Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gloucester Blackfriars (2) and Newport (Novus Burgo-Castell Newydd ar Wsg)

Pictures below are a little out of order, but you can see the difference between the library and its carrells and the buttery used in the preparation of food. The friary is being restored and it is a work in progress, with further excavations pending, even in the car park.


LAVABO ARCHES (Washing facilities in this recess)


Three Hundred Years of Caring for the People of Gloucester and the poor.

The Dominican Friars (Blackfriars) were in Gloucester for about three hundred years. Their teaching charism made them a much loved order and they had arrived in Oxford in 1221 and by 1239, the Friary in Gloucester was begun under the sponsorship of King Henry III. Of all the friaries in Britain, it remains the most complete mediaeval friory and Gloucester Council and English Heritage have been instrumental in reclaiming the land and buildings around the cloister and buying and demolishing unsuitable buildings like the 'Clutch Centre' and restoring the Friary. The 'Clutch centre' was built over the old 'Chapter House'and extended into the cloister green but has now been removed and will shortly be excavated .It had taken 40 years to complete the Blackfriars Buildings.

Henry III

Henry III was fond of Gloucester. It was the place of his Coronation (at St Peter's Abbey) when he was 9 yers old. His father, the unpopular King John (brother of Richard the Lion Heart (I) had lost the Crown Jewels and it was important the young king be crowned as soon as possible.The Friary was built in the Bailey of the Norman Castle in the town. The plague, as everything else reduced the numbers of people and friars.

Opus Dei

The Dominicans followed the normal hours of monastic life. Mattins(Morning Praise) in the early hours of the morning, lauds at 6am (approx)(Praises) Mass (approx 7.30),
Prime (9am) Angelus and Terce (12noon) 3pm (Nones) 6pm (Vespers-Evening Prayer) Compline (9pm) In between, there was study and work.The people of Gloucester greatly enjoyed the Dominican charism-Singing and sermons in the English language made it popular, as well as the interaction between the laity and the friars, particularly at Compline-popular with everyone, when the friars processed down from the quire, blessing the people with holy water and wishing them a restful night, and coming down to talk with the local people, and catechising them.It was a very successful order, reflected in the large size of the priory.

Newport, Hereford and Dominican Preachers

There was an old link between Newport (New Castle on the Usk) and Gloucester. The Normans had placed many of the monasteries , including that of St Woolos, and various other churches under the direction of the St Peter's Abbey in Gloucester. Also William, the second Earl of Gloucester , who succeeded to the lordship of Wentllwch in 1147 (+1183) first built the the new castle at old Newport.Following on from his tenure as Earl,all was well for a while, however, Henry III obviously used Newport as a base as he waged war against supporters of Simon de Montfort in Monmouthshire.He laid seige to Usk castle because Gilbert the Red, Lord of Wentllwch joined Simon de Montfort in his rebellion against the King for the forces of the barons. The Midlands, particularly Evesham were fighting ground for de Montfort .Monmouth Castle was destroyed by him, as it held out for the king. De Montfort occupied Newport Castle and in a furious battle, Prince Edward destroyed the ships at the mouth of the Usk, and Newport bridge was burnt in the process.However Gilbert the Red then married Joan,daughter of King Edward-and their son Morgan at Meredith, retains the lordship of Caerleon. These were turbulent times

The Austin Friars of Newport

It seems that, apart from the Austin or Augustinian Friars, whom we shall come to later, who were located on what is now Newport bus station and the new 'Friars' Walk' shopping Mall. I will leave this priory to one side for the moment, when I discuss the Augstinian foundations in Monmouthshire and Gloucester-The Austin Friars, the Augustinian Canons at the beautiful Llanthony Priory,and Llanthony Secunda at Gloucester for future posts.

When Sir Stephen de Herneshull and Henry III founded the Dominican house in Gloucester, it was a small house, but soon expanded, attracting a full complement of monks.The Historyof Gloucester (p494) tells us the house had no rents but their gardens were let out upon lease to help supplement their income, which was asmall evasion of their Rule. Another Dominican House was established during the time that St Thomas Cantelupe was Bishop around the same time.They set up a little oratory in Portgate in Inngate and then moved to the North subeurb when Sir John Daniel or D'Anveil built a new friary for them, later finished by Edward III.Prior Richard Barratt died here in 1351 or thereabouts and after being seized by Henry VIII it was sold off to an Elizabeth Wynne. So we have the Dominican houses to the North and North East of Newport. Given the close links between Newport and Gloucester(same overlord) it was probably Domenican preaching friars from Gloucester who were preaching, in English in Newport, according to their charism.

Since the Dominicans established a small oratory here , probably from Worcester or Gloucester (and I would welcome more information here!) it is natural to suppose that since the friars travelled out (as did the Franciscans) to preach to the laity, especially during the clement months of the year,that when Leland remarks on the 'Small house of the Friars Preacher'under the quay at Newport, it probably was one of these small oratories, and may not have been 'staffed' throughout the year.

