Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Llan Dingat, a Chilly February Visit to a beautiful church.

Dingestow-Dingat, Merthyr Dingat, Llandingat-a church stood on this spot from at least the sixth century. Of many Celtic Saints, a number of whom have close associations with Gwent, St Dingat is not one of the famous ones, yet was a true and holy confessor and ordained priest, probably ordained by the authority of Dyfrig (Dubricius) with whose body he travelled to Bardsey or Ynys Enlli when Dyfrig died and was succeeded by St Teilo.

Dingad was, it seems likely educated at Llancarfan under the great and holy Saint Cadoc. The early Bonedd y sant of Penarth 16,15 written down in the 13th century by the Cistercian monks, who collected and for the first time wrote down all this information, and 12 (fourteenth century) and Hafod MS (16) 1400 make DINGAD AB NUDD HAEL one of the holy family of Macsen Wledig.

Macsen Wledig-Maximus of Brittany

Maximus was a distinguished general who served under Theodosius the Elder. He served with him in Africa in 373 and on the Danube in 376. It is likely he also may have been a junior officer in Britain during the quelling of the Great Conspiracy in 368. Assigned to Britain in 380, he defeated an incursion of the Picts and Scots in 381. Maximus was proclaimed emperor by his troops in 383. He went to Gaul to pursue his imperial ambitions taking a large number of British troops with him.

Maximus made his capital at Augusta Treverorum (Treves, Trier) in Gaul and ruled Britain, Gaul, Spain, and Africa. He issued coinage and a number of edicts reorganizing Gaul's system of provinces. Some scholars believe Maximus may have founded the office of the Comes Britanniarum as well.He was given power to rule in the West as Emperor figure.
Macsen had a controversial, if slightly over zealous protection of Christians and Jewish people, despite the intervention of his confessor St Martin of Tours, happily burning heretics, of which the church disapproved. His family he left behind in Britain, seemingly to fend for themselves. What happened to Maximus' family after his downfall is not related. His wife, ( recorded as having sought spiritual counsel from St. Martin of Tours during her time at Trier) Her ultimate fate, and even her name, have not been passed down to history.

The same is true of Maximus' mother and daughters spared by Theodosius., included Anicius Olybrius, emperor in 472, but also several consuls and bishops such as St. Magnus Felix Ennodius (Bishop of Pavia c. 514-21). We also encounter an otherwise unrecorded daughter of Magnus Maximus, Sevira, on the Pillar of Eliseg at Gelligaer, an early medieval inscribed which claims her marriage to Vortigern, king of the Britons.Vortigern is also reputedly buried at Llanvetherine. It is possible that Sevira married a member of the Brychan family in Brecon and that her children produced a King of Usk (Brynbuga) called Nudd, who subsequently produced Dingat. The proximity of the Church of Llanvetherine between Llandingat and Usk seems to add support to their all being of the same family, as Gwytherin was one of his daughters. As always with early accounts and pedigrees, there is room for error but Baring Gould and Fischer (Lives of the British Saints V2 page 344)gives us more details. Nudd’s son, Dingat married Tenoi daughter of Lleudun by whom he had twelve children “who every one served God”. The Myvyrian genealogies (423 and 427) support this-although twelve being a Biblical number, may just indicate a large number of children.

King, Monk,Priest and husband and father-Practise off the Time

In common with Cadoc and common practice of the time, Dingad was both a King, a priest and a founder of his monastery at Llandingat, called Merthyr Dingat in Pope Nicholas’s taxatio. Possibly having reigned until his eldest son was old enough to rule,and following the death of his eife he would have transferred power (as Tewdrig did to Meurig) to his eldest son Lleuddadd and gone on his green martyrdom to his monastic settlement, taking perhaps his wife with him, but certainly enough like minded servants to live out their lives in prayer and contemplation. At this time in the Catholic church there were no rules about priests being married or not, and it was neccessary to provide Christian rulers and leaders in a country which had just come out from the ravishes of Roman civilisation (‘Welsh’ or ‘Welisc’ means ‘Romanised Briton-as they were contemptuously called by the Saxons.His other children were Baglan, Eleri, Tegwy(Tegwyn) ad Tyforiog. It seems to be a confusion, whether Llidnerth,Gwytherin and Ilar were his brothers and sisters or his children.

At some point in the seventh century, because of ‘Martyrdom’ having come to mean only a ‘red’ martyrdom, that the word Merthyr was changed to the word for a holy monastic enclosure or ‘Llan’-not strictly speaking the church or ecclesia (eglwys) but the holy ground separated from the world by a circular or oval wall. Within the llan was the territory of God, outside was the world. The llan did contain a church and dwelling places for the early monks.

Some of these llans were ‘conhospitae’ where married religious dwellt and raised their children. Some were priests, some were not. The discipline of celibacy had arisen on the advice of St Paul, who felt priests had to be free to move around and serve wherever God sent them. They could not be troubled by protecting and providing for a family. St Peter had also left his family to travel with Christ, but they seem to have perished in Rome in Nero’s persecution. Dingat seems to be set in the late fifth century.

Just to repeat for those who have not read the previous blogs:
The Red Martyrdom-the giving of life and blood for Christ. (those who have washed their clothes white in the Blood of the Lamb)

The White Martyrdom-the saint leaves home and family to serve God, wherever God takes him.If wealthy like St Ita of St Ives it may have been a boat or coracle, the wind and waves taking them to their destination-also like St Materiana of Gwent.
The Blue or green Martyrdom-the saint having found his vocational location, then consecrates the llan to God using the rituals and then lives out his liffe in Christian service as a religious, free to marry or not to. Generally there was a powerful link between monarchs because of their learning (often at the best schools such as those at Caerwent and after that at Llancarfan. They also had the means to set up such a place, servants and so forth.Some of them also became ‘red’ martyrs, liek Holy Cadoc himself who was killed.

A Martyrdom or Llan?

The llan at Dingestow (Dingat’s town-Saxon) would have been first cleared-note its proximity to the river, and a wall built. Monks would then live on the land and fast for forty days before the area designated at their holy area was cleared of all evil spirits. They would eat a little milk a little bread and some eggs occasionally and then the original church, sometimes made of stone, but more usually at first out of wood or mud and wattles would be raised and then finally the dwellings. Sometimes beehive huts, but again more usually small mud and wattle cottages.

