Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Our Visit

Last Autumn, I drove to Llanthony with my son. We drove through some stunning countryside and at the village of Llanfihangel Crucorney on the Abergavenny to Hereford Road and turned into one of the most heavenly places in a shy county and turned off to the wonderful village of Llanthony with its 12th century Priory, also boasting the hermitage of St David. The autumn leaves still hung heavy on the trees, reds, golds and browns, the berries were in stark relief across a blue sky. The mountain road is variable in width .Many walkers use it to climb the Black Mountains, which are dominated by three distinct mountains, the Blorenge, near Abergavenny, the Sugar Loaf and the Skirrid. In the tiny chapel further up the mountain known as Capel y ffin the words I will lift mine eyes into the hills are engraved into the sanctuary window. There is a really special feeling about this place.Since Norman times, too, there have been seven recorded private sightings of the Virgin Mary. I have always felt t to be forgotten by time. The valley is surrounded by old volcanoes, grassed over now and beautiful

Llanthony, the ‘Little Church on the Honddu brook’ in the sight of the Skirrid was the site of the hermitage of Dewi Sant, St David, the patron of Wales. The small cell, whitewashed (now Anglican) is attached to a larger nave of much later building. We always pay our respects to the memory of the saint who spent time in this beautiful place praising God and then rising by God’ grace to become our great defender of the faith against the heresy of Pelagius and , Archbishop and then Patron Saint of Wales after his canonisation by Pope Callixtus II in 1120.March 1st was held universally in Great Britain as a whole until Henry VIII began his own church in the 1530s.I have written extensively about St David in the Celtic posts.

The Mediaeval Priory at Llanthony

We moved over to the mediaeval priory. We saw many lovely things and my son and I were deeply moved. Above the Blorenge, Skirrid and ‘Sugar loaf’(named after the Siwgari tribe ) was pure cerulean with small tufts of cloud. Llanthony seems to sleep in the cradle of the hills. The rounded grace of the hills seemed to dip in salute to the priory. Was it the varied play of light and shade over the green valley? Was it the perfect design, with every line leading to the abbey? What was this intangible thing which made this place heaven on earth? We became forever part of the place.

Landor who had once owned the abbey ruins in the nineteenth century, wrote affectionately of Llanthony:-

I loved thee by thy streams of yore
By distant streams I love thee more!

Landor himself wanted to establish an ideal community at Llanthony, but his temper was awful and worse than his manners. The locals were not long suffering, so he threw in the towel, lived in the Lodge (Priory Guest House)and entertained his friends, including Southey.
My son and I found food there too, cawl (soup) and a roll and tea! In the sunshine afterwards, my son ran around photographing all areas of the ruins.)The Crypt restaurant is also open all day Sunday and most holidays and attached to the Prior's House, now a small hotel.


Indeed, Roger de Lacey, the Norman, whose son was so transformed by the power of the place, did not own the land at Ewias. The Domesday Book says:( Herefordshire X) :In the jurisdiction of Ewias Harold Castle, Earl William gave to Walter de Lacey 4 carucates of waste land. Roger de Lacey, his son holds them, and William of Osburn (hold of him). In demesne they have two ploughs, and four Welshmen rendering two sesters of honey and they have one plough. They have three slaves and 2 bordars. The land is worth twenty shillings. The same Roger has an estate called Longtown within the boundary of Ewias. The Land does not belong to the jurisdiction of the castle nor to a HUNDRED From this land Roger has 15 sesters of honey and 15 pigs when the men are there and pleas over them.