I have asked myself why the Dominican Order did not develop in Newport, but believe the efforts of the Augustinians (who were actually closer to the Welsh church-many of the 'llans' became Augustinian in Norman times)were such in caring for the social and spiritual needs, that the Dominicans could confine themselves to their primary role of explaining the Word of God in English to the local people.In the early years the Augustianians were well supported financially by the Earl of Stafford Also Newport was never a wealthy town with wealthy benefactors. Certainly Leland was right, there was a small house of 'Friars Preachers' as,according to the records of Henry VIII's sales of the houses he had seized) Sir Edward Carn received this house.He also bought the Autin Friars, so no doubt paid for all of it. In fact, the friars may not have been permanently even in residence, although someone would have had to be there to hand it over. It seems that the Dominicans had to travel everywhere on foot to preach and needed to beg every morsel of food while away from the monastery as laid down by St Dominic.The 'house below the quay' has not been found, but more information is required here.

The Prior's House

Our tour took us firstly to the Prior's House, a small house at the side of the vestry and sanctuary. A Staircase used to rise from the sanctuary area to the friars' dorter which was above the vestry and Prior's appartments. The vestry is ruined at present but the site of the Chapter House awaiting excavation, as is the car park in front of Blackfriars. It was explained that the priors had a great deal of travel to do and consequently someone very fit was usually elected , as remember they had to travel on foot-to France once a year and also then to Oxford to the General English meeting usually in Oxford, or a designated place.

The Priors' house seemed to have two rooms, both had fireplaces which would have heated the dorter (monks' dormitory) upstairs.One room still has a beautiful painting(although parts of the image have been lost)and seems to be of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus.You can clearly see a banner and green shoots and leaves.There also seems to be a bread oven in one corner,which many have been a later addition by those who had later possession of the house after it had been taken from the order. Both rooms seem quite stout and well built, and the painting seems a real link with the past and possibly it may have been subsequently whitewashed but now is clearly to be seen.

John of Darlington ,Dominican Confessor to Henry III and the papal dispensation

We were told about the rule of Dominicans walking everywhere being a problem for some friars. Henry III (son of 'bad' King John)appointed a Gloucester Dominican as his personal Confessor and travelled widely in his campaigns against Simon de Montfort and his associates in Monmouthshire. He could not travel at the pace of one walking friar and so a dispensation was requested from Pope Innocent IV, who was himself a Dominican and readily gave the dispensation, so that he could ride or travel on the cart. These were dangerous times.

Friars' Dorter

We went upstairs and saw the Friars' dorter, one original window is still to be seen. Obviously subsequent owners of the house had partitioned rooms and put in lighter windows. The large dormitory has been restored to its original state, with the chimney from the Prior's house and doorway to the staircase down to the church clearly to be seen.
The friars' dorter was twice as long and extended right over the Chapter House and hence connected with both the library and the buttery,refectory and kitchens.The wood for the ceilings here (unlike that in the Church, which the Constable of St Briavels Castle had furnished from Forest of Dean Oaks) were from Gillingham in Kent. A lights were kept burning in the dorter all night and there was much recycling of the candles.All friars slept fully clothed.

Cloister Area

We also looked down at the large cloister area, which has recently been restored to a magnificent green square, and you can quite clearly see the priory outline.To the left, the buttery, kitchens and library (Scriptorium above) In front of you are several Georgian houses and Tudor houses built later with full utilities and these are occupied at present by the people resonsible for the regeneration of Gloucester Docks and to the Right is the church, which I described earlier this week.Two different types of stone were used in the building of the friary-sandstone and limestone, which just reflected what people had donated to the building .Most would have originally been rendered and painted with limewash. The restoration is not yet complete.There would have been slates and carvings

Buttery and Refectory

Following on from this, we descended into the cloister and walked around the path to the buttery. Next to the entrance of the buttery are several large arches , the site of the 'lavabo. where the friars would wash themselves. A similar one is still to be seen intact in St Peter's Abbey (now Gloucester Cathedral) with its beautiful cloisters. The inside of buttery shows a niche in which a statue had been placed, probably of the Virgin Mary, as you can still see where it was attached.A large fireplace dominates the room and to the side is a smaller room, which was part of the refectory, with a door to a pathway leading down to the river. (The Dominicans were allowed to eat no meat only fish)There were high windows in this area. It seems the kitchen was always in a separate building because of the fire risk. The beams in the buttery are 13th century and still strong and it is always cool in the height of summer.


There was a brewery on site and the friars received ale with their meals, whilst at the friary. There seemed to be quite a large amount consumed but a tankard with every meal accounted for that. The guesthouse lay just outside the friary in Ladybellegate Street.