There was also anotherDingat in a similar llan at Llandovvery, but this was another relative of the Gwent Dingat.
Dingat had given up his life to the service of God and probably was directed by God to this Llan. You can still see the circular outer perimeter of the Llan wall-the division between heaven and the world.All this testifies to a lively faith and Christian witness in Gwent and Glwyssing in the fifth and sixth centuries. It became known as Dingestow when the area was overrun by the Saxons, who seemingly thought more of the market (stow) than the monastery, until they too were brought to Christ by Augustine. The church seems to occur in Pope Nicholas’ Taxatio in the Thirteenth Century.and was probably served by a local secular priest from the diocese of Llandaff who would have lived on the premises.
These priests were ‘rectors’ and the tithes paid to Llandaff, who paid them.In 1390 Father Gregory (ap David)seems to have resigned and Father John (Ap gruffydd) came to take over. There seems to be an unrecorded priest in between, although it is possible Father John stayed for over forty years. In 1432 Father William (ap Philip) appeared but what happened to his successor is unclear. He may have fled to France rather than take the Oath of Supremacy as so many priests did, populating the English Colleges in France. 1539, seems to have been the arrival of the Vicar from the new Church of England, although Masses continued to be said throughout the county at houses like Treowen and in secret covert places known only to Welsh speakers. Raglan Castle and the Earls of Worcester were a powerful Catholic family, who sheltered and harboured priests and where Mass continued to be said until Sit Thomas Fayrfax laid it waste and then the mantle passed to Treowen, who protected the Church , even to regular huge fines imposed upon recusant Catholics.

Ninth Century

It seems a local Chieftain called Tudnab originally built a stone church on this site at this time and bequeathed it to the larger Abbey Church and Chapter at Llandaff ‘In exchange for a heavenly kingdom and for the soul of his father’ , with the Christian name Paul.

Norman Conquest

The church was in existence at the Conquest and even though Llandingat was not given to Monmouth or Abergaveny Priories, a dispute arose for a long time between the dioceses of Hereford, Llandaff and St David , and Pope Callixtus (who canonised St David for his defence of the Catholic Teaching against Morgan (Pelagius) of the Britons) had to intervene confirming the church to Llandaff because of the recorded gift of Tudnab.Pope Callixtus confirmed this claim in 1119.

The New English Anglican Church of Henry VIII

By 1535, the years of the seizure of the monasteries by the king because of their resisstance to his marriage to his mistress, the Deanery of Abergavenny had been established clearly and the boundaries show Llandingat was in it. The Tithes from this church were paid to Llandaff from early times. Many of the beautiful works of art were taken from the church and more probably smashed by Cromwell’s men-demolition men of extraordinary energy. The rood screen would have been removed, from the existence of a small room near the organ, which would have separated the nave from the sanctuary of the church. A small window near the pulpit remains. As the result of the parish having to renovate and maintain such an ancient church from time to time, most of its early features have been removed. The Stoup, from which the Faithful blessed themselves before entering and when leaving church, to remind them of their baptism and consecration to Christ, has disappeared, also the piscine, where the remnants of the consecrated remains of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, passed directly to the earth. The painting of the Doom over the rood screen has gone as has the originally consecrated stone altar with the stone crosses (probably buried in the churchyard somewhere) There is no reredos, but a beautiful stained glass window.The stone church is spacious and when I visited in February still had its crib out and Christmas decorations. The reason is probably the thick snow that fell here for most of January.

Church Ornaments

A beautiful statue of the Virgin stands here and a marble statue of St Francis, next to a lovely decoration of pine and church candles. Apart from very colourful stained glass windows, in the Bosanquet family chapel, originally commissioned by the Catholic Jones family of Treowen , is a beautiful white marble statue of a woman grieving, with another spread over her lap prostrate with grief. It is most beautiful. There is also another stone commemorating the death of one of the family during the war.

The Castle

The Castle changed hands several times in baronial troubles in 1283 but in 1256, became part of the Lordship of Monmouth and then to the Crown. It was then attached to the Duchy of Lancaster and in 1465, part of the Lordship of Raglan, and eventual;ly to the 8th Duke of Beaufort who sold it to the Bosanquet family. They lived at nearby Dingestow Court and came from Languedoc in France. The estate had originally been owned by the Jones /Herbert family of Treowen.Sir Charles Jones of Treowen who died in 1637 left a bequest to the Church for the building of the Chapel. He had Mass said at his house all his life and died in the faith. It was important appearances were kept up if Catholics were to be buried in the churchyards of their forefathers. Heavy fines on recusant Catholics meant a later member of the family had to sell off some of his estates to George Catchmayd then to James Duberley and then to the Bosanquets of Essex who came to live at Dingestow and happily take an active interest in local affairs, producing distinguished members, high rranking service men, a Judge, two chairmen of quarter sessions,Common Sergeant of London and Official Referee and several barristers (QCs)as well as clergymen.


The old Catholic Church would have had a single bell. In 1887, the church had to be restored, obviously in a poor state, in 1847 it was rebuilt from the original with five bells. One of them appears to have been a recast 15th century bell (recast in 1914) and in this year a treble bell was added. Two other bells date from 1656 and 1701.(a new bell cast in Cromwell’s time would have been rare!)A sixth treble bell was added in 1991 in memory of Gillian Vaughan-Best.

Open Church

Delightfully the church was open and I was able to look around.There seems to be a fund to build a public convenience in the church, which was a very good idea. An Ash Wednesday devotion was advertised, and there seems to be a large second hand supply of books at the back of the church and the very useful guide. Of course it is a mixture of 19th century gothic so resembles some older features. The mediaeval priest’s door has been kept, but covered with a curtain. There is a 19th century organ as well. The altar area is very sparse as a simple table with vases of flowers and a medium sized wooden cross. The sedilla or priests sitting area has been replaced by a larger window of bay type although the wide sill could be a seat, and contained many beautiful evergreens and candles.
Visiting-Wonastow Industrial Estate signposted, but do not go in-carry on that road until you arrive at Llandingat, then turn Right to the Church.

All in all the church is a gem. There is parking, and it lies fairly close to the site of the Castle and a short distance from the A40 which you have to leave before the tunnels at Monmouth or if coming from the Newport direction, go into Monmouth on A40 and turn back on yourself at the roundabout, go past the bridge and Momnmouth School on your right and then your first left and turn Right at the top of the Hill, following the road to Wonastow and Dingestow.
Don’t forget to leave a donation if you can afford it................

