Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Magic of the Moor-Peterstone Augustinian Church-Petra Petri

The Names- Welsh Latin and Saxon

Ths Church was once the Monastery of St Arthfael and Augustinian Cell (Petra Petri-Llanbedr Gwynllŵg-Holy Place of Peter (Pedr) in Wentloog.),Petra Petri as it is also called in papal records in Rome means 'the Rock or Stone of Peter-Peter Stone' asChrist said to Peter:'Upon this rock I will build my church!'.

The Rule of St Augustine of Hippo in Monmouthshire

I mention Peterstone, as it became Augustinian in the early days after Wentloog was conquered by the Normans. Later it proved-although it serve for a hundred years or so as an Augustinian Priory of Bristol Abbey, when the plan became unfeasible, as not enough financial supportwas i the deal from the Lord of the Manor, there was another planto found a purpose built monastery at St Peter's in Rhymny which also failed, leaving St Peter in the Moor as a small church served by monks, one of severa in the area.

Robert de la Haye and Wentloog

When Robert Fitzhamon came to divide up the lands of South East Wales, one of his manor lords, Robert de la Haye received the cantref of Gwynllwg as his share, to be held by the service of four knight’s fees. It was Robert de la Haye who built the Motte and bailey Castle on Stow Hill, called then Stow Castle, just next to Gwynlliw’s Church of the Virgin Mary. Bruce Copplestone Crowe believes this may have been built by William Rufus in 1075. Robert’s influence extended throughout Wentloog or Gwynllwg. Robert took pains to reform on more sound and orderly lines the canonically sound (in Norman eyes)Welsh church, and first of all gave St Woolos, Gwynlliw’s Celtic monastery to the monks of St Peter’s in Gloucester. William II (Rufus) had already given the house to St Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester.

Benedictine Monks of Gloucester at St Woolos

It was a monk of Gloucester Cathedral who collated and made records of the life of Gwynlliw and his legends, and that of his family. The church had been acquired by Rufus in 1075.He also gave other churches and properties for his beautiful abbey of Tewkesbury. Robert's two largest grants were however to two Somerset houses one already an abbey.

Monatacute was a daughter house of the now Clunaic house of Glastonbury Abbey and to this Abbey the churches at Coedkernew, Marshfield and St Bride’s Wentloog were given. His gifts to Somerset houses were perhaps to curry favour with the Count of Mortain, whose lands were in the west Country. Clunaic Montacute had also been founded by Robert de la Haye. Bassaleg had actually also been the clas Church of St Gwladys,Gwynlliw’s wife, but as we have already learned it was given to the Clunaic monks of Glastonbury, who were a much stricter order of monks than the more usual Benedictines.Malpas was given to Montacute. Robert and Gundreda Fitzhamon were more than generous with their largesse, as was their devout daughter Mabel, commemorated at nearby house called Cafn Mably, where she lived sometimes.

Little Holland

The boundaries of Bassaleg priory therefore went right through the Moor (Wentloog level-Marshfield) along the line of the Broadway Rhyn-which used to be called ‘Dufeles’ by the Welsh. The village of Peterstone with its church of St Peter in the Moor lies on the Wentloog Levels halfway between Newport and Cardiff on the coast road stretching from St Brides to Rumney. The area is known as 'Little Holland', because of its many ‘rhyns’ or small ditches and flatness. These places are mentioned in the charters of Bassaleg priory.See the Broadway ditch above.

The Original Dedication of the whole 'llan' church and monastic buildings-now on the sites of the houses round the church, was to Gwentian Prince and Saint Arthfael.

The Church is called Petra Petri or (Peter Rock) or Peterstone and even St Peter in the Moor in papal records and others in Mediaeval times. Whilst Peter was one of the greatest of the saints, it was originally –there in the middle of the moor- an island of the Old Welsh monks, probably dedicated to St Armagillus, and a chapel of St Armagillus was attached to the old church and destroyed during the Reformation. The settlement would have been prepared with prayer and fasting in the usual way and had a wall around it , separating the world from heaven.