We walked up the stairs into the Scriptorium and saw the most beautiful library. An attempt had been made to destroy the carrells which were all by the windows, where the monks spent time in study. One monk (see above) had carved a statue of the virgin and child into the side of the window, a testament to his faith after all this time.Many of the books from the library were saved and taken to Edinburgh. This was outside the realm of England and so they still exist. The library was large and extensive, and the historian showing us around told us it was their hope that they could view a fascimile of the books appertaining to the house. One carrell had been replaced and curtains may have hung to help the attention span of the friars.There was no glass then (though there is now!)just wooden shutters and in bad weather screens of oiled linen would be used to let in light and keep out wind and storm. This scriptorium, library is the oldest to be still existing in Britain.

Finally we descended from the Scriptorium, which would have once led down to the Chapter House(under the site of the demolished 'Clutch Centre'. Gloucester and English Heritage hope to restore the whole site and open it for various purposes. It would be wonderful to see the church restored and the library, because they are magnificent and still retain the ambience of the holy rule.


John Reynolds BD (Oxford) was the last Prior of Blackfriars on the 28th July 1536.When Henry VIII seized the Priory, it was sold off to Sir Thomas Bell and Joan his wife for £240.5s and 4p.It was called 'Bell's Palace' in the deeds and he immediately began to dismantle the church to create a palace for himself.It seems he was a garment manufacturer and when Elizabeth, Henry's daughter brought in a law that people should wear hats to church, he made a great deal of money providing them for Gloucester citizens. The coat of arms on a fireplace on the second storey of the nave is that of Henry VIII or Elizabeth I.Sir Thomas had bought nearly all the silver plate the Dominicans had and there were only six friars left, as they never fully recovered from the devastating effect of the plague. the dock town had taken the full blast of the pestilence.An inventory of the goods stolen from the Priory is held in the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey

Plague and the Care of the Dominicans

Excavations have shown they took in all the sick from the city. They were nursed and buried in the Priory and so far , excavations within the priory have shown 143 burials-not all friars, but also women and children. Friars who were priests were usually buried with a patten and chalice (made of silver but later of lead as the fortunes of the house went down)The full horror of this time is shown by the estimate that 1,500-2,000 people were buried beneath the present car park.Originally about 40 people lived in the Priory of which 25 were friars.Only 6 remained when the house was seized.This may be because there were two here and there in other locations (as the friaries had to be 'handed over' in order to make at least a show of some legality to the event.

Subsequent Fate of the Buildings

If the books all reached Edinburgh, it seems that may be where the friars went, possibly trusting God for better times.Some religious starved (there is no truth in all friars receiveing pensions)The Friars deliberately lived lives among the poor,and used their funds to sustain buildings and to use the money for their mission.One friary sold for only 8s and had very little of value. The land given to the abbeys and houses etc could not be adequately worked after the plague had killed most of the workers and we all know that even maintaining a building is expensive.

When Sir Thomas Bell died, the beautiful buildings became a printer's shop, a School made out of the CHurch by Thomas Bell, a Masons' business. In one of the Georgian Houses on the site(built 1811), lived the widow of Robert Raikes, who founded the Protestant 'Sunday School' movement. The Lady Chapel in the church of St Mary de Crypt nearby has been renamed the 'Robert Raikes chapel, with a picture of him inside. This was the town church of the Augustinian Canons of Llanthony Secunda Priory near the docks. The accommodation part of St Mary de Crypt was his Sunday School.

Late 19th and 20th century

The Friary was taken over by Talbots the carbonated drinks people who made lemonade etc.and when this closed in 1960, the Department of Works took it over and began restoring it.

This was a fascinating tour and one I would urge every one to take. Gloucester have to apply for more funds to upgrade the facilities at the Friary so that it can be used again for suitable events and conferences, concerts and retore some of the buildings to their former state.Every visitor (entrance fee £3.50 also concessions) helps them. Tours are currently only in July and August at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon.

God Bless.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Blackfriars in Gloucester and St Dominic of Ozma


Gloucester Blackfriars More Gloucester History tomorrow

You can see mainly pictures of the church below, including a view from the Sanctuary/Chancel area to the nave area. The shell having been restored to its more or less original state but with fireplaces where there should have been windows, possibly even stained glass. Many of the columns exposed bear traces of the original paint. Gloucester Council have designated the way where it stands, as Via Sacra. The grandeur and scale of the original church remain. The Lectern, although in the wrong place, shows the two insignia plaques of IHS carved. 'Iesu hominem Salvator'_Jesu Saviour of Men, later closely connected with Jesuits who kept the faith alive during the time of persecution. Today I visit the church and talk about St Dominic. Having been at Maryvale , being taught by Dominicans of Oxford, just last week, it was interesting but sad to see the alterations in what must have been a beautiful church.