Thursday, February 4, 2010


St Thomas the Martyr, Archbishop of Canterbury,was born at London, 21 December, 1118 and martyred at Canterbury, 29 December, 1170.
He was born of parents who, coming from Normandy, had settled in England some years previously.In after life his humble birth was made the subject of spiteful comment, though his parents were not peasants, but people of some mark, and from his earliest years their son had been well taught and had associated with gentlefolk. He learned to read at Merton Abbey and then studied in Paris. On leaving school he employed himself in secretarial work, first with Sir Richer de l'Aigle and then with his kinsman, Osbert Huitdeniers, who was "Justiciar" of London. Somewhere about the year 1141, under circumstances that are variously related, he entered the service of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and in that household he won his master's favour and eventually became the most trusted of all his clerks. A description embodied in the Icelandic Saga and derived probably from Robert of Cricklade gives a vivid portrait of him at this period.
To look upon he was slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face. Blithe of countenance was he, winning and loveable in his conversation, frank of speech in his discourses, but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment and understanding that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner.
Theobald recognized his capacity, made use of him in many delicate negotiations, and, after allowing him to go for a year to study civil and canon law at Bologna and Auxerre, ordained him deacon in 1154, after bestowing upon him several preferments, the most important of which was the Archdeaconry of Canterbury (see Radford, "Thomas of London", p. 53).
It was just at this period that King Stephen died and the young monarch Henry II became unquestioned master of the kingdom. He took "Thomas of London", as Becket was then most commonly called, for his chancellor, and in that office Thomas at the age of thirty-six became, with the possible exception of the justiciar, the most powerful subject in Henry's wide dominions. The chroniclers speak with wonder of the relations which existed between the chancellor and the sovereign, who was twelve years his junior. People declared that "they had but one heart and one mind". Often the king and his minister behaved like two schoolboys at play. But although they hunted or rode at the head of an army together it was no mere comradeship in pastime which united them.
Both were hard workers, and both, we may believe, had the prosperity of the kingdom deeply at heart. Whether the chancellor, who was after all the elder man, was the true originator of the reforms to the law which Henry introduced is not clear In many matters they saw eye to eye. The king's imperial views and love of splendour were quite to the taste of his minister. When Thomas went to France in 1158 to negotiate a marriage treaty, he travelled with such pomp that the people said: "If this be only the chancellor what must be the glory of the king himself?"
Deacon though he was,he was also a soldierwith Henry in France and he led the most daring attacks in person, and Edward Grim also gives us to understand that in laying waste the enemy's country with fire and sword the chancellor's principles did not materially differ from those of the other commanders of his time. But although, as men then reported, "he put off the archdeacon", in this and other ways, he was very far from assuming the licentious manners of those around him. No word was ever breathed against his personal purity. Foul conduct or foul speech, lying or unchastity were hateful to him, and on occasion he punished them severely. He seems at all times to have had clear principles with regard to the claims of the Church, and even during this period of his chancellorship he more than once risked Henry's grievous displeasure. For example, he opposed the dispensation which Henry for political reasons extorted from the pope, and strove to prevent the marriage of Mary, Abbess of Romsey, to Matthew of Boulogne. But to the very limits of what his conscience permitted, Thomas identified himself with his master's interests, and Tennyson is true to history when he makes the archbishop say:
I served our Theobald well when I was with him:
I served King Henry well as Chancellor:
I am his no more, and I must serve the Church.


Archbishop Theobald died in 1161, and in the course of the next year Henry seems to have decided that it would be good policy to prepare the way for further schemes of reform by securing the advancement of his chancellor to the primacy. Our authorities are agreed that from the first Thomas drew back in alarm. "I know your plans for the Church," he said, "you will assert claims which I, if I were archbishop, must needs oppose." But Henry would not be gainsaid, and Thomas at the instance of Cardinal Henry of Pisa, who urged it upon him as a service to religion, yielded in spite of his misgivings
Thomas Becket is made Priest and institutes a papal custom in the Church

He was ordained priest on Saturday in Whitweek and consecrated bishop the next day, Sunday, 3 June, 1162. It seems to have been St. Thomas who obtained for England the privilege of keeping the feast of the Blessed Trinity on that Sunday, the anniversary of his consecration, and more than a century afterwards this custom was adopted by the papal Court, itself and eventually imposed on the whole world.

Thomas’ life becomes more and more sanctified by his apostolic office

A great change took place in the saint's way of life after his consecration as archbishop. Even as chancellor he had practised secret austerities, but now in view of the struggle he clearly saw before him he gave himself to fastings and disciplines, hair shirts, protracted vigils, and constant prayers.

