Monday, March 8, 2010

LLANDENNY- The Church with the Mystery Saint


Around 760AD this place was referred to as Mathenni in the Book of Llandaff.The contraction of the Welsh word Mistuir Mawr or 'The Great Monastery' so we understand that Llandenny in British and Anglo Saxon times was a big an important place, following the Mysteries of the Faith.Anything 'Mistuir' or 'Mister' showed an important Christian llan and many place names have this included in Wales, even today e.g' Pontymister'.

The Founder of this Llan of Tenni, or Denny is a complete mystery. Was he another of the grandchildren or children of Brychan, or was he a holy man, schooled at St Tatheus seminary at Caerwent or at Michaelstone y Fedw or possibly even Caerleon College-arguably the closest college. This had been revived and rebuilt to a famous and large seminary by St Dyfrig (Dubricius) and possibly he was one of the hundreds who flocked to Caerleon to study and be ordained as priests and usually monks as well No doubt he trained at one of these places before embarking on his 'White Martrdom' -devoting his life to God.

The other alternative, is that St Dennis ('s' at the end is not pronounced) or Tenni was either dedicated to St Denys,Dennis the martyred, third century Bishop of Paris, or a saint named after him.St Dennis is the patron saint of France, died in 250AD by decapitation. British Christians, through contacts in Gaul were well schooled in the history of the faith. They frequently named their children after these great saints, whom they looked to as examples of heroic virtue in following their faith. We know that martyred King Tewdrig was named after Bishop Theoderic, that King Meurig was named after St Maurice, the martyred Roman commander of a Christian Roman division, and St Tecla of North Wales (and later of St Tecla Island) was named after Saint Thekla, the disciple of St Paul, buried in the catacombs) so it was nothing unusual in a Europe -wide church to name children after the great saints. Another Church at Llanishen (Monmouthshire) is also dedicated to St Dennis, although this was founded by a St Isien, and another Llanishen is found near Cardiff, so it is reasonable to suppose Isien was a founder and local saint.

 These holy men had to instruct all the young children of the llan family in the psalms and in holy scripture and teach the boys their letters. Inside the churchyard was holy ground and the churchyard wall represented the barrier, where the life of the World was held. It kept the Christians free from temptation , here on holy ground. Catholic Christians in early Welsh times sought this 'martyrdom', this impulse to flee the corruption of contemporary society. Perhaps we ought to think about this long and hard-or are we so saturated with secularism that we no longer see why we sould escape?

*NP15 1DL

The Church at Llandenny is almost hidden behind the village through road. A lych gate, at present covered with scaffolding almost hides the whole from sight, and I had driven through the village and completely missed it.When I returned, a very small drive was the only concession to cars, and even that small drive was quite muddy with a skip in front of the gate to the church.I started walking up to the church and noticed workmen, roofers working at their trade and talking loudly.

I was so pleased to find the church open.There appeared to be a roundish churchyard which suggests a Celtic origin to the church given by Baring Gould and Fischer as St Tenni. Curiously, little is known of him, even though there is a possibility this is a mutation of another saint, one of the many who built up the early church in our land.In the Book of Llandaff,AD 789 the Church is called Ecclesia Mathenny Mustuir Mur (The Church of Tenny's Field) belonging to the Great Monastery(The Archmonastery of Llandaff or perhaps actually the ARCHMONASTERY OF LANDEVENNEC?) The Manor is still known as Mathenny alias Llandenny ; and there are places called Hendredenny in the parish of Eglwysilian, Glamorganshire.

During this time, the original wooden church and settlement would have been replaced by a stone church, but the present stone church was definitely Norman.It was during the Norman re-organisation of the churches ,no doubt, that the dedication to the founder, the obscure Welsh St TennyComing in the door on the South aisle you can see the semicircular archway . Above the door there may have been a spectacularly coloured tympanum, either depicting the tree of life or the Blessed Virgin and Saints.

There is a Norman window with a stained glass pane.(you can see it above)The guide written by G.K. Russell and M.O.Russell (1996) also says you can see it is old because the buttress outside is cut away to allow the window opening.
The Proportions of the Church are Norman-narrow and it seems that later windows were inserted to allow mmore light. However all the plaster has been removed and this would have originally had many wall paintings and much colour such as that at St Teilos at the Welsh Heritage Museum where a Norman church has been restored. There are some indications of where earlier windows were.