Yesterday, I was able to take advantage of a special tour. Every Sunday at 3pm a tour is held of the Blackfriars building in Gloucester. I have seen it many times in Ladybellgate Street and have often wished to investigate, however, apparently the lack of electric lighting in the historic parts of the building have meant that these tours are confined to the summer. With several archeological digs having taken place and pending, the results have been fascinating and I can advise anyone who has not seen this jewel of a building, although knocked around a bit, with the church suffering the scars of its ‘conversion’ into a private dwelling , to have a look. Apart from the summer Sunday afternoon tours (£3.50 adults, free to English Heritage) tours can be arranged via Gloucester County Council and English heritage for adult groups and schoolchildren.

Tour Begins 3pm Sundays in July and August

Finally we went in through the gates of the monastery and towards the cloisters. To the left the entrance pointed to the church. I am not quite sure why, but the south aisle wall has been filled in with glass. Possibly the south wall of the church was too expensive to restore. There was an entrance in the south wall and also a stoup and what looked like a piscine, so possibly there was a Lady Chapel here with a side altar.You will see from the photographs it was a dull day.

The Church

The Church was large and had a very holy atmosphere in spite of its having been so spoiled. On two levels, the monastic end, had had its pulpitum removed, more importantly altar removed and replaced with a fireplace. Original windows had been filled in and other windows in a more Jacobean style put in. To the right of what had been the sanctuary there was a small door, on the next level (the staircase was now missing, where the friars ascended to their dorter or dormitory, and descended at night to the office of Mattins (at one time at two o’clock in the morning) with Lauds being at 6 or thereabouts. It was explained that St Dominic wanted the friars to be as close as possible for the night offices. Steps led down from the monastic end into the nave, which used to be much longer, and take in the space of another house, which had subsequently been built and is now disused behind the nave.

St Dominic of Guzman,Ozma Founder

St Dominic of Guzman was the son of Blessed Joan of Aza, a very holy woman, who was beatified herself by Pope Leo XII. When she was pregnant, his mother had a vision that her unborn child was a dog who would set the world on fire with a torch it carried in its mouth; a dog with a torch in its mouth became a symbol for the order which he founded, the Dominicans. Later in his life, he received from Our Blessed Mother the Rosary to combat the heresies of his time.

From his seventh to his fourteenth year he was schooled by his maternal uncle, an archpriest. In 1184 Saint Dominic entered the University of Palencia.
Here he remained for ten years working hard and with such success that throughout the superficial existence of that institution he achieved his excellent standard.. In the frivolous life of the university city, the life of the future saint was characterized by seriousness of purpose and an austerity of manner which singled him out as one from whom great things might be expected in the future. His love of learning and skill in theology was of prime importance in his plan, and found expression in every Dominican monastery, including Gloucester.

Tender hearted Saint

But more than once he proved that under this austere exterior he carried a tender heart. On one occasion he sold his books, annotated with his own hand, to relieve the starving poor of Palencia. His biographer and contemporary, Bartholomew of Trent, states that twice he tried to sell himself into slavery to obtain money for the liberation of those who were held in captivity by the Moors. These facts are worthy of mention in view of the cynical and saturnine character which some non-Catholic writers have endeavoured to foist upon one of the most noble and loving of men.

Sub Prior of a Cathedral

No one knows for certain when he was ordained. According to the deposition of Brother Stephen, Prior Provincial of Lombardy, given in the process of canonization, Dominic was still a student at Palencia when the Bishop of Osma, called him to membership in the cathedral chapter for the purpose of assisting in its reform. The bishop realized the importance to his plan of reform of having constantly before his canons the example of one of Dominic's eminent holiness. Nor was he disappointed in the result. In recognition of the part he had taken in converting its members into canons regular, Dominic was appointed sub-prior of the reformed chapter. On the accession of Don Diego d'Azevedo to the Bishopric of Osma in 1201, Dominic became superior of the chapter with the title of prior. As a canon of Osma, he spent nine years of his life hidden in God and rapt in contemplation, scarcely passing beyond the confines of the chapter house.

Saint like qualities reveal themselves and develop

The saint's increasing reputation for heroic sanctity, apostolic zeal, and profound learning caused him to be much sought after as a candidate for various bishoprics. Three distinct efforts were made to raise him to the episcopate but Saint Dominic absolutely refused all episcopal honours, saying that he would rather take flight in the night, with nothing but his staff, than accept a bishop’s position. From Muret Dominic returned to Carcassonne, where he resumed his preaching with unqualified success. It was not until 1214 that he returned to Toulouse. In the meantime the influence of his preaching and the eminent holiness of his life had drawn around him a little band of devoted disciples eager to follow wherever he might lead. Saint Dominic had never for a moment forgotten his purpose, formed eleven years before, of founding a religious order to combat heresy and propagate religious truth. The time now seemed opportune for the realization of his plan.