Before the end of the year 1162 he stripped himself of all signs of the lavish display which he had previously affected. On 10 Aug. he went barefoot to receive the envoy who brought him the pallium from Rome. Contrary to the king's wish he resigned the chancellorship.
Things begin to go Wrong
Whereupon Henry seems to have required him to surrender certain ecclesiastical preferments which he still retained, notably the archdeaconry, and when this was not done at once showed bitter displeasure. Other misunderstandings soon followed. The archbishop, having, as he believed, the king's express permission, set about to reclaim alienated estates belonging to his see, a procedure which again gave offence. Still more serious was the open resistance which he made to the king's proposal that a voluntary offering to the sheriffs should be paid into the royal treasury. As the first recorded instance of any determined opposition to the king's arbitrary will in a matter of taxation, the incident is of much constitutional importance. The saint's protest seems to have been successful, but the relations with the king only grew more strained.
The king's officials try to assert jurisdiction over clerks who misbehave
Soon after this the great matter of dispute was reached in the resistance made by Thomas . He himself had no wish to be lenient with criminous clerks. It was with him simply a question of principle. St. Thomas seems all along to have suspected Henry of a plan to strike at the independence of what the king regarded as a too powerful Church.
With this view Henry summoned the bishops at Westminster (1 October, 1163) to sanction certain as yet unspecified articles which he called his grandfather's customs (avitæ consuetudines), one of the known objects of which was to bring clerics guilty of crimes under the jurisdiction of the secular courts. The other bishops, as the demand was still in the vague, showed a willingness to submit, though with the condition "saving our order", upon which St. Thomas inflexibly insisted. The king's resentment was thereupon manifested by requiring the archbishop to surrender certain castles he had hitherto retained, and by other acts of unfriendliness. In deference to what he believed to be the pope's wish, the archbishop in December consented to make some concessions by giving a personal and private undertaking to the king to obey his customs "loyally and in good faith". But when Henry shortly afterwards at Clarendon (13 January, 1164) tried to get the saint to formally the "Constitutions of Clarendon", the name given to the sixteen articles, the avitæ consuetudines there was uncompromising resistance.
Then followed a period of unworthy and vindictive persecution. When opposing a claim made against him by John the Marshal, Thomas upon a frivolous pretext was found guilty of contempt of court. For this he was sentenced to pay £500; other demands for large sums of money followed, and finally, though a complete release of all claims against him as chancellor had been given on his becoming archbishop, he was required to render an account of nearly all the moneys which had passed through his hands in his discharge of the office. Eventually a sum of nearly £30,000 was demanded of him.Thomas ,however, knew Henry was trying to assert control over the church.
St Thomas flees England and implores Pope Alexander III for permission to resign
His fellow bishops summoned by Henry to a council at Northampton, implored him to throw himself unreservedly upon the king's mercy, but St. Thomas, instead of yielding, solemnly warned them and threatened them. Then, after celebrating Mass, he took his archiepiscopal cross into his own hand and presented himself thus in the royal council chamber. The king demanded that sentence should be passed upon him, but in the confusion and discussion which ensued the saint with uplifted cross made his way through the mob of angry courtiers. He fled away secretly that night (13 October, 1164), sailed in disguise from Sandwich (2 November), and after being cordially welcomed by Louis VII of France, he threw himself at the feet of Pope Alexander III, then at Sens, on 23 Nov.

Thomas is sheltered by the Cistercian Order, who are threatened by Henry II

The pope, who had given a cold reception to certain episcopal envoys sent by Henry, welcomed the saint very kindly, and refused to accept his resignation of his see. On 30 November, Thomas went to take up his residence at the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy, though he was compelled to leave this refuge a year later, as Henry, after confiscating the archbishop's property and banishing all the Becket kinsfolk, threatened to wreak his vengeance on the whole Cistercian Order if they continued to harbour him.

Four Years of negotiations between Henry, the Pope and Thomas

The negotiations between Henry, the pope, and the archbishop dragged on for the next four years without the position being sensibly changed. Although the saint remained firm in his resistance to the principle of the Constitutions of Clarendon, he was willing to make any concessions that could be reasonably asked of him, and on 6 January, 1169, when the kings of England and France were in conference at Montmirail, he threw himself at Henry's feet, but as he still refused to accept the obnoxious customs Henry repulsed him.


At last in 1170 some sort of reconciliation was patched up. The question of the customs was not mentioned and Henry professed himself willing to be guided by the archbishop's council as to amends due to the See of Canterbury for the recent violation of its rights in the crowning of Henry's son by the Archbishop of York. On 1 December, 1170, St. Thomas again landed in England, and was received with every demonstration of popular enthusiasm. But trouble almost immediately occurred in connection with the absolution of two of the bishops, whose sentence of excommunication St. Thomas had brought with him, as well as over the restoration by the de Broc family of the archbishop's castle at Saltwood.

The Martyrdom of St Thomas Becket

. How far Henry was directly responsible for the tragedy which soon after occurred on 20 December is not quite clear. Four knights who came from France demanded the absolution of the bishops. St. Thomas would not comply. They left for a space, but came back at Vesper time with a band of armed men. To their angry question, "Where is the traitor?" the saint boldly replied, "Here I am, no traitor, but archbishop and priest of God." They tried to drag him from the church, but were unable, and in the end they slew him where he stood, scattering his brains on the pavement. His faithful companion, Edward Grim, who bore his cross, was wounded in the struggle.

A tremendous reaction of horror at the sacrilege followed this deed of blood. In an extraordinary brief space of time devotion to the martyred archbishop had spread all through Europe. The pope promulgated the bull of canonization, little more than two years after the martyrdom, 21 February, 1173.

Henry does public penance

On 12 July, 1174, Henry II did public penance, and was scourged at the archbishop's tomb. An immense number of miracles were worked, and for the rest of the Middle Ages the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury was one of the wealthiest and most famous in Europe. The martyr's holy remains are believed to have been destroyed in September, 1538, when nearly all the other shrines in England were dismantled; but the matter is by no means clear, and, although the weight of learned opinion is adverse, there are still those who believe that a skeleton found in the crypt in January, 1888, is the body of St. Thomas. I am making a pilgrimage there in two weeks' time and will report on the shrines of St Thomas Becket and St Thomas More.

Pope John Paul at Canterbury, prays at the tomb of St Thomas Becket

The visit of Pope John Paul to Canterbury in the 1980’s was the first time a Catholic Mass has been held in the Cathedral for some centuries. Catholics still have mass in the Crypt on st Thomas’ feast day (or so I understand) and a member of the Benedictine order is on the council at the Cathedral and former Abbey Church.

It seems with the ongoing interference in Church affairs at the moment, a new devotion to St Thomas the Martyr and that other Martyr who defied Henry VIII’s wish (to marry his mistress and leave his wife of 35 years), St Thomas More (whose head is buried in Canterbury in a local church, belonging to the Roper family)is long overdue.

The Legend

The story that Henry VIII in 1538 summoned the archbishop to stand his trial for high treason, and that when, in June, 1538, the trial had been held and the accused pronounced 'guilty', the body was ordered to be disinterred and burnt, is probably apocryphal.He did, however,cause desecration of St Thomas shrines, had the people scratch out reference to St Thomas in the books of the Hours or prayerbooks carried by the Faithful, as recorded in Eamon Holmes book.It may be for this reason, the chapel in Overmonnow was sidelined for a number of years, until the advent of the Oxford Movement.

St Thomas Dedications in Gwent

There are, or were formerly, a number of dedications to St Thomas Becket in the area, others being at Shirenewton, Wolvesnewton, Wyesham, Ganarew and (probably) Penrhos.

Mr F.R.Handcombe of Monmouth has made an extensive research of the history of this Church, formerly Chapel of Ease to the Priory of Our Lady and St Florent up on the Hill, a former Benedictine Priory I have written about on a previous blog.