Bruce Copplestone Crow guesses Armagillus is actually St Arthmael or St Arthfael, whose hermits pushed into the Augustinian Order in Norman times, because the origins of early Welsh monasticism were also with St Anthony of the desert and St Augustine. This chapel would have not been in St John’s Church, Rhymney, which Robert de la Haye was thinking of considering the founding as an Augustinian monastery. It is more likely he thinks that St Arthmael’s monastery became St Peter’s and blossomed to become the amazing ‘Cathedral of the Moor ‘ of gothic architecture, which the preset ownersare taking care to preserve. It was always known to have been , like St Kynemark’s (St Cynfarch’s near Chepstow) in existence perhaps even from the sixth century, the era of David and the saints.

Identity of the King-Saint

Bruce Copplestone Crowe says Bartrum, an expert on the period has said it was a name used by three historical kings or princes of Glwyssing and Gwent in the eight to tenth centuries. As Artmali or Arthmael it occurs as the name of laymen and religious and priests on ninth and eleventh century inscribed stones at Llantwit Major and Ogmore in Glamorgan and in the twelfth century, the Life of St Cadoc (Vita Sancti Cadoci) as the name of a king (BCC thinks probably fictitious) who ruled the lands by the river Neath (Nedd) in Glamorgan in the sixth century.

It was therefore a name which was in common use in South east Wales from the sixth to the twelfth centuries. The question is, which of these Kings was the saint? We have already noted how so many of the ancient saints came from the royal houses of the three holiest families of Wales, especially Brychan Brycheiniog who gave his name to Brecon. The royal houses had the means to fund monasteries, their servants and friends joining them in these monasteries and accompanying them on their travels usually between Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and Britanny.

BCC goes further by distilling several mediaeval lives of the saints, picking out the common characteristics. That he existed is not in doubt, since he has three churches dedicated to him in Brittany. BCC gives us these ideas and believes he was a native of the cantref of Penychen who studied in an unnamed monastery in South East Wales. The main theological colleges were at Caerwent , or possibly at Caerleon, where St Dyfrig had revived the ancient Roman school or college.

Mamhilad may also have been a possibility, as it is where St Cadoc’s body was taken to escape from marauding Saxons and the abbot of that college and monastery was called Caroncinalis . He then left for Brittanny (Armorica) and founded a monastery at St Armel de Boschaux , a few miles south of Rennes of which he became an abbot. He was a contemporary of St Childebert of Paris (511-558). He was not credited with any churches in Wales, but perhaps with Melanus (Mellon) also being active in France before returning to Wales .

Saint Melanus, St Mellons, Saint Malo (Same Person!) St Mellons (of St Malo)

probably returned home with news of Arthmael’s ministry and Christian actions. He was also celebrated in Cornwall , where he had a church dedicated to him at Stratton near Bude and a Church at St Erme, near Truro as well as the two others in Britanny. Saxon and Norman settlers may have changed the name of the little monastery to St Peter –also venerated in Wales (as in Llan Pedr-Lampeter)and other places, but among the native Welsh, clearly Arthmael never lost his popularity and the name persisted at Peterstone for another four hundred years in the name of St Armagillus. It probably still looks very much like it does today, but with smaller and less houses. With what sadness these monks were moved out of their home to St John’s in Rhymney nearer Robert’s castle and finally te native welsh monks pushed out to a cold stone monastery at Flatholme , where Gildas was active at one time in his hermitage in Ynys Echni, one of the holy islands of Wales.

Bristol Abbey

Between 1148 and 1157, the unreformed clas (royal Celtic) church of St Arthfael was given by William of Gloucester to the Augustinian Canons of Bristol Abbey. It may have been his desire to offer it as part of a priory-cell or even grange of the Abbey at St John’s Church and remove them from their remote cell on the margin between the sea and the Rhymney Moor, but it the church was never endowed as an Augustinian Priory. Mabel had been in talks with the Abbot of Bristol about setting up the new priory as her father has set up Bassaleg from Glastonbury (Ynys Witrin) and the Clunaics of Montacute.The donations to Clunaics (strict observance Benedictines) is interesting because Cluny was not in Normandy.These dedications are a little later. The monastery of St Arthfael,(Llanarthfael?-perhaps even Llanarth may have been named for him?) as it must have been called was mentioned by the Earl’s Father, Robert at the time when he had Gwenllwg under his hand, between 1120 and his death in 1147. During that time he gave to Mabel his wife land ‘near the monastery of St Peter on the Moor’. After Earl Robert’s death but before her own in 1157,and while Gwynllwg was in her hands and was part of her dowry. Mabel gave this to the Augustinian Church of St John the Baptist at Rhymney as part of the process whereby she and her son hoped to found a monastery there. Here is the text of the charter, for which I am very grateful for BCC’s translation:

Mabel, Countess of Gloucester,( Robert’s Fitzhamon’s daughter) to William Fitzstephen the Constable of Newport) and her officials of Gwenllwg (Gunlion)and all the barons, men and friends, Welsh, French and English,and also her Welshmen, greetings. Know that my lord Robert Earl of Gloucester gave me sixty acres of free land in the March of Rhymney near the monastery of St Peter on the Moor(iuxta monasterium sancti petri de Mora) and the wood towards the north, that Gilbert, priest of Rhymney held of me in the time of the said Earl, my lord, and that I, for the good of the soul of my Lord, Robert and of Robert Fitzhamon, my father and for the good of myself and our children grant and concede to the Church of St John in Rhymney, the said sixty acres of land in free alms, my son, William , Earl of Gloucester, conceding the same free of all earthly exactions……’

Morgan and Ioworth, leaders of the Welsh upland made grants to the proposed St John’s Church monastery site round about the same time as this belonged to the Cathedral

Rumney was formerly called Llanrhymney ,Romney or Rompney and the river on which it stands is the Rhymney, which shares its name with the town at the top of the valley, but there are other variations. Remni, Remne and Rempney all appear in old documents and maps as far back as 1100. St John’s itself, therefore could also have been an ancient church and monastery, but being closer to the castle, easier to defend from the Welsh, who continued to try to drive out the English and Normans until one of their own Henry VIII of the Welsh Tudor line, tried to extinguish the identity of Wales and trashed the ancient religion of the people.

Broadway Ditch and the rhyns on the Moor

All the studies suggest a connection with water, a boundary stream or marshes, which , of course, would be most appropriate, as the river used to form the boundary between Gwent and Morganwwg (Glamorgan) and Rumney(Rhymney) includes the moors .Like most of the settlements on the Wentloog Level it lies on land reclaimed from the Bristol Channel. Peterstone itself lies right against the sea wall. Earl Williams own endowment for the proposed priory included 100 acres of land in Cilbwr , in his lordship of Glamorgan on the other side of the Rhymney, lands at Penarth in Glamorgan , the church of St Mellons in Wentloog and the Island of Flatholm (Ynys Echni). Regarding this island of Ynys Echni, the Earl had previously given to the hermits of SS Michael , Cadoc and Dolfino lands at Llandough near Penarth .

Norman 'Ethnic Cleansing' of St Arthfael'a monks

When the plans did not come to fruition with St Johns (probably because Bristol Abbey did not think it well enough provided for) all it’s churches and lands were given to the Augustinian monks of Flatholm. These monks may have been the former hermits, of Peterstone, now become Augustinian Canons.’ If all these grants relate to a proposed priory cell of the proposed Abbey at Rhymney,they must date from after the inductions of the first canons of Bristol on 11 April 1148 and before the death of the Countess Mabel in 1157. It actually seemed to be a case of ethnic cleansing, the hermits of Michael Cadoc and Dolfino pushed out to Flat Holm, as well as the hermits of St Arthmael’s monastery. Peterstone was then built in glorious architechture and perhaps became a parish church in a prosperous farming area, being served by the Augustinians of Bristol, whose job it was.

Monastery land is let out to two burgesses in Bristol

St Peter on the Moor had become the property of Bristol Abbey, the buildings of the clas old Welsh monastery became the centre for the abbey’s manor of Peterstone. In 1542, the Cathedral Valor of Bristol described its lands in Wentloog as ‘the manor of Peterstone and the Rectory, which extends into Peterstone, Marshfield, St Mellons and Rhymney in Wentloog, together with rectory of the lordship of Wentloog.’ The tithes of these churches were paid to Bristol Abbey, who administrated the area, the monks probably staying in accommodation in the village in a Conventual setting, using the Church for its worship.We know that the lands of the old order were leased to two burgesses of Bristol, who probably administrated and oversaw the lands for the monks.