That Dominic and his companions might possess a fixed source of revenue Foulques made him chaplain of Fanjeaux and in July, 1215, canonically established the community as a religious congregation of his diocese, whose mission was the propagation of true doctrine and good morals, and the stamping out of heresy. However, Saint Dominic had dreamed of a world-order that would carry its apostolate to the ends of the earth. But, unknown to the saint, events were shaping themselves for the realization of his hopes. In November, 1215, an ecumenical council was to meet at Rome "to deliberate on the improvement of morals, the extinction of heresy, and the strengthening of the faith". This was identically the mission Saint Dominic had determined on for his order. With the Bishop of Toulouse, he was present at the deliberations of this council. From the very first session it seemed that events conspired to bring his plans to a successful result.

Rome Council 1215 (Year of Magna Carta, reign of King John)

The council bitterly accused the bishops of neglecting to preach adequately. In canon X they were directed to delegate capable men to preach the word of God to the people. Under these circumstances, it would reasonably appear that Dominic's request for confirmation of an order designed to carry out the mandates of the council would be joyfully granted. But while the council was anxious that these reforms should be put into effect as speedily as possible, it was at the same time opposed to the institution of any new religious orders, and had legislated to that effect in no uncertain terms. Preaching until then was confined to the bishops and. to bestow this office on an unknown and untried body of simple priests seemed too original and too bold in its conception to appeal to the conservative clergy who influenced the deliberations of the council. When, therefore, his petition for the approbation of his infant institute was refused, it could not have been wholly unexpected by Saint Dominic.

Disappointment that they had to follow rule of Augustine, no new orders allowed

Returning to Languedoc at the close of the council in December, 1215, the founder gathered about him his little band of followers and informed them of the wish of the council that there should be no new rules for religious orders. Thereupon they adopted the ancient rule of Saint Augustine, which on account of its generality, would easily lend itself to any form they might wish to give it. This done, Saint Dominic again appeared before the pope in the month of August, 1216, and again solicited the confirmation of his order. This time he was received more favourably, and on 22 December, 1216, the Bull of confirmation was issued.

Dominic in Rome

Saint Dominic spent the following Lent preaching in various churches in Rome, and before the Pope. It was at this time that he received the office and title of Master of the Sacred Palace, or Pope's Theologian. This office has been held uninterruptedly by members of the order from the founder's time to the present day.

Dominic send out his band of followers throughout Europe 1217

On 15 August, 1217, he gathered the brethren about him at Prouille to decide the affairs of the order. He had determined upon the heroic plan of dispersing his little band of seventeen unformed followers over all Europe. The result was spectacular testimony to trust in God.To facilitate the spread of the order, Honorius III, on 11 Feb., 1218, addressed a Bull to all archbishops, bishops, abbots, and priors, requesting their favour on behalf of the Order of Preachers.

By another Bull, dated 3 Dec, 1218, Pope Honorius III bestowed upon the order many churches. Dominic also helped the Pope to restore the Women’s Orders. He established houses in Bologna, Prouille, Toulouse, and many other places Lyon in France, Madrid, Toulouse and Paris, Limoges, Metz, Rheims, Poitiers and Orleans and finally Paris. Convents of Dominicans were founded all over Italy. Here he devoted several months to the religious formation of the brethren he found awaiting him. His arrival in Rome was the signal for the showering of new favours on the order. Notable among these marks of esteem were many complimentary letters addressed by Honorius to all those who had assisted the Fathers in all their foundations

On his return to Rome, towards the end of 1219, Dominic sent out letters to all the convents announcing the first General chapter of the order, to be held at Bologna on the feast of the following Pentecost. Shortly before, Honorius III, by a special Brief, had conferred upon the founder the title of Master General, which till then he had held only by tacit consent. At the very first session of the chapter in the following spring the saint startled his brethren by offering his resignation as master general. It is needless to say the resignation was not accepted and the founder remained at the head of the institute till the end of his life.

Dominic preached all over Italy and is said to have brought 10,000 unbelievers back to Christ. 30th May, 1221, found him again at Bologna presiding over the second general chapter of the order. At the close of the chapter he set out for Venice to visit Cardinal Ugolino, to whom he was especially indebted for many substantial acts of kindness. A fatal illness attacked him when he reached Bologna and. he died after three weeks, the many trials of which he bore with heroic patience. In a Bull dated at Spoleto, 13 July, 1234, Pope Gregory IX made his cult obligatory throughout the Church.

Life of St Dominic in the Service of God

The life of St. Dominic was one of tireless effort in the, service of God. While he journeyed from place to place he prayed and preached almost uninterruptedly. His penances were often extreme. While his charity was boundless he never permitted it to interfere with the stern sense of duty that guided every action of his life. If he hated false teaching and laboured untiringly for its extirpation it was because he loved truth and loved the souls of those among whom he laboured. He never failed to distinguish between sin and the sinner. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if this athlete of Christ, who had conquered himself before attempting the reformation of others, was more than once chosen to proclaim the power of God.