Here are some extracts. The whole article can be read at the Priory Church Website and is available in the porch of the church.

The Church is open every day in daylight hours. It can be found by getting off the A 40 at Trellech and Wonastow Industrial Estate turn off and then going back into Monmouth. There is short term parking to the left of the famous Monnow Bridge, next to the restored Preaching Cross.

St Thomas the Martyr Church mmentioned in Bull of Pope Urban III

The present church, or part of it, is known to have been in use in 1186 when it was mentioned in the Bull of Pope Urban III. Its original construction can therefore be dated as having taken place in all probability between 1170 and 1186. There may well have been an earlier structure on the site.The first priests to say Mass in the present building would have been the monks of the priory Church, who were French from the Abbey of Saumur. The recorded Anglican Vicars from mid way through the nineteenth century, begin at 1830 with Joseph Fawcett Beddy down to the present Vicar David McGladdery appointed in 2009. Renewed interest in the church may have been due to the interest in the Oxford Movement, and perhaps a more Anglo Catholic form of worship needing a church with a different style-though this is just a speculation in view of the date. Twenty years before the reestablishment of the Catholic hierarchy in Britain, and a formal end of the persecution of Catholics.

Charles Heath, writing in 1800, claimed to identify Saxon features in the arches and windows, but the evidence for this is uncertain.

Fire Damage

Some fifty years after being built, in 1233, the church was damaged by fire (as was Monnow Bridge) in the course of the Battle of Monmouth, an action in the baronial uprising against Henry III. In the following year the King authorised the Constable of St Briavels to supply thirteen oaks from the Forest of Dean to repair the damage. In the year 1256 there is an unusual reference to the fact that anchorites were living in St Thomas's.

John Leland

For the next five hundred years, or more, information about the church is sparse.
In 1479 an Indulgence was granted by the Bishop of Hereford for the repair of the church, but in 1543 John Leland wrote (of the Monnow Gate) "beyond this gate is a suburb in the diocese of Llandaff where once stood the parish church of Saint Thomas, but now only a little chapel dedicated to the saint."

The Monmouth Cap

At about this time the Monmouth Cap came into prominence. There is a widespread belief that manufacture of the famous cap was centred in Overmonnow which, as a result, became known as Cappers' Town and Saint Thomas's as Cappers' Church. Mr Kissack however has pointed out (a) that nowhere in the known records is Overmonnow referred to as Cappers' Town, nor is the term used in an contemporary accounts of Monmouth.

In 1611 John Speed published a map of Monmouth, believed to be reasonably accurate, which showed St Thomas's Church with a square castellated tower at the Western end of a small building.

Decline and Restoration

The present church, or part of it, is known to have been in use in 1186 when it was mentioned in the Bull of Pope Urban III. Its original construction can therefore be dated as having taken place in all probability between 1170 and 1186. There may well have been an earlier structure on the site.
Charles Heath, writing in 1800, claimed to identify Saxon features in the arches and windows, but the evidence for this is uncertain.
Some fifty years after being built, in 1233, the church was damaged by fire (as was Monnow Bridge) in the course of the Battle of Monmouth, an action in the baronial uprising against Henry III. In the following year the King authorised the Constable of St Briavels to supply thirteen oaks from the Forest of Dean to repair the damage. In the year 1256 there is an unusual reference to the fact that anchorites were living in St Thomas's.
For the next five hundred years, or more, information about the church is sparse.
In 1479 an Indulgence was granted by the Bishop of Hereford for the repair of the church, but in 1543 John Leland wrote (of the Monnow Gate) "beyond this gate is a suburb in the diocese of Llandaff where once stood the parish church of Saint Thomas, but now only a little chapel dedicated to the saint."
At about this time the Monmouth Cap came into prominence. There is a widespread belief that manufacture of the famous cap was centred in Overmonnow which, as a result, became known as Cappers' Town and Saint Thomas's as Cappers' Church. Mr Kissack however has pointed out (a) that nowhere in the known records is Overmonnow referred to as Cappers' Town, nor is the term used in an contemporary accounts of Monmouth.
In 1611 John Speed published a map of Monmouth, believed to be reasonably accurate, which showed St Thomas's Church with a square castellated tower at the Western end of a small building.

For the next two hundred years or more there is little information......Monmouth lost four of its mediaeval churches and Saint Thomas's probably came close to suffering the same fate. A contemporary picture shows a scene of neglect and decay. The church was for many years a Chapel of Ease to what was now the Anglican Saint Mary's Parish Church, and was used for services only on Tuesday.

In 1830 Saint Thomas's again became a separate Anglican parish and major restoration of the church was undertaken by Thomas Henry Wyatt, a prolific architect whose uncle was agent to the Duke of Beaufort at Troy House.

It has been stated that the galleries came from Raglan Castle which had been dismantled nearly two hundred years earlier at the end of the Parliamentary War, but this is believed to be unlikely. Wyatt rebuilt the West front in brick and added a turret. This turret, depicted in a print of c.1850 has been described as being "curiously slavonic".

Further extensive restoration was carried out in 1874/5 by John Pritchard an architect who had been assistant to the famous Augustus Pugin. Wyatt's turret was replaced and the West doorway reconstructed in stone.

The vestries were added in 1887/8. The present East window dates from 1957.
In 1989-91 an extensive restoration was carried out costing £72,000, under the direction of Jonathan Price, an architect of the firm of Hook Mason of Hereford.

As the church stands at present its most noteworthy feature is the Norman chancel arch, regarded as a fine specimen of its kind. There is a Norman piscina in the South Wall, and the two doorways in the North face have been described as original work. In general the nineteenth century restoration work was carried out with a good deal of sympathy and regard for the character of the church. (from F R Handscombe's information )

The South Wall Font is unusual.The pillar is covered with basket work decoration and the bowl has faces of a man and woman, together with serpents and birds. It is probably a Garden of Eden scene. Such decoration was popular in the Celtic period, but the font's state of preservation suggests that it is not of great antiquity.

There are two carved figures in the church; they were found in recent years in a loft at the church hall, and they were on one of the earlier turrets of the church - their style has something in common with the three heads under the so-called 'Geoffrey's Window' in Priory Street, Monmouth.

I hope everyone will visit this absolutely fascinating and ancient church, which carries so many of the features our ancestors would have known

In our present age we should ask for St Thomas' help..