Llanthony Builds up again after the attacks-Bishop Herewald

Bishop Herewald, the saintly Bishop of Llandaff watched aghast after the Norman Conquest as the Normans did their worst, but when he died in 1108,his successor, Urban , a virile, dedicated energetic and determined cleric weilded with the help from the Pope a new and powerful influence. Under that influence, Llanthony and many other abbeys and priories rose up. They managed to convince the Normans that only by great gifts to the church could they atone for the horrible things they had done.These buildings were on sites already , like Llanthony blessed with menmories of holiness, of Dewi Sant, crosses, churches,and abbeys. Priories arose in Basseleg in 1110, at Goldcliff in 1115 and Abergavenny in 1128. Tintern Abbey dates from 1131.Their wealth increased, for Hugh de Lacey, the founder left them in 1186 sixteen churches, tithes in three places and lands in two others The canons built on beautiful transepts and chapels, added the nave with its lovely arches and built a great lantern tower two storeys above the crossing. No windows had its sill lower than fourteen feet from the ground. This was defensive
as there were many attacks by the Welsh, including Owain Glyn dwr.By the year 1200 the land was a bit more peaceful and some of the windows lower.-at four feet. It is easy to imagine the seclusion of those early brothers as they went about the rhythms of the Opus Dei, the daily work of prayer-praying the psalms.

The Foundation William de Lacey and Ernisius, Chaplain to Queen Matilda.

I was interested to read about the Augustinan Canons, (very much mendicant friars -'hands on'). It was during the reign of William the Conqueror that the Norman Knight, William de Lacey ,kinsman of Hugh de Lacey, Lord of Ewias lost his way during a hunting expediation into the thickly wooded valley. He came across the Blessed David's hermitage where he was moved to end his sinful waysand decided to sped he rest of his days in religious contemplation. Legend had it that he never again removed his armour as penance.In 1103, word of his self imposed penance reached the court of Henry I and inspired Ernisius, chaplain to Queen Matilda,daughter of Henry I to follow his example and follow William to this wild but heavenly valley in the Black Mountains. By 1008 the knight and Ernisius had gathered a band of followers, formed a monastic settlement , and built the first priory church, dedicated to John the Baptist and consecrated by the Bishops of Hereford and Llandaff. Hugh de Lacey provided the money and lands to sustain the community there.

Archbishop Dunselm of Canterbury had persuaded William de Lacey , Marcher Lord of the area and Ernisius to regularise the Celtic monastic practice of the time. It was felt Benedictines were too lax and Cistercians too greedy , an assumption which would amaze most Benedictines. It should be said that Celtic monasticism often drifted away from its original forms as taught by the early teachers Medwyn, Ffagan, Elfyn and the others, sent by Pope Eleutherius in the second century. The date of Easter was very often also the Druid Spring Festival, and it was necessary to keep the unity of the Church throughout the world.

The Order of St Augustines was Chosen

Finally the order of St Augustine was decided upon and were instructed by the canons of the Augustians of Merton, Oxford, London and Colchester. Henry and Matilda gave their consent, gifts and encouragement and Ernisius was appointed first Prior of the Augustinian order at Llanthony. They are popularly knows as Black Canons, by reason of the colour of their habits. These were not ordinary brothers but canons. Not enclosed, but fully ordained priests working in the community in medicine , preaching liturgical services, saying Mass*,(* means :The 'Mission' to go into all countries, baptising souls in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost') and not given just to contemplation like most monks of the period. Llanthony's Augustinian house was the earliest of the order to be found in Britain. Over a hundred foundations subsequently adhered to the order, but only two followed in Wales, at Haverfordwest and Camarthen.40 canons were installed in all.

Robert of Bethune-Second Prior of Llanthony

Meanwhile Robert of Bethune came to be second prior of Llanthony and loved this leafy valley.and was really annoyed in 1131 when he head to leave the beauty and seclusion to become Bishop of Hereford. Five years later he gave shelter at Hereford to Robert de Bracci and the other Llanthony monks who were fleeing from the Bandits in the Black Mountains.

More Welsh attacks!

One Welsh tribal chief even took refuge there in the priory, brought his rude court and companions and desecrated the church with drunkeness, dancing and orgies! Two years later, Robert de Behune, Bishop of Hereford, transferred the canons to Llanthony Seconda at Gloucester, a far safer place. Robert de Behune longed for Llanthony but was closely embroiled in the Civil War between Stephen and the Empress Maud. He courageously sided with Stephen out of loyalty for Stephen's brother, Bishop of Wincheter.He suffered considerably because of it. He died suddenly at the Council of Chalons. His body was returned to Herefordsown in an ox hide to be interred in the cathedral.The turmoil which ensued during Stephen's reign all but stopped activity at Llanthony. Everything of value was removed to Gloucester. By the late 1150s, the de Lacy family had retaken their possessions . Gilbert de Lacy who died in the Crusades was succeeded by his son Hugh who earned great rewards from the King in return from his work in Ireland. He gave a great deal of money to the Priory, which still had some canons.