The failure of the fire at Fanjeaux to consume the dissertation he had employed against the heretics, and which was thrice thrown into the flames; the raising to life of Napoleone Orsini; the appearance of the annals in the refectory of Saint Sixtus in response to his prayers, are but a few of the supernatural happenings by which God demonstrated the eminent holiness of His servant. We are not surprised, therefore, that, after signing the Bull of canonization on 13 July, 1234, Gregory IX declared that he no more doubted the saintliness of Saint Dominic than he did that of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Tomorrow: More of the Tour

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mair O Aberteifi- Our Lady of the Taper, Assumption Pilgrimage (15 August)EF LATIN MASS

I have been asked to remind everyone living in the UK of this pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Taper in CARDIGAN on the West Wales coast.At 12 Noon Mass will be celebrated in the Extraordinary form(Tridentine) YOU WILL NEED A PACKED LUNCH. Mass, the Great Mission begins at 12 noon.


Our Lady of the Taper,
North Road,
SA43 1LT,
Tel: 01239 612615
Fax: 01239 6159417
Cardigan is in west Wales, 20 miles north of Fishguard. Important in the middle ages, it is now a pleasant market town of 4500 people. Catholics are few, and Mass attendance is only 150 although the parish stretches 30 miles along the coast.
From London take the M4, and then the A48 to Carmarthen, where you find the sign to Cardigan, which is 30 miles distant. If travelling from the north, head for Aberystwyth. Cardigan is 38 miles south on the A487.
The church is on the road running north-south through town. It lies towards the northern end, opposite the rugby field. The shrine chapel and church are open daily from 9:00am.

If you are staying overnight there are several good B and B guest houses nearby in addition to local hotels.

Here is some of the History of this ancient Shrine from their blog
www.ourlady of the

During the middle ages there was a notable pilgrimage in honour of Our Lady in Cardigan. A beautiful legend describes how a statue of Mary was found by the side of the river Teifi, "and her sonne upon her lappe, and the taper bernynge in her hande". It was taken to the parish church but would not remain there, returning three or four times to "the place where now is builded the Church of our Lady", the present St. Mary's church. A chantry priest sang Mass daily in honour of Our Lady for pilgrims who came to pray and leave gifts. They lodged with the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, where the Angel Hotel now stands.

St. Mary's dates from 1158. If it was built to hold the statue then Our Lady of Cardigan is indeed ancient. It resembles an earlier shrine in the city of Arras, which was then in Flanders. Did Flemish merchants, who settled in Cardigan and traded in Welsh wool out of the port, bring the statue back with them?

Outside town, on the old pilgrim track, lie the ruins of a building by a stream. It is called Capel Bach (Little Chapel), and may have been an oratory where travellers prayed before walking the last mile to the shrine. It is the same distance from St. Mary's as Walsingham Slipper Chapel is from the shrine there.

St. Mary's was a priory church of Chertsey Abbey. Benedictine monks cared for it until 1538, when they were expelled and the shrine destroyed.

Devotion to Mary was once universal in Wales. Many places are called Llanfair or Capel Mair (Mary's church, chapel), and dozens of flowers and plants bear her name. No girl was given the name Mair (Mary), as it was reserved for Our Lady.
There was a lesser taper shrine in Haverfordwest. The most notable is at Cagliari in Sardinia, where in 1370 a Catalonian ship foundered offshore, and a statue of Our Lady of the Taper was brought to land. A church was built for it on a headland, and named Santa Maria di Bonaria (of the good air), for people said its presence had cleared the place of a pestilential atmosphere. Spain controlled Cagliari, and its sailors adopted Santa Maria di Bonaria as their shrine.

Ransomer priests cared for it. They were great seafarers, as their vocation was to rescue Christian captives from the Moors. They became chaplains to the Spanish navy, and sailed with Columbus, bringing their devotion with them. They founded a shrine in Cuba. Others, named La Candelaria, are to be found in Tenerife, Guatemala and Rio de Janeiro. Buenos Aires was once called Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires (the Spanish name for the Cagliari shrine).

We do not know how the devotion transferred to Barcelona and Cagliari. In the 1320's and 1330's Catalonian sailors had thronged British waters. Did they come to Cardigan, see the shrine and copy it?

In 1904 Breton monks, in exile near Cardigan, revived the devotion, giving the title Our Lady of Cardigan to their abbey church and also to the little church they opened in town in 1912. They left in 1916, and another generation passed before the name was heard again. More information at:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


The first picture shows Cluny. Cluny had one of the strictest types of Benedictine Monastery and Glastonbury was its main Abbey in England-Montacute House was once the Abbey of Montacute and also an offshoot of Cluny, and also had a small cell or priory at Malpas. Cluny was destroyed during the French Revolution but a copy is to be seen at Worcester Cathedral, which is an identical architecture of Cluny, or at least similar.

