Monday, November 1, 2010

Llanfihangel Pontymoile-St Michael in the 'Circle of Heaven' Cilcoegan.

The Reverend Jennifer Mole showed me round the small but pretty Church of Llanfihangel Pontymoile this week. The second part of its name-the Bridge of Moile is easy to see, a llan is awhat it always was a Cambro- British Monastery and ‘Mihangel’ the name of the beloved and fierce defender of the Lord, St Michael. This was not its original name which was Cilgoegan. So who was this lost saint, who was despatched upon the arrival of the more powerful St Michael, which did not happen until Tudor times, after Henry VIII dispute with Rome and the founding and reorganising of his own church                              

St Michael was a popular dedication in Monmouthshire and often associated with mountains. J Darrell Evans , who wrote the guide book for the church writes' there were so many dedications for this defender of the heavenly hosts in this unstable borderland, they were each given another name to distinguish them'. The nearest village was Pontymoile, more than a mile away, and this name predominated by the seventeenth century.
It was all part of the manor of Cilgoegan, stretched between Cae Brest, the river and the Clarewaun brook and part of the lordship of Usk.
In the ‘Taxatio’ of Pope Nicholas in 1254 it appeared the church of Kilgoigen in his inventory of the churches in England and Wales. When the churches were taken by the king, in the sixteenth century they referred to Kylegoygane annexed to the parish of Panteg. This always seems to have been a small chapel and quite poor. Both Panteg (originally Llandeverguir? Given in the sixth century to St Cybi by the petty king Edlogan after the famous miracle) and Llanmyhangel are given in the charters as belonging for nearly five hundred years to the Priory of St Mary at Usk. Interestingly, neither church appears as having any  assets at all in Henry VIII officials of additions of the land and possessions, including trusts and offerings made by the faithful which he  took for himself.

The parish name seems to have appeared as Llanfihangel Pontymoile on the first published map of Monmouthshire by Christopher Saxon in 1577.By this time ‘llan’ had come to mean church, but it was not exactly this, as we know it was an early British monastary, and as its name suggests, this was perhaps originally a hermitage. (‘Cil’ is Welsh for Latin ‘Cella’ or cell-a hermit’s cell)so St Coegen may have originally been a hermit. However, extensive searches have not revealed such a saint, so Coegan may have simply been humble hermit, living in this little chapel in the grove. There is no doubt that the church was rebuilt in stone after the conquest and served the Christians living around it at a time when most people lived on the land and worked it. Yet the plague perhaps (1315-1317) caused many such small agrarian communities to be wiped out, and the churches attached to them never recovered their former numbers. This seems always to have been a small chapel in a grove, and  though dedicated to St Michael, it seems likely that the British term CEUGANT  suggested the dwelling, the realm of the Druid God, and may have been kept by the Christian hermit living there. Druidic lore was always an oral traditions, whose rites were not even written down until the seventeenth century. In the absence of any important founder, the cell of this hermitage probably existed on the site of an older  and deserted Druid grove and the name stuck for some time. In the  Priory at Usk ,it was simply called Llanmyhangel-obviously the name it was known by from its take over by the Benedictine nuns.
There is also a possible link to Coygan(!) from ceredigion, who was a leader at a hill fort there and it is always possible that this grove was the place where he spent lent away from the world in penance as so many of the saints of this period did. In the absence of any firm sources, however, this is speculation as I can find no other references and this practice of Lenten retreat was common at the time.

The rood loft was removed from the church after the Reformation, which would have contained a picture of the Doom and the great Crucifix, under which the Faithful would come to confess their sins to the priest sitting there in persona Christi.Nowadays if you approach the pulpit through the Vestry , there is a narrow door through which the person preaching has to approach. This was the door which originally led to the rood loft.

On the south wall of the Church is a very old memorial stone tablet (pictured above) with an inscription in 18th century lettering. ‘Here lieth ye body of Thomas Iones of Glascoed who departed this life in the 14th Day of September. Ano Dom 1713 .Aged 41 years’.

The Wakinshaw Windows are of later date and depict the Holy family in one panel and Christ reading the Scriptures(!) in the other. Walkinshaw funded the Free Press of MMonmouthshire newspaper and the windows are probably to remind people of the fact he was a newspaper man. There is another beautiful window in memory of his son Alexander James, who died at only nine years of age- something beautiful for what must have been a terrible family tragedy.
The ceilings show much wear and tear and flaking plaster which is a shame. It is a very small country church with only `11 regular churchgoers who cannot afford the repairs. The church  has put out an appeal for help for the £8,000 it will take to deal with the roof and stop it collapsing.

 It is a Norman style barrel roof with small; gold rose bosses.the present ceiling comes from the eighteenth century. The whole structure remained intact when in 1924 the church roof slipped off, the crash giving rise to the rumour that an earthquake had happened.

Thefts and an appeal for the twenty first century. 

Sadly the church has to be kept locked because of the large number of artefacts which have been stolen. The vicar tells me lead has recently been stolen from the roof of Panteg Church as well and this little church of Heaven, needs £8,000 to repair the ancient roof with only 11 older parishioners. It is a Grade II listed building. There are only 420 people living in the parish.
Prayers please,  especially at this time. If this amount can be raised, there is a possibility it can be matched.
The Church in Wales website has details of this little church at Pontymoile which is attached to the Church at Panteg if you can help.

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