St David Pray for us
St Thomas Becket Pray for us
St Thomas More Pray for us
St Paul Pray for us
St Peter Pray for us

I would like to thank Mr Handscombe for all his hard work in researching the above and hope it may inspire others to do even more detailed work.


Llantarnam Abbey
formerly a Cistercian foundation, now the home of the Sisters of Joseph of Annecy.

I have just posted about this, and also about the Chapel of St Dial in Cwmbran , now under the police college. It is believed tpo have been dedicated to St Duellus. But
within the boundaries of the parish of St Thomas the Martyr, there was another Chapel of St Dial or Duellus. (Might even at a push be St Dewi) This eas definitely in existence in 1186 and stood above the River Trothy near the A40 Tunnels. Little is known of it but parts of it were still standing in 1956 when it was bulldozed into a local well. I remember seeing an artist'ss repesentation of it on the web on the Monmouth churches site-so if you know where the originals are, I would be grateful. The name of the Chapel survives in the names St Dial's Farm and Holywell wood. There are two fonts in St Thomas'Church itself and one of them may have come from this Chapel, and there are various other articles in the vicinity

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cwmbran-Llantarnam Abbey,-Abbey of DeumaA Welsh Nationalist Abbey!-

Because of the shortage of remains of this Abbey except some remains of the tithe barn next to the nuns' cemetary, I could find little about the Abbey until I found an article by Professor David H Williams about it. I have used some of his information here, but would urge anyone interested in Llantarnam Abbey to read his masterful and scholarly account.Dr Madeleine Grey leads a pilgrimage from here to Penrhys every year , visiting many of the Cistercian 'properties', the Chapel at St Dials, St Derfyl's Chapel on Twm Barlwm and over to Abercarn. It is a three day walk from the Abbey to Penrhys and generally takes place in the May bank holiday, May being the Month of Our Lady.

______________________________________________________________ Sister Henrietta's email for information about the Sisters of Joseph of Annecy, who nnow live at Llantarnam Abbey.
Satnav: NP44 3YJ. Telephone Number, 01633 867317 ...Ty Croeso retreat Centre at the Abbey.

Llantarnam Abbey lies 5 miles west of Newport.

Last week, we were looking at the Cistercian arrivals in South Wales and the mission of God undertaken by the Holy Bernard of Clairvaux.Llantarnam, dedicated to Our Lady and St Mary Magdalene took the form of a dedication by its patron Iolo ap Iowerth. Nearby a church dedicated to St Michael was built by the monks on an earlier site, which now belongs to the Anglican church.


The Mother House of Llantarnam Abbey , Strata Florida (Ystrad Fleur)) was like its mother house of Whitland, a Norman foundation), which prospered after the Welsh revival, because of the numbers of princes from the Royal House of Dyfed who were buried there. It was also important to the Royal House of Gwynedd and it was here that Llwellyn the Great ordered the lesser princes of Wales to pay homage to his son Llewellyn.It was attacked a great many times by the English and many lay brothers killed, for their loyalty to Wales and its struggle for independence.

Was the early form of Caerleon Abbey a Grange?Were goods from the Abbey shipped from there?

Some early documents describe it as ‘Caerleon Abbey’ but there is no evidence that it was ever in or near the town of Caerleon, though there was perhaps a Grange there to oversee the loading of the many products of the Abbey on the the boats going to Bristol. There was certainly a Grange recorded at Caerleon in the accounts when the abbey was seized. Its position at the southern and eastern extremity of Hywel’s territory at the high point of the twelfth-century Welsh revival suggests that politics may have been involved in its foundation. The gift of extensive tracts of debatable frontier land to an emphatically Welsh foundation meant they were kept in Welsh hands and created a ‘buffer zone’ against the inevitable Norman drive to the west. Llantarnam not only received gifts from its founder but also benefited from the patronage of the native Welsh in the upland areas of Eastern Glamorgan.

The Community

It was recorded that during the late twelfth century the house had a community of sixty monks, although the numbers had dropped to twenty by 1317.) This was probably a result of the damaging effects of the revolt of Llywelyn Bren which took place in 1316. A fire destroyed it in about 1398 but the monks bravely re-built it
Like many other Cistercian abbeys it earned its keep in the wool trade and exported other goods out of Caerleon and Newport.

The monks of Llantarnam Abbey did not pay any tolls in Bristol. They had, according to records , 588sheep and must have sent both wool and skins to Europe and Ireland. Skins and hides, both tanned and untanned belonged for centuries to the main items of export from the Caerleon area. Dairy produce, especially butter, was sent via Bristol as far as Ireland at the end of the 16th century and during the 17th. A. H. Dodd points out that till the middle of the 16th century the south-eastern counties of South Wales were the stronghold of the Welsh weavers. In 1370 a fulling mill was indeed working in Caerleon one other fulling mill at the Grange of Mynyddislwyn.. In the shipping and customs documents there is no evidence of cloth being sent from Caerleon. Only one name of a weaver in the 16th century has been found: in the recusant rolls of 1592 is a David Williams "alias Weaver," of Llanhennock.

The Thirteenth Century and Earl Gilbert de Clare robs the Abbey of Land.

The abbots were asked to sort out disputes with Margam Abbey and Tintern Abbey . Between Buildwas and Whitland, Cwmhir and Strata Marcella and in 1239 between Grace Dieu and Abbey Dore! Williams tells us that in 1272, Gilbert de Clare seized a great many of the Abbey’s lands and promised to pay them, but did not! The same was done in Margam Abbey.Williams writes ‘ In the very same year, the Taxatio records of one property of Llantarnam, that its value was reduced ‘quia bestie comit’ totu’consument’. At first reading this suggests that wild animals had devoured all the land , but it may be a veiled reference to the Earl’. !

Clearing Lands ‘Assarting’ in full swing in the Thirteenth Century

Llantarnam monks worked hard.Cistercian monks were known for their clearance of woodland or ‘assarting’. David Williams describes Brother Jewaf around 1200 ‘digging about’ some leased pasture, ’hedges,ditches and enclosures’.made by the monks in the Rhondda in their land near Penrhys, which was later given to Margam Abbey. They also granted timber rights to their tenants for enclosing.There was a Papal Bull of 1208 which excused the monks from paying tithes on land they had cleared and cultivated. It needed to be enclosed with hedges and drained

Farming of Crops, Corn etc.