The crosses and monuments lower down show the tributes to the Morgan Family of Tredegar House. The Morgans were originally a recusant family.____________________________________________________________________________________________________


Bassaleg Priory

Monastery Clas Church of St Gwladys and St Cadoc's Foundation

There was almost certainly a settlement or Christian place of worship here for a long time before the Normans arrived and before this priory cell was built.
Gwladys his most holy wife and a most chaste woman, being devoted to the Catholic religion would remain close to the habitation of the holy Gwynlliw not farther off than one furlong. And departing to the Lord and succeeding she came to the banks of the River Ebod (Ebbw)where she dwelt and created buildings which most were necessary for both God and man. They both lived religiously and abstemiously and fasted all the time appointed for the purpose . The following penance was enjoined upon them , first that they should wear a hair cloth, and partake of barley bread and ashes with water, mixed therewith a third part in quantity ,every ninth hour and the fountain sedge was be to be for sweet pot herbs but they were most sweet because they led to rewards. The countenance of both of them became pale, as if they suffered from illness ; it was not weakness for health strengthened them inwardly; they were accustomed to restrain the desires of the body by bathing in the coldest water, and they did not more seldom wash themselves in the frosty season of winter tather than the heat of summer, they rose from the bed in the middle of the night and after a bath returned to the coldest apartment and put on their clothes and visited the church praying and kneeling before the altars until it was day. Thus they led an heremitical life , enjoying the fruit of their labour and taking nothing which belonged to another.

Mentioning these and such like things St Cadoc exhorted his mother to leave the place of her residence and admonished by the advice of her son she departed, leaving there to serve God seven nuns consisting of nuns and chaste women. Lives of the British Saints of the fifth and sixth centuries

It lasted as St Gwladys' Church for some time. When Robert de la Haye took it over-it went to the Clunaic Abbey at Glastonbury, this being England's holiest shrine.

This is part of the original charter:

Cartae ad Prioratum de Bassalech in agro Monemutensi spectantes

Carta Roberti de Haia de Ecclesia de Bassalech

Ego Robertus de Haia et sponsor mea Gundrede concessu domini mei Roberti filii Hamonis et sponsor suae Sibiliae , pro salute animarum nostrarum, de antecessorum nostrorum, damus Deo et sanctae Mariae ecclesiae Glaston, ecclesiam de Bassalech in elimonsam, in perpetuam possidendam, liberam et quitam ab omnibus geldis, donis et auxiliis……in bosco , in plano, in aquis, et in omnibus omnino locis, et hoc pro beneficiis tantum et orationibus congregationis facimus. Concedimus etiam ecclesiae Glastoniensi ecclesias…… Bassalecheum decimis et elemonsinis omnibus, et defunctorum corporibus, quae ad parrochiam de Bassalech pertinent, scilicet ecclesiam de Mahhayn, et ecclesiam de Bedewas,et ecclesiam de Menedwiscleluyn, et ecclesiam de Mapmoil et capellam de Coittarnen et capellam de Pulared…..

St Cadoc's Pool on the Ebbw at Bassaleg

The very name of the water system below ,where a stream ran into the Ebbw was known as Cadocs Pool (Radokes Pulle ‘ in Anglo Saxon). That the Lord of Gwynllwch’s saintly son should be remembered thus affectionately for many hundred’s of years . could mean the church’s original dedication may have been to St Gwladys, his mother, before her marriage a consecrated Virgin , a would-be nun, who carried off by Gwynlliw to be married against her will and produce many sons, including Cadoc Cadoc himself.may have been the dedicatee. When the Normans arrived, these saints were unknown to the French monks, who asked for the protection and inspiration of St Basil. St Gwladys was not a canonised saint, there was little formalised canonisation before the 11th century. Both the Holy David and Dyfrig (Dubricious) were, however consecrated by Rome and Jerusalem and canonised. There is no doubt Gwladys was a good , pious and holy woman.The story o the conversion of St Gwynlliw has already been told in the Chapter ‘The Age of the Saints..St Gwynlliw’s was an important early Minster or Celtic Cathedral Church. There are many posthumous miracles ascribed to him. The church was not, however the most important church in the area. Bassaleg was. By 1146, Bassaleg’s dedication had been lost, when the present dedication to St Basil the Eastern Saint appears. It is possible that the earlier buildings of wood or mud and wattle had been burned by Saxons when they invaded conquered Gwent under Harold before the Norman Conquest. Knight tells us in ‘The Early Church oin Gwent’ that the name came from the Latin word ‘Basilica’, He tells us that the Church stands at the point where the Roman road from Caerleon to Cardiff crossed the Ebbw, probably by means of a bridge , for the Pontis de Bassalech was already there in the twelfth century.