I wandered around inside looking at the various sections of the Church, the original nave and sanctuary and extra chapels. the plaster was gone and the colour of former wall paintings too, so the church was quite dark. On the roof the workmen were clattering around talking in an animated way. Inside I was in a different Norman World. The spiral staircast leading to the rood loft were quite ample and so I think the rood loft would have been of some dimensions, possibly paid for by the Earls of Worcester. The font was quite modern but two much earlier ones lay on the window sill.

Interior of the Church

At the Western end is a tower, constructed in three stages-a fortress. There is a steep spiral staircase of oak in the north east corner. This emerges via a small castellated turret onto the roof, where there are beautiful views of the surrounding Olway valley and the whole landscape . In the tower are six bells originally given to Raglan Church by Miss Bosanquet in 1860.Bosanquet.She later decided the bells at Raglan Church were too noisy and had them sent to Llandenny. They are in substantial need of restoration and cannot be rung.By the pulpit there are two recesses, ONe is a staircase to the original rood loft, which originally would have divided the congregation from the sanctuary, where only the holy clergy offered Mass. The other could have been the Easter Sepulchre where the artefacts for the Easter ceremonies would have been kept-the crucifix, the veils and so forth.These were almost all removed by the iconoclasts-first the Elizabethan vandals pulled down the priceless rood lofts, expensive gifts by local wealthy parishioners to beautify their church, their cultural centre, Then what she did not achieve was carried out by Cromwell in later days. His men went through towns and villages burning 'witches' and then using the beautiful old parish churches as stables for their horsses and knocking out original windows. This is how many of the windows in Abergavenny Priory were destroyed-the priceless artistic creations, paid for by devout faithful in times past to beautify the church. Even today it can hardly be fathomed, this degree of destruction. But then Satan is called the Old Destroyer.

Rood Loft

The small door leads to the staircase leading up tot he rood loft, so called because apart from the painting called 'The Doom'there would have been a large brilliantly coloured crucifix , around which were standing on each side St John (the new dedicatation given by the Normans to the Church and Our Lady, to whom St John was given as a son, and Our Lady given to St John as a mother. We do not now know where these religious artifacts have gone, probably dragged out and burned like so many other workss of art.This was done by order of Queen Elizabeth , daughter of Anne Boleyn)around 1580) Rood screens began to be installed by wealthy parishioners in the fourteenth century and you can see some magnificcent examples of rood screens miraculously intact. At Llangwm, not far away is a magnificent one . Also at Bettwys Newydd,and a far more complete one at Patrishow.

Cefn Tilla

Lord Raglan

History buffs generally have a rather unkind image of the first Baron Raglan. It was he that led the British Army during the failed Battle of the Crimean in the 1850's. Raglan made some poor choices over battle tactics, and worse, ordering too few warm clothes for his men, and refusing to buy firewood and banning fires during the bitterly cold winter. As a result, most of the army were too sick to fight.

One interesting story about Raglan was that in battle at Waterloo, he lost his arm. Raglan demanded that it be fetched to him, as his hand had a ring on it that had been given to him by his wife. Raglan was obviously a man of a British stiff upper lip, but still in touch with his romantic side!

When Raglan died of illness during the Crimean, his supporters and admirers clubbed together to buy and renovate a farmhouse that used to be in his family, along with a couple of hundred acres of farmland. This is Cefntilla. My Welsh is rather rusty, but I believe the estate is pronounced as Kef-En-Tilla.

Fall of Raglan Castle 1640

Although much renovated when bought for Raglan's family, Cefntilla has a little landmark in history as the place where the last castle standing for the King (Raglan Castle) was brought down by treaty during the English Civil War in the 1640's.General Fayrfax managed to destroy the castle. The Earls of Worcester then needed to remove to local mansions that they owned in the country and Cefn Tilla was renovated for them. Another branch of the Family went to Treowen. They were Catholics, though not plotters against the crown.A number of the Baron Raglan's family are buried in Llandenny churchyard and commemorated insside the chuch in sculpture and stained glass. Cefn Tilla, was originally the place where the Roundheads had their headquarters, which was ironic. The beautiful gardens are open during August.

Lych Gate

The Lych gate I had noticed when I arrived was restored by Lord Raglan. It is said there are still Mason's Marks, which appear on stones at Raglan Castle and it is possible these stones came from Raglan Castle. The Preaching Cross has been restored but not with the original crucifix.There are a number of young yews, no doubt seeded by older ones.

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