Monday, October 19, 2009

Austin Friars of Newport-More Augustinians! Now Newport Bus Station

The gatehouse of another Augustinian Friary, and (below) the coat of arms of the Earl of Stafford, who built the new castle at Newport and also made the gift of the Friary to the people of the town, for all their needs.


There are no pictures of Augustinian Friary in Newport, which has been completely demolished . This is Part One of this fascinating story of this large and important of Religious Houses in Newport, and with the help of various reports, scholars like Mr C Neil Maylan's report to the Gwent and Glamorgan Archeological Society have tried to 'piece together what we know'. Tomorrow I will also show some 19th century remains. It is to be hoped that te 'Friars Walk' shopping centre will pay tribute in some works of art to these friars, who laboured among the poor of Newport, nursed them through the plague, schooled them, took care o the hungry, terminally ill etc until Henry VIII decided to turn it into money to fill his coffers and turned his back on the people. The Friars were not meant to be supressed, because they earned very little and Henry in his spite and rage damaged and destroyed sacred places around Britain. Fines and increased taxes for a few years, finally closed those who could have survived. Calling precious relics 'fakes' and superstition was dsigned to turn people against the church, andt was so successful as 'spin' thatmuch of it has lasted to the present day.We will talk aboutRichard Ingworth apostate priest and created a bishop in Henry's very on church had accompanied Dr Hilsey to Cardiff in 3rd July 1534. He was himself a Dominican -a Prior of Langley Regis the richest Dominicans in the country, which had a hue income of £125 per year .Henry and his henchaman Thomas Cromwell tol him to 'visit and vex' what had been his fellow priors. Most Dominicans had headed for Edinburgh which lay outside Henry's realm but the Austin Friars were his victims. He had the power to sepose and suspend 'corrupt superiors' (those who woud not comply) and to go to the friars, take their keys, turn them out and take away thei possessions and make inventories and indentures so that the clerks could see how much money coud be made for the king , from often very poor lands.He removed their seals. Of course it was the poorest people who suffered most.

No mention of suppression ws initially made, but the intention was clear. There had been a visitation four yearsearlier, followed by endless fines and taxes and the friars could no go on pleading poverty. People were told not to give them donations either. Even the chantry chapels were suppressed.



Newport had steadily taken over from Caerleon during the early middle ages and the area around Gwynlliw’s church of Our Lady was growing intoi a bustling town. Caerleon had, after all been ravaged by Saxons, Normans, Irish, Welsh and Danes and there was a new motte and bailey castle established by the lord of Wentllwch. The name itself refers to the estuary of the Usk . The castle would protect inhabitants . Harold, last of the Saxons had viewed the old church of Gwynlliw from Flat Holme, where Gildas had earlier passed his days, and later worshipped after his brief conquest. Soldiers of William II (Rufus) had camped around this church in Norman times and had prayed and attended the Holy Mass there.Henry II stayed at Newport for a short time and then in 1887-8 Baldwin Archbishop of Canterbury arrived in Newport to recruit soldiers for the Crusades, to take back the Holy Lands from the invading Turkish Mohammedans.

After the death of the Dispenser, Wentllwch was restored to Hugh to Anderley and his wife Margaret. The countess died in 1342 and the lordship went to Margaret de Anderley, wife of Ralph, Lord Stafford. He was created Lord Stafford in 1351. assisted Edward III in the war with France and supplied 50 men to go with him, and 50 men with lances had to go from Newport and Caerleon to Crecy, and also Ralph became Earl of Hereford and appointed Lieutenant and Captain General of the Duchy of Aquitaine.

He was succeeded by his son Hugh Stafford who granted the first Charter of Incorporation to the Burgesses of Newport dated 13th April 1385-Mayor and Bailiff.
It was Hugh Stafford who founded the friary in Newport. This was a new Order only recently pulled together out of a diverse group of the Augustinian Order founded according to the rule of St Augustine. I have already mentioned Llanthony, founded by Augustinian Canons. Ralph, his father, had already founded a monastery for the Augustinian Friars (Austen Friars) at Stafford. Leland writes in Tudor times:

, "Hermits of Saint Augustine."

