death. He was carrying a lantern, however, a symbol of Light, the Light of Christ.

Again, James is present at the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. These events absolutely convince the Apostles of Jesus claim to be God and remain with them for the rest of their lives. There are also James and John were present at the healing of Peter's mother-in-law (Mark1, 29), and at the raising of Jairus's daughter (Mark 5, 37; Luke 8, 51). They are described in private conversation with Jesus on the mount of Olives (Mark 13, 3) There are some letters in the Bible written by James in the New Testament. In the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke in the New Testament, he attended the ‘Council of Jerusalem’ when all the Disciples, Apostles and Peter and Paul met to discuss whether non Jewish (Gentile) converts to Christianity needed to conform to Jewish Law such as Circumcision, where Peter and Paul argued forcefully against this. (This was the first of the many Councils of the Church)

Their mother Salome - or they themselves - asked Jesus to accord them places on his right and his left when he came into his kingdom (Matthew 20, 20-28; Mark 10, 35-45), when they also declared themselves ready to drink from the same cup as Jesus - i.e. to accept martyrdom. Finally, the sons of Zebedee are specifically mentioned as present at one of the post-resurrection appearances (John 21, 2), on the lakeshore of Tiberias; and among those gathered in the upper room after the ascension (Acts 1, 13). The only certain fact recorded of James afterwards is his martyrdom (Acts 12, 1-2) at the hands of Herod Agrippa I (r. 41-44 A.D.).

He is known as James the Great to distinguish him from James the Less, or James the brother of the Lord (also called by Eusebius James the Just) who became a pillar of the Jerusalem community, and is thought to have been the first bishop of Jerusalem (Galatians 1, 19 and 2, 9).

After the Martyrdom of James
http://www.csj.org.uk/ for details of this pilgrimage A cathedral of Ammonite Catholics marks the spot where his body fell and these brothers say they have the remains and relics there. But there is also a different story-that at least part of his body or relics were taken to Galicia in Spain. This was said to have been done by the inspiration of an angel. The relics were taken inland to Isla Padron and then disappeared out of sight.

According to tradition there were miracles all along the way. Life was still dangerous for Christians during the various persecutions and the secret guardians hid his relics well. His relics were much travelled.. In the7th and 8th century documents (i.e. prior to the discovery of the tomb) refer to the belief that James spent a number of years preaching in Spain before returning to Jerusalem, and martyrdom.

His followers are believed to have carried his body down to the coast and put it into a stone boat, which was carried by angels and the wind beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the straits of Gibraltar), to land near Finisterre, at Padrón, on the Atlantic coast of northern Spain. The local Queen, Lupa, provided the team of oxen used to draw the body from Padrón to the site of the marble tomb (Arca Marmorica), a little way inland, which she had also provided. The saint was believed to have been buried with two of his own disciples, Athanasius and Theodore.

St James of the Field of Stars (Compo=stella)

The site of his tomb was forgotten for some 800 years. Then in the ninth century he was discovered by a hermit Pelayo, who saw strange lights in a field and when he went to the location, he found a stone box with the relics of Saint James , identified by its markings. The field where the box was found is called ‘Saint Iago(James) in the Field of Stars.’ When the Apostles divided the known world into missionary zones, the Iberian peninsula fell to James. There is nothing intrinsically implausible about this: Spain was already a well-established part of the Roman world, and Paul, writing in 56 or 57 (Romans 15, 24 & 28), is clear about his own desire to make a missionary journey to Spain. (On the other hand, Paul was generally reluctant to visit places that had been evangelised by others, preferring to found churches of his own, so his reference might be taken as evidence against James having preceded him to Spain ... )

The local Bishop verified them as the bones of St James. A huge 12th century Cathedral was built over the Field of Stars and every year many thousand people travel the route, through France and the ‘English’ route from Bordeaux to arrive at Compostela on St James Feast Day, the Day of his martyrdom -25th July. A book was produced at the same time as the Cathedral was built Liber sancti Jacobi-(Hymns and songs of St James and his, liturgy )Pilgrims from the Middle Ages carrying the Staff and wearing the scallop shell. Pilgrimage is the idea of freeing the body spiritually.. Modern pilgrims want the same thing. Over 100,000 people make the this pilgrimage every year . Friendships and companionships are made.

St James (Iago) of Compostella in Northern Spain
-Welsh starting point of a pilgrimage

People come off the treadmill of modern life. Pilgrims come from 90 different countries all around the world. The route is legendary and pilgrims are not drawn not just from religious people, but also people who want purpose in their life and who try to find their faith-they ‘knock on the door’ by doing this pilgrimage. Which is an ancient Channel of civilisation. They walk on average 20 miles per day, stopping at the shelters. Volunteers work there to help the pilgrims and offer-breakfast and help with blisters . Support of other pilgrims on the route is special, and necessary because many people embark on the pilgrimage , having no experience of walking! People may ride, or cycle or even come by wheelchair, but not by car.Christians make such a pilgrimage as a symbol of our journey through life to heaven and the spiritual insights received,bringing them closer to God and away from the concerns of the world. It is the descendant of the ‘White Martyrdom’ of the Celts, which is why there should be some discomfort! Many pilgrims say that St James himself has helped them and appeared to them along the way urging them on.

Iago is Spanish for ‘James’and the Invasion of the Islamic Moors

The Hostel de St Marcos in Compostella was used to house the Spanish Order of Benedictines of St James. The Order was charged with protection of Christian Pilgrims against the Moors. This is politically incorrect today but the Moors were aggressors and they were being invaded and there developed a sacred struggle against Islam, until the advent of ‘El Cid’ and the struggle of Ferdinand and Isabella , which pushed them out again. When pilgrims arrive at Compostella, they place their hands on the Pilgrims Hand on the doorway and then go to meet the Apostle behind the altar. A huge crozier with incense swings in the Abbey Church (originally to cope with the smell of the pilgrims!) This , from all who have done it, has been one of the most special and beautiful journeys of their lives.The Image and Symbol of the Journey is a powerful tradition of the earliest years after our Lord had ascended into Heaven. When pilgrims reach Compostella, they go further to the end of the land at Cap Finisterre and burn their clothes as a symbol, that they have been inwardly changed, born again and resolve to do better, before the long and uncertain trip home. When they return home is when their new life, the inward journey begins.

The Image of St James at Llangua is of wood and would have been brightly coloured. It shows St James, himself traditionally garbed as a pilgrim to Compostela holding the pilgrims staff and wearing the typical straw hat. In his right hand he holds the book of the gospel (even though of course, none of the Apostles or disciples had Bibles and he could not read anyway)It is the pilgrims dress he wears and may have been brought back by a parishioner who had done the Camino Walk to Compostella , perhaps the best known pilgrimage in the world, others being Rome, where many Welsh people went. Cologne in Germany (Shrine of the Magi) and Jerusalem, where at least three of our Welsh saints were consecrated as Bishops, David, Teilo and Padarn. The original statue was made to hold a lamp, but looks extremely good quality. On his head, he wears the hat with a scallop shell.

Next:A word about the Abbey of Lyre!

1 comment:

Sanctus Belle said...

Great post, love the history and the pictures. Too bad that lovely old church is not having Catholic mass - but someday I pray that will return.

I do enjoy your blog, being a Catholic and lover of English history - I was wondering if you could answer a question for me? Have you seen any saints medals for St. Winifrid or St. Edmumd Martyr? I've searched, and searched and have never found either. Or holy cards? Anything?

Thank you so much and keep the great posts coming!