Under his patronage, Llanthony Prima once again became powerful and buildings were repaired and improved. Sadly in the last part of the 13th century, the area was plunged into lawlessness again and the canons were harrassed and one or two killed. Sometimes the Prior and Canons took the offensive, sallied out and set about a manor, destroying a weir in return for the infringement of their fishing rights. They carried off much booty.

Owain Glyndwr and his rebels were in the area during 1399 and trouble hit Llanthony again. Taxes were hard to collect and the house expensive to maintain, especially after Welsh attacks!

Benefices given to Llanthony Secunda at Gloucester

In 1481 the king granted all the remaining benefices to Llanthony by Gloucester for a fee of 300 marks (£200)Llanthony Prima was classed just as a cell until Henry VIII destroyed the priory in 1538 when Prior David and his remaining monks were given a pension. The priory was sold to Nicholas Arnside Chief Justice for Ireland for £160.In 1807 it went to the Landor Family (whose owner greatly loved Llanthony-but was not well liked by the locals)



Revd Joseph (Ignatius) Lyne and ‘Llanthony Tertia’

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Llanthony Priory was visited by The Reverend (Joseph) Ignatius Lyne.A more detailed post about Reverend Lyne will be given later as he is a most interesting character and had a huge influence in the area in the nineteenth century He was an Anglican Deacon who dreamt of restoring the propry and founding a Church in Wales Monastery. The Landor family refused and he had to build a new monastery up at Capel y ffin further up the valley known as Llanthony Tertia.He was disgusted by the pub and guest house desecrating the site, but the Landors would not sell. His Church of our Ladye and St Dunstan at Capel ye ffin. Sadly this also fell into disuse as Fr Lyne died and the money dried up. Other famous people visited Llanthony-The Reverend Francis Kilvert, diarist and curate visited .Eric Gill, Sculptor and type face designer and a community of artists, writers and craftsmen.

800 Year Celebration of Llanthony Prima 1975

In 1975 there was a commemoration of the 800 years of this monastery The Augustinian Prior of Bodmin took up residence for the period of the celebration, probably the first prior to do so since the dissolution.

Reading all this in the bar, I was completely overwhelmed by the activity the priory has seen. My son and I went down into the crypt guesthouse and enjoyed a bowl of broth and their home made rolls. The monks’ lodgings are now an hotel. Religious services are still heard at the priory. with the people still facing east and looking into the hills. The air is balmy-even for October! The trees are just turning to reds and golds but the sun is bright and the leaves still on the trees. The sky very blue with a few wisps of cloud.

Our little Maltese dog had a brief walk around and we really soaked in the silence and seclusion of the area. The hostelry had been full- full of people rambling up the mountain, and further up to the top of the table mountain where you can see seven counties and feels as if you are in heaven.

The mountain road is very narrow with few passing places and runs past Capel y ffin and Llanthony Tertia with its huge statue of Our Lady looking out looking over and protecting the valley. I looked at my son snapping away at the ruined abbey, still testifying to the presence of God in this secluded valley. Good it is a well kept secret for people who love quiet places. A place to remember in times of stress.A place to imprint on your heart and in your soul to remember when life is tough. Lovely, Lovely autumn
The Order of St Augustine Today

For interest, in the mean time,the Order of Saint Augustine is alive and well.
Two Priors General, Luciano Rubio and Agostino Trapè, took part in the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965. In response to the council1s decree Perfectae caritatis and its call for the renewal of religious life, the Order celebrated a special General Chapter at Villanova, U.S.A. from August 28 to October 31, 1968. A thorough revision of the Constitutions was enacted in the light of a return to the sources of St. Augustine and the Order's mendicant tradition with the necessary adaptations to modern times.

In 1974 the intermediate General Chapter was celebrated in Dublin, Ireland. The chapter issued The Augustinian Order in the World Today describing Augustinian spirituality in relation to the concerns and aspirations of contemporary men and women.

The Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum was founded in 1969 by the Prior General, Agostino Trapè. It soon became the leading centre of patristic studies in the Church.

1975 saw the beginning of a series of encounters in Rome for members of the Augustinian Order. The latest studies on Augustinian theology, spirituality and history were presented by eminent scholars. Through these gatherings sisters and brothers of different cultures were able to meet and discover their common heritage.
Martin Nolan became first Irishman to be elected Prior General of the Augustinian Order in 1983.

Pope John Paul II

1986 was the 1,600th anniversary of the conversion and baptism of St. Augustine. Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter, Augustinum Hipponensem for the occasion. The Prior General, Martin Nolan, sent his letter, A cry from the heart: conversion and prayer today to each member of the Order. The Superiors General of all the Augustinians (the Augustinian Recollects, the Discalced Augustinians, and the Augustinian of the Assumptionist) collaborated on the letter The conversion of St. Augustine: light for our journey. It was addressed to the entire Augustinian Order.

An international Augustinian youth festival took place with the nuns of the monastery at Lecceto, near Siena, Italy.
Since 1986 the International Augustinian Youth Festival has been celebrated again in Lecceto, in La Vid, Spain and in Abbeyside, Ireland. Preparations are already under way for the next one. The spirituality of St Augustine is very interesting and at a recent Latin Summer School at Maryvale Institute in Birmingam, we translated one of his books. The spirituality of the Brothers at Llanthony can be seen in this novena by the Augustinian Bishop of Manila:

+In nomine Patris, filio et Spiritui sancto.

With St. Augustine we say ,You have made us for Yourself O Lord, for you alone our God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.?
As we begin our novena to our Father St. Augustine we pray for the grace to make his spirit our own, on our journey towards our inner self. We reflect on who we are and where we are going as Augustinian Religious and devotees in the context of our time. Move by the spirit of Augustine’s restless pursuit for truth.
What motivates me to continue searching for God?
Having found Him, how do I make Him alive in my relations to people with whom I live?
If there is one thing that Augustinian emphasizes over and over again in treating of the search of God, it is that we must begin by going with ourselves. The keyword is WITHIN. There will find truth, light, joy in Christ Himself. There we will be heard when we pray; there we will love and worship God. But while this within signifies the very depths of our being, this is only the first stage of the journey. Augustine urges us to keep moving on even to what is beyond ourselves, to the source of our inspiration and light to God Himself. Augustine would tell us, “Do not go outside yourself, but turn back within. Truth dwells in the inner man; and if you find your nature given to frequent change, go beyond yourself. Move on, then to that source where the light of reason itself receives its light.. (End of the reading – Some moments of silence).


Lord, have mercy on us? Lord, have mercy on us
Christ, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us
God the Father of Heaven Have mercy on us
God the Son, Redeemer of the World Have mercy on us
God, the Holy Spirit Have mercy on us
Holy Trinity, one God Have mercy on us
Mary, Mother of Jesus. Pray for us
Mary, Mother of Consolation Pray for us
Mary, Mother of Good Counsel. Pray for us
St. Augustine, bright star of the Church. Pray for us
St. Augustine, filled with zeal for God’s glory. Pray for us
St. Augustine, dauntless defender of the truth. Pray for us
St. Augustine, the triumph of divine grace. Pray for us St. Augustine, on fire with the love of God. Pray for us
St. Augustine, so great and so humble Pray for us
St. Augustine, prince of bishops and doctors.Pray for us
St. Augustine, father of monastic life. Pray for us
St. Augustine, holiest of the wise and wisest of the holy Pray for us
Pray for us St. Augustine, That may become worthy of the promises of Christ.

ALL: You have made for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. We ask you to bless our restlessness in our search for you will live in our lives, and in the events confronting us. Finding you, may we be faithful to you God of history, faithful to Christ our Lord and Saviour, faithful to the Church and her teaching and faithful to our particular state of life, which we have chosen to serve you. This we ask of you loving Father, through Christ our Lord and through the intercession of Saint Augustine, our Father.


Sanctus Belle said...

Really enjoyed this post, thank you so much for your beautiful reporting.

Mary in Monmouth said...

Thank you Sanctus-it is really lovely to have encouragement! Thank you.