They claimed as their founder the saint himself, not the apostle of the Anglo Saxons, but the eminent African Bishop, and Father of the church, who is said to have instituted the order about the year 388, in the neighbourhood of his native town of Tegasté in Numidia. The order became extinct on the invasion of Africa by the Vandals, but was revived in Europe in the 18th century, and introduced into England about 1250. Their dress in the house was white, but in the choir, or when they went abroad, they wore over all a long black gown with wide sleeves and a hood, and a girdle of black leather fastened with a pin of bone or ivory. The Staffords were great patrons of this order;
Ralph, Earl of Stafford, the first Lord of Newport and Wentllwch of the family, founded a house for them at Stafford in 1344, and some of the family, another at Shrewsbury. From a document in the possession of Sir Thomas Phillipps, Bart: of Middle Hill, a transcript of which is in the collection of our President, it appears that this house at Newport was founded in the year 1377 by Hugh, son of Ralph, who succeeded his father as second Earl of Stafford, and Lord of Newport and Wentllwch, in 1372. It may be that it was considered as a cell to the house at Stafford; at all events the probability is, that the first of the order who were established at Newport, came from that place.
Leland also mentions the ‘House of Preachers’ under the Bridge-but this is more correctly the Dominican House out of Gloucester or Cardiff, as Dominicans were known as ‘Friars Preachers’ and spent most time out evangelising on foot.

Austin Friars is Founded in Newport 1377

In 1377, Hugh , Earl of Stafford gave the Prior and Brethren of ‘Hermits of St Augustine 31 burgages or parcels of land within the Parish of Newport on which to build an oratory or house for the promotion of Divine Worship and Contemplation. For this reason it was necessary to obtain a license from the Parish Priest and Rector of St Woolos and also Thomas, Abbot of St Peter’s in Gloucester, who was responsible for St Woolos monastery, now a Priory of Gloucester.At the same time, land owned by the Abbot and convent were given to the Austin Friars for the site of the Church they built for their church dedicated to St Nicholas. It would be tempting to think this St Nicholas was our Nicholas of Myra, but in fact this was a St Nicholas ,a first proclaimed saint of the Augustinian order, St Nicholas of Tolentine, as the Order was a new one at this time.


St Nicholas of Tolentino

Nicholas Gurrutti was born in the village of Sant'Angelo in Pontano, Italy in 1245. His parents, middle-aged and childless, made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Nicholas of Bari, their special patron, to ask his intercession on their behalf. Shortly thereafter, a son was born to them whom they named Nicholas out of gratitude. At an early age Nicholas was greatly moved by the preaching of the Augustinian, Father Reginaldo di Monterubbiano, prior of the monastery of Sant'Angelo, and requested admission to the community He was accepted by the friars and made his novitiate in 1261. Nicholas directed his efforts to being a good religious and priest, and soon became renowned for his charity toward his confreres and all God's people. His religious formation was greatly influenced by the spirituality of the hermits of Brettino, one of the congregations which came to form part of the "Grand Union" of Augustinians in 1256, whose communities were located in the region of the Marche where Nicholas was born and raised.

The Hermit Friars had impressed Hugh Stafford with their practices Characteristic of these early hermits of Brettino was a great emphasis on poverty, rigorous practices of fasting and abstinence and long periods of the day devoted to communal and private prayer. As Nicholas entered the Order at its inception he learned to combine the ascetical practices of the Brettini with the apostolic thrust which the Church now invited the Augustinians to practice. At times, Nicholas devoted himself to prayer and works of penance with such intensity that it was necessary for his superiors to impose limitations on him. At one point he was so weakened though fasting that he was encouraged in a vision of Mary and the child Jesus to eat a piece of bread signed with the cross and soaked in water to regain his strength. Thereafter he followed this practice in ministering to the sick himself.