Bruce Copplestone Crowe goes on to say that eleven years prior to this, the abbey had leased to two burgesses of Bristol the chapel and manor of St Peter on the Moor with 52 acres of demesne lands and two granges, one at Marshfield and the other at St Mellons and with the directory of Rumney in the Lordship of Wentloog. This is confirmed in the following papal registers

( 'Lateran Regesta 85: 1400-1401', Calendar of Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 5: 1398-1404 (1904), pp. 345-363.):The Pope confirmed the endowment of the Augustinian Abbey of Bristol of many churches, including those of Newport (Austin Friars) as they had proved possession for a great many years.

those of Rumeney with its chapel of St. Peter de More, St. Melan de Porttaske, and Pennart,(Penarth) with the chapel of Lavermarke(Lavernock) in that of Llandaff. For all the above, the archbishop states that they have proved possession for 40, 50, 60 years and more and even from time immemorial, and that they have possessed for some time, as appropriated, the church of Meresfeld (Marshfield). The pope further grants that in future they need not exhibit, by way of proof, other than the archbishop's letters. Ad fut. rei mem. Is que pro statu. (De mandato.) In 1536, St Peter on the Moor became a parish church, but with the subsequent deprivation of the church lands, (the Great Plague and the enclosures, meant a subsequent shrinking in of the village, which still exists.

The Church has been sold as it was not used enough

Sadly, in recent times, the small congregation could not pay to save such a large and beautiful church.To pay for the maintenance of one of the most splendid Early English style churches to have been built in Wales . The recently published “Gwent” volume of the Buildings of Wales sees John Newman enthuse over this building "indeed the noblest and most beautiful Perpendicular churches in the whole county", a "queen" among churches by the Severn Estuary. He illustrates the exterior and interior in the plates.This priceless piece of architecture has been sold and made into a private home in 2002 and it has been lovingly conserved even as a Grade I listed building.This was unquestionably a good way to save the building and landscape for posterity. It is better if small congregations cannot save the buildings not to let it fall into ruin or disappear as St Kynemark’s has done.Leastways I met the owner at the gate, a most pleasant lady to told me everything inside was still intact, and it is good that the new owners take such care oftheir beautiful surroundings ad treasure it.Hopefully, at some stage, I might be allowed in to see , but there has been also understandibly bad feeling about the sale and she was a bit wary of letting me in. The told me that the font was beautiful.

The 'Tsunami ' of 1606

The lovely Norman church of St Peter, often referred to as the 'Cathedral of the Moors', bears a floodmark of 1606, when many lives of inhabitants and livestock were lost. It is recorded that over 1,000 people drowned and were buried in a communal grave in Rumney, then called Rompney or Llanrhymney. Long and hard hours were toiled on the soil for the next 20 years to bring the land into production again. There have been several such deluges recorded, one in the time of Gwylliw, written by the monk of Gloucester,(late 5th, early 6th century) and another in mediaeval times.
The Bells of Saint Peter after the ‘Reformation’

The Augustinian Church of St Peter in the Moor had a Western tower and a ring of eight bells. These bells were installed when the Church was an Anglican church.As far as I know, these are still in the tower and a great deal of conservation work to do.The monastery church became a parish church in Protestant times and its beautiul furnishings stripped out, neverthe less it is one of the most beautiful church buildings. The small sculpture in the tower devoted to Mary Mother of God (above) is a case in point-absolutely charming, but very high up in the tower


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jo griffiths said...

Thankyou so very much for the BEST history of the levels that I have yet read. I was brought up in st mellons, peterstone and marshfield. Born in 1959 I remember it well from the 60s. Altho not overtly religious, I have Catholic and Jewish elements in my family, also my Dad's family were all Baptist in the early 1900s but changed to c of e. So pretty eclectic I suppose. I have such a strong affinity for the whole area, esp. Peterstone, I even dreamt I was floating above an old church in Coedkernew, long before I ever knew one actually existed. My Dad's family name was Davies and he used to to love to visit the locals in the 6 Bells and all the pubs down the moors. His great-great grandfather owned a farm called Rubina farm, at the end of st mellons road, where it joins up with the old rough road to Peterstone, called Heol Las, or Green Lane. Also the had the farm on the very corner of the above, called Ty Ffynnon Farm, all visible on google earth and thankfully, still there. I cannot thank you enough for the clarity that you have provided, through your passion and honesty. I will direct my cousin Bob to this site, he lives in Switzerland and is Mormon now. He will enjoy this. xx Jo