The Charter of Roger de Berecheroles gives the dedication as St Basils and mentions the bridge.1146

Sciant tam praesentes quam future, quod ego, Rogerus de Berecheroles, assensu
Be it known, that I Roger de Berecheroles, present for the future with the assent and

et consilio Ceciliae uxoris meae , Willelmi et Roberti filiorum meorum, dedi et
counsel of Cecilia , my wife, William and Robert, my sons, I give and concede and

concessi , ac praesenti carta mea confirmavi Deo et ecclesiae sanctae mMariae
present my charter confirmed to God and the church of the Blessed Mary of

de Glastonia,et ecclesiae sancti Beselii de Bassalech , omnem terram quae Glastonbury and to the Church of St Basil at Bassaleg , all the land, which my father

Willelmus pater meus eisdem ecclesiis et monachis ibidem Deo servientibus olim William gave , the same churches and the same monks serving God in those very

Dederat…. Qui incipit a capite pontis de Bassalech , et directa jacet usqueplaces….which begins at the top of the bridge of Bassaleg continuing all the way to


In the ‘Monasticon, John Leland wrote there was a bridge of timber ‘over Ebowith caullid Pont Bassaleg and over this bridge lyeth the highway from Newport to Caertaphe’(Cardiff) Knight goes on to say there is no need to look for an important Roman building in the area because the Irish Scholar Charles Doherty has shown that in early Ireland the term basilica was used –rather as it is today in Rome as the site of a very important Church, which has the bones of the bones and other relics of its founder. Bassaleg seems to have had a ‘grave chapel’ such as that St Woolos (original Llanfair Church built by Gwynlliw which houses his remains, and that of Father Issui (Pater Issui)at Patrishow.

In Archdeacon Coxe’s Tour of Monmouthshire (as Knight points out) is a drawing by Colt Hoare of the Grave Chapel and he also says ‘Sir Stephen Glynne wrote On the south side of the church and quite detached is a small perpendicular chapel of plain character , with an east window of three lights and the roof ribbed in the shape of an arch ‘ Archeologica Cambrensis is quoted by Knight as the ‘obituary of the Chapel’ A small isolated Chapel of perpendicular architechture has lately been destroyed ….it has been used as a school’ . Knight concludes ‘Here then was the perpendicular Church of the relics’.

Relics of St Gwladys of Newport

The details are revealed in the ‘Life of St Gwynlliw’.This account was written for the monks of St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester, so they could be aware of the status of the Church and its property.(Knight) This was important as Glastonbury also had a claim to it

Knight believes that St Gwladys is, without doubt the lost first dedicatee of Bassaleg Church and early Celtic Priory. There is also mention of another foundation actually on the banks of the river where perhaps the holy women went when they were old.He also gives a further indication because in 1186 an accord was signed between Picot and the Benedictines of Bassalech as to where their boundaries were to be.(suggesting both churches had originally been one parish (parrochia) It mentions a church of St Gladewis which Laudomer built on the banks of the Ebbw.

By the twelfth century there were two minster churches in the area within two miles of each other. Gwynlliw and Gwladys were still together.Knight suggests the reason that St Woolos became more senior and important, was because Gwynlliw was also the ruler of the Land, a King like Cadoc his son.The parrochia of Bassaleg he says, persisted into the 12th century, when its affiliated Churches included Machen (Magheyn) Bedewas, Menethistelon (Mynyddislwyn), Risca, Henthles (Henllys) St Brides and Koithernau (Coedkernew) All these were only chapels of Bassaleg amd Knight points out further ‘ as late as 1291 the greater part o the Deanery of Novus Burgo (Newport) is summed up in the taxation return as ‘Bassalec cum capel’. This was already a thing of the past. Churches were being built locally by landowners all over Europe and these chapels were built at that time in stone to serve a local area, and the parish system as we know it was coming into being.

We have heard how Queen Gwladys, St Gwladys chapel was destroyed. Here is a similar one, at St Melangell’s Church in Powys. Excavations revealed the footings of a twelfth-century apse built as a cell y bedd, or grave chapel, above the grave of the eighth-century female saint to whom the church is dedicated. The apse has been restored. Might the foundations of our cell y bedd looked like this?

St Gwladys, like many of our Welsh saints had all the hallmarks of a holy Christian woman. She was beautiful, had wante to be a nun, but was carried off by Gwynlliw to be his wife. She ‘tamed the wild beast’. She brought up their children to great holiness, Cadoc was consecrated bishop in Jerusalem. Maches, her daughter, became a nun and was sadly martyred after being martyred by the Saxons at Llanvaches.Gwynlliw and she bathed in cold water and went for long walks beside the Usk. Their son Cadoc took great care of them both, and there is more about him and Gwynlliw in the Chapter on St Gwinlliw (WQoolos) of Newport. There is no doubt that her son read to her regularly from the Bible and she often frequented the Sacraments.

Her faith gave her great joy and she joined the many holy matrons who looked after the poor and fulfilled the Commandments of the Gospel. Gwladys will have been made a saint by popular usage and acclamation as was usual at the time. Canonisations such as those of St David, (who so valiantly defended the teaching of the Catholic Church against Pelagius at Llendewi Brevi ) and St Dyfrig ,Dubricius canonised much earlier. They were well known having taken part in Catholic Church Councils in Asles.