Again from David Williams, we see the picture is patchy. There were 7 grinding mills recorded in existence in 1535 one of them was by the Abbey, two were in Llanhilleth, (Hafrod Ynys), there were four in Mynyddyswyn-one of which was Mae stir which was built in 1204.(Williams)and there were three others. One was also in existence at Coedeva, Cwmbran, though this may have been a later addition.
The abbey’s Cistercian foundation speaks reams about its special charisms.. Like most Cistercian Abbeys it was sited in a remote area in this case- the deep forest, near water, It was only three miles from Caerleon, well away from the nearest road. Tanner in the Monasticon says there were six monks living here when Henry VIII took it from the brothers. The monks lived lives of prayer and hard work surviving on a fairly limited vegetarian diet. When builders unearthed the remains of monks in the 1960s the archaeologists found that the bones were in good condition and that the skulls possessed complete sets of teeth!

Our Lady of Penrhys, the hostel and taverna

There was a direct link with the pilgrimage site of the ‘Blessed Mary of Penrhys.’ Penrhys, where there was a grange and moneys sent to support the abbey from a ‘Taberna’ which could be an inn or hostel housing pilgrims to the special mediaeval statue to our lady, which was owned and administered by Llantarnam Abbey.The shrine at Penhrys was famous and frequently mentioned in the Middle Ages and is now once again a popular shrine.Williams quotes Llewellyn ap Hywel ab Ieuan ap Gronwy when he described the site ‘ a goodly place is the summit and its wooded slope , and a virgin sanctuary beside a high wood’. Many well known and high born people came to offer alms at Penrhys in honour of our Blessed Lady Mary but also many sick people with no hope, praying for miracles.Lewis Morgannwg (in the eary 16th century) speaks of the ‘prayer of the labourers, where at Pen-Rhys there is ever a host of them’ and ‘I will go to Pen-Rhys in my one shirt, for fear of the ague, upon my knee a taper a fathom long’.

Other gifts included rents from the Manor of Abercarn came to £35.16s and 11d and the parish church of St Michael and All Angels built by the monks for the parish (the Cistercians being very enclosed at the time). There are still some remains of the original abbey . There are the stone cells, converted first into stables and now into garages, the conventual wall and a gatehouse in a pointed style that formed the entrance. A recent excavation by CADW has mapped the original outline as most of the buildings and their foundations have been found.

gifts for the upkeep of the chapel and abbey. This was also a Celtic Church .

Russock and Chapel Farm, at Mynydysylwyn Arable Farming (Crops)

Llystalybont way to the.South West on the River Taff, John ap Jenkyn leased thison Nov 2 1509 for a period of 99 years.. He paid £2 a year to farm the Grange. He also had the right to take the monks’ timber from their wood, for burning, enclosing and building on the grange, but was not able to transfer this right to anyone else. All at the time of the seizzure of the Abbey.

Trevethin Sheep. Celtic Church on this site, [possibly the last resting place of St Cadoc, which links him with Mamhilad in the records of the Cambro British saints).

Cil-lonydd Late abbot received £20 in rent for this.

Wentesland and Bryngwyn (Abercarn area) rents were £18 11s 10½d when revised by ministers quite an increase from the first valuation at ££7 0s 9½d

Mynachty Waun to the North East leased to farmers . William Jenkin paid rent there to the abbey at the time it was seized. Arable (Crops) farming

Llanhilleth mill for grinding (corn, maize, rye) Arail Farm,

Llanhilleth was also a grange of Llantarnam Abbey. There is more and more evidence that the Cistercians were building chapels on or nearby their granges and it is likely that they were responsible for building the present St Illtyd’s Church sometime during the 13th or 14th centuries. Most of the fabric of the church probably belongs to that period, though the font may have belonged to the original pre-Norman building.

Mynyddyslwyn: Maes –tir Grange Mill, built 1204. (Williams) and three other grinding mills.

Hafod-yr Ynys mill for grinding corn, maize possibly rye’

Machen (rents from arable farming)

Blaunau Gwent (North Gwent)

Ceyne Fishery (at Tredunnock)(for much of the Fourteenth century)

Usk Fishery William Watkin ran the fishery and paid the monks £2 per year to lease it.

Aberavon Fishery (Caerleon) Jenkyn Taylor ran this fishery and paid the monks 13s 4p to lease it.


Penrhys in the Rhondda Proceeds from the Inn (tavern ) Cistercian houses had great devotion, like st Bernard , to Our Lady . The monks ran an inn here for the use of pilgrims.

Pwl-pan Caerleon was let to Lewis Blethyn gentleman . Paid £20 per year rent to farm the land

English troops kill the Abbot of Llantarnam, fighting for the Welsh cause.

The Abbot of Llantarnam ,John ap Hywel we are told ‘gave his full support to ‘Owain Glyndwr David H Williams quotes John de Fordun when he writes :’the abbot in person heard confessions before the attack and gave absolution, continually shouting and not ceasing earnestly to speak , while the forces were being ready for the battle . In this cause the abbot was perturbed by nothing , but was only zealous for the liberty of his country and people’.Adam of Usk tells how the English’ slew many , and especially the Abbot of Llantarnam,’whom he describes as ‘a man of highest prudence’. All through the Glyndwr rising and English garrison was quartered there. In 1512 King John was attempting to destroy the abbey, which was badly damaged during the Welsh Wars of Independence. The abbey kept the chronicles of the Welsh Nation and gave hospitality to the poets.

Student monks, and Quarrels and an unusual dispensation…

David H. Williams also mentions the Papal records of 1397-98.. In 1398, there was a Papal mandate that John vap Jerp , a monk of Llantarnam, studying theology and canon law at an unspecified Italian university should enjoy the fruits of the monastery as if resident , and that the monks of the house as a whole should be allowed to eat meat on lawful days, when they were away from the monastery ‘in cities and other places,where it was difficult to avoid eating meat. Cistercians were normally never allowed to eat meat.

