Saturday, November 3, 2012
THE AUSTIN FRIARS IN NEWPORT- Part I
Because their patron St Augustine of Hippo was consecrated by Bishop Aurelius of Carthage as co-ajutor to Bishop Valerius of Hippo in that month (Christmas 395AD) They dedicated their church to St Nicholas whose charism was his charity, being also one of the saints of the month of December, and honoured by seamen as their patron saint. So St Nicholas Churches are often found in seaports, as here, near the harbour. 372 churches have been named in his honour in Britain. The ‘Austin Friars Preachers’dedicated their first chapel and monastery to St Nicholas and it became the first sailors church in the port.
Old possible Carmelite Priory
The Old Priory in Belle View Lane (writing 1910) must not be confused with the chapels of St Nicholas and the Chapel of St Thomas the reason is they do not conform to the description being of by the ‘key (quay) beneath the bridge’.
When the Carmelite Friars occupied this Friary, a thick avenue of trees extended from the garden grounds to the present ‘Mountjoy Inn’(1910)and from there it ran down in a crescent form down the late Poplar Row to the precincts of the Friary near the River, to which those ancient religious wended their way , at the hour of prayer to the lower chapel of the Austen Friars.The planting of the sacred grove was the work of the Austen Friars, long before the agreement in 1377.
The little community of Augustinians, after working and labouring among the indigent poor of Newport for upwards of thirty two years, found their work flagging through lack of support, and so the order became less and less efficient, for this reason alone.In addition, they were working in the aftermath of the most terrible placue ever to hit Britain, and the town needed a new lease of life.
Earl of Stafford gives Friars burgages and places it under the governance of St Peter’s Gloucester
The Staffords were great patrons of the Austen Friars, and it was about this time 1377, when their position was precarious, that Hugh the son of Ralph who had succeeded his father in 1372 as second Earl of Stafford and Lord of Newport and Wentllwch/Gwynllwch came to their assistance and gave them 32 burgages of meadow land and the site to build a new church , the site of their former building. Being aware the Brothers Hermits never accepted money, houses nor lands , owing to their charism, and at the same time understanding their function serving the poor had to be put on a sound financial footing, he gave the deeds over to the Benedictines of St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester, in trust for them in the form of an agreement.The burgages were in the Parish of St Woolos and hence in the parish of Gwynlliw’s Church and the Abbot of St Peters was in charge of that Church.The Benedictines would be under no misapprehensions as to what the loss of the tithes from the St Woolos burgages would mean to the Church of which they were custodians.
As judicious managers of property , the monks of the Benedictine house had no equals . They were businesslike ,exact and prompt in their dealings and they required from their tenants and servants a just and faithful performance of their services and duties and at the same time were not harsh and ungrateful masters. This document was found by Messrs Wakeman and Morgan, and we mut be grateful to them for finding out this very early history,as it proves beyond doubt that the Austin Friars were established in Newport and existed as a free religious body a considerable period after the treaty, which was drawn up at the earnest request , of Lord Hugh , Earl of Stafford .
Know all men, that it is settled and accordedand decreed among the reverend and religious men, Thomas Horton, by the Grace of God, Abbot of St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester, and the Convent of the same place, appropriate Records of the Parish Church, Newport, in the diocese of Llandaff in Wales, and Brother Henry Tesdale Prior Provincial in England, of the Order of the Hermits of St Augustine , and Brother Thomas Locke the Prior, and bretherein of the same order at Newport’......
An annual payment of 13s and 4p was to be paid by the Brothers Hermits in quarterly instalments of 3s 4d to the Parish Church in compensation of the tithes from the lost burgages and oblations. Also the Prior and Brethren had to renounce all prescriptions, customs,papal rescripts of their order, devices, frauds, nullities, indulgences, appeals and all other abatements in law obtainable or to be obtained by which the agreement may be evaded. Prior Thomas was sworn to keep all the conditions of the agreement and undertook that his successor should take a like oath to the vicar for the time being. This was ratified by Bishop Roger Craddock of Llandaff July 2 1377.
St Nicholas Friary
The new Friary was constructed on the site of the old delapidated house of the friars and Benedictines were sent from Gloucester to facilitate matters but before eight years had passed (as seen in the Charter of 1385 the Brother Hermits were in trouble again, though their habit of giving everything away and possibly because of their improvidence and their lax discipline, in contract with the Benedictines, who had a stable rule and discipline.The Benedictines had to sort them out again and tried to institute a more rigid and economical management plan for them.
Laxity in the Rule
It is a recorded fact, that laxity among the religious orders in the latter part of the fourteenth century and the Benedictines had to sort their hermits out again. That there was a fall off in the austerity of the rule, among the Friars everywhere. Possibly people were becoming a little more affluent, and the orders got used to their work and were given more gifts.Decay was in many houses because of laxity. It is also possible that an eremitical lifestyle was simply not compatable with urban living as Newport got larger, and no doubt our own brothers suffered from this. The problem was so great, that there had to be change and severe pressure was brought to bear on the bretheren sometime between the years 1377 and 1385 , in order to save them from extinction.