In his honour the custom of blessing and distributing the "Bread of Saint Nicholas" in continued by the Augustinians in many places today. Nicholas was ordained to the priesthood in 1271. He lived in in several different monasteries of the Augustinian Order, engaged principally in the ministry of preaching. In 1275 he was sent to Tolentino and remained there for the rest of his life.

Nicholas worked to counteract the decline of morality and religion which came with the development of city life in the late thirteenth century. He ministered to the sick and the poor, and actively sought out those who had become estranged from the Church. A fellow religious describes Nicholas' ministry in these words: "He was a joy to those who were sad, a consolation to the suffering, peace to those at variance, refreshment to those who toiled, support for the poor, and a healing balm for prisoners." Nicholas'reputation as a saintly man and a worker of miracles led many people to the monastery of Tolentino.

Proclamation as Patron Saint of the Souls in Purgatory 1884

When in 1884 Nicholas was proclaimed "Patron Saint of the Souls in Purgatory" by Pope Leo XIII, confirmation was given to a long-standing aspect of devotion toward this friar which is traced to an event in his own life. On a certain Saturday night as he lay in bed, Nicholas heard Fra Pellegrino of Osimo, a deceased friar who Nicholas had known. Fra Pellegrino revealed that he was in purgatory and he begged Nicholas to offer Mass for him and for the other suffering souls so that they might be set free. For the next seven days, Nicholas did so and was rewarded with a second vision in which the deceased confrere expressed his gratitude and assurance that a great number of people were now enjoying the presence of God through Nicholas' prayers As this event became known, many people approached Nicholas, asking his intercession on behalf of their own deceased relatives and friends

Nicholas died in Tolentino on September 10th, 1305. He was declared a saint in 1446 the first member of the Augustinian Order to be canonized. Saint Nicholas' body is venerated in the basilica in Tolentino which bears his name. His feast is celebrated by the Augustinian family on this day each September.

We have no idea what the church looked like, but there is no doubt it was similar to other Austin Friars’ churches of the Period.

Back to the Austin Friars at Newport

In case the Abbot of St Peters in Gloucester, or St Woolos should suffer from the loss of tithes or donations on account of the loss of the parcels of land and tithes given to them,an annual pension of £13.4p in four quarterly instalments was to be paid to the Prior of St Woolos by the prior or Guardian of the House of Brethren. Should additional lands and tithes be given to the Order, this could be renegotiated. The Prior of the Austin Friars was sworn to keep these agreements and undertook that subsequent friars would also be bound by this. Humphrey, Hugh’s son did give 22 parcels of land to the prior and brethren before 1448 and Henry Stafford , next lord of Wentllwch gave them six more in 1482. In 1809 the remains of the House of Friars were still standing, near the River (in the space approximately of the Newport Bus Station) and consisted of several detached buildings ;

The Fratry, with its windows, had pointed arches and the Northern transept of the church, though small was a neat specimen of the style of original building. By then it was used for a cider business, the press being placed in a recess which appeared to have been a holy sepulchral shrine (to St Nicholas of Tolentino perhaps. They would have possibly had a relic for the altar in the church) The gardens of the priory remained enclosed within its original walls.

I will come back to the Austin Friars of Newport in the next post and discuss the Augustinian Order further. In the meantime, here is more from St Nicholas.

Prayer asking for the intercession with God of Saint Nicholas

O God, source of strength and courage, you gave your beloved preacher,
Saint Nicholas of Tolentino the conviction of faith to the very end.
Grace us with the abilityto translate your teaching into action,
remain patient amid hardship, serve the poor and those who suffer,
and live as your true and faithful servants.

Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, pray for us
That we may be worthy of the promises of Christ.

I In Nomine Patris….


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