The famous case of the Hay and House Boot of Wentwood

In December of the same year , the Abbot of Llantarnam was engaged by the Pope to sort out a quarrel between the Vicar and Prior of Striguil /Chepstow and ‘to reserve a fit portion for the vicar of the fruits of the church of Chepstow’ David H. Williams goes on that it was alleged that the prior and Benedictine community had not been resident in Chepstow Priory for four years. Abbot Grufydd was a forceful and effective man. 1398 also saw the renewal of privileges . Llantarnam’s contacts in Rome were hard working. In 1438 ,the Pope gave a dispensation for Leyson ap Morris to be ordained ‘and hold any dignity of his order’despite the fact he was the son of a priest and an unmarried mother. This was compassionate .

The Seals

Squirrel Seal

This seal was in Newport Museum and Art Gallery. It depicts a squirrel and written in old English are the words “I crack nuts”. This seal was found in the grounds of Llantarnam Abbey in 1987 but the museum cannot offer any further information. There may be a link between the squirrel seal and the squirrel which is situated above one of the windows on the second floor of the house overlooking the garden.

Seal of St Mary Magdalene

The Abbey was founded at her Feast (July 22). This is housed in the British Library. It shows a monk, presumably Bernard, the Cistercian founder, blessing 3 people. This dates back to 14th Century. The Llantarnam Abbey Archives hold a photograph of this seal.

The Disastrous Great Fire of Llantarnam

An accidental and very serious fire happened around 1398 and Adam of Usk was credited with restoring and improving the house afterwards. Rome put into place a strategy for encouraging pilgrims to donate money to this cause(for the repair of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady , Caerleon alias Llantarnam …the books , buildings and other ornaments of whose church have been enormously devastated by fire’. . The Abbey was the social services of the area and it was always a fairly poor house. The King helped them by paying them for the upkeep of the seized alien priory of St Claire in Camarthen (Alien priories were always seized during wars with France)

The Homilies of St Gregory

The other authenticated item is a manuscript copy of the Homilies of St Gregory, dating back to the late 12th or early 13th century. This manuscript has had a very chequered history which is outlined in the notes accompanying the manuscript in the British Library.

The Llantarnam manuscript is not a beautifully illuminated text such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, for example, but nevertheless, it is a tangible link with the past. The original wooden covers are still in place. In some parts of the text it has been necessary to carry out some restoration work.

The manuscript is now housed in the British Library. Llantarnam Abbey Archives holds two photographs of the manuscript.
From the point of view of the history of Llantarnam Abbey, the document is interesting for a number of reasons:
1 It is an item which was more or less certainly copied by hand in Llantarnam Abbey scriptorium and is about 800 years old.
2. It has one or two interesting jottings which reveal glimpses of Abbey life prior to 1248. (See notes in the British Library)
3. The front page shows that the manuscript was given as a gift to a new Monastery, Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire in 1248.
4. In those days, before printing presses and computers, such a gift was precious and indicates that Llantarnam Abbey was flourishing at that date.

The Cistercian-Benedictine) Rule and the Scriptorium

Benedict of Nursia, allowed his monks to read the great works of the pagans in the monastery he founded at Monte Cassino in 529. The creation of a library here began the tradition of Benedictine scriptoria, where the copying of texts not only provided materials actually needed in the life of the community and served as work for hands and minds otherwise idle, but produced a valuable product. Saint Jerome stated that the products of the scriptorium could be a source of revenue for the monastic community, but Benedict cautioned, "If there be skilled workmen in the monastery, let them work at their art in all humility".

In the earliest Benedictine monasteries, the writing room was actually a corridor open to the central quadrangle of the cloister. The space could fit approximately twelve monks, who were protected from the elements by only the wall behind them and the vaulting above. Monasteries built later in the Middle Ages placed the scriptorium inside, near the heat of the kitchen or next to the calefactory. The warmth of the later scriptoria served as an incentive for unwilling monks to work on the transcription of texts (since the chapter houses were rarely heated).

The scriptoria of the Llanthony seem to have been similar. In 1134, the Cistercian order declared that the monks were to keep silent in the scriptorium as they should in the cloister. However, there is evidence that in the late 13th century, the Cistercians would allow certain monks to perform their writing in a small cell "which could not... contain more than one person" These cells were called scriptoria because of the copying done there, even though their primary function was not as a writing room.

What do we know about the Old Abbey?

Being a Cistercian foundation, the Abbey very much identified with the struggle of the Welsh people to keep independence.It was founded from Strata Florida, by a Welshman and the first Abbey may have been sited at Kilsant, a little nearer to Caerleon or Pentre Bach 2 miles WSW of Llantarnam. This was called Caerleon Abbey for a while. The old building in Caerleon, on the main road, may have been a Grange as ‘Red Grange ‘ at Caerleon is referred to in Valor.

The Abbey had a Lady Chapel, a bell tower and a cemetery and we further know that there were plans to build an arch ‘Out of the entry of the Church from the Cloister’ and the building of an arch in the body of the Church’ and that was just before the abbey was seized by the crown .

The barn near the visitors’ car park is medieval.. Archaeological excavation has located the outline of the medieval abbey church and cloister and the foundations of the great gate which separated the inner precinct from the world. Pilgrims visiting the abbey would not have had access to the monks’ church, but would have been accommodated in a guest house (possibly on the banks of the Afon Llwyd) and might have had a separate chapel or worshipped as the Parish Church of St Michael.

There is much more that has been written by David H Williams in his article-too much to be included here. So I would direct anyone interested in reading the full article to consult the Monmouthshire Antiquities and read his excellent article in full. You can find these in any library in any Monmouthshire town, and research the posts online.

Ordinations at the Abbey ordered by the Bishop of Hereford.

Here are some of the names of the monks who actually lived and served God in the Abbey.

John ap Hywel (later Abbot)Priest 21.3.1366;
Father Hugh’, Priest 19.3.1383;,

Hywel ap Gruffydd Subdeacon 22.2.1399;

David ap Griff , subdeacon, 22.2.1399,

Father Stephen Went (first Deacon and then Priest, and Abbot,

David Celerton (Acolyte-16.12.1426;

David Newport (Deacon 16.12.1426)

John Brawnebone (Subdeacon 13.3.1473);

fraternus Fisher (Deaon 24 Sept 1513)

William Kyrkby (Deacon 24.9.1513)

David H Williams who researched this list, says that most of the monks of this abbey would have been ordained by the Bishop of Llandaff, whose mediaeval registers were destroyed at some point, either in the raids of the Bristol Pirates or when the Abbey was seized by Henry VIII's men.