Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In the steps of St Tatheus of Caerwent - From a previous post and podcast

A similar picture of St Margaret of Antioch, such as this one from the Saxon Church at Hailes may once have graced St Tatheus Church at Caerwent according to scholarship.In addition , St Gwynlliw(Woolos)the Virgin daughter St MAches martyred by Saxons was also buried at Caerwent. This stained glass is found in the Church at Llanvaches off the A4 from the Coldra to Chepstow.


Some time ago, I created a podcast and blog concerning the Story of St Tatheus of Caerwent. The Story in the Lives of the British Saints is an interesting one, showing the founding of a great School of learning and monastery by the Irish monk Tatheus and his band of followers. Upon landing near Portskewett in South Monmouthshire, their holiness and learning and piety so impressed the local chieftain, that he gave up his royal palace, so seat of noble learning could be founded at the Roman City of Caerwent, one of the richest of cities and Tatheus influence was seen in many places. His friendship with Dyfrig or Dubricius, the conversion of the robber saint Woolos or Gwynlliw and the miracles he wrought with young Cadoc, Gwynlliw’s son who under his tutelage became a great saint. His sister Maches, herself martyred by robbers who murdered her as she tried to defend her animals, was commemorated in the Church at Llanfaches but she herself was also buried at Caerwent Church.

Having found that the Church was open, I went one Friday early in the morning as people were tending the graves.I knew that during Mediaeval times, there had been a shrine to St Margaret of Antioch and I was also on the trail to find if anything of that Chapel, which had been written about, had survived. This was mentioned in a source close to the Lives of the Cambro British Saints.
I first went through the lych gate, recently renovated and the trees were just showing their autumn colours. At a first glance you saw the gothic crenellated tower, but also there was a delioghtful 15th century porch, possibly built by the Cistercian monks of Tintern, since it was they who were accommodated above it when the came to sing Mass at Caerwent. This tells us, at least, there were no monastic buildings extant from the Celtic times of St Tathan, although there had been Christian worship here since early British Times.The present Church was erected in the thirteenth century and the builders were lucky to have a good supply of stone ready in the old town In the 15th century the church was enlarged and restored . The Victorians, the intrepid church restorers also had a hand in restoring the fabric of this beautiful church.

The Tower

I could only peep in here but there are finely carved gargoyles to frighten away evil spirits. A fire in 1860 destroyed two bells and the present bell was cast from fragments in 1861. June 1974, the church was struck by lightning and much damage done to tower and roof and the whole was repaired at a huge cost.

Side Chapels which have disappeared

St Margaret o Antioch from Church at Hailes Abbey (wall painting)
Originally two arches led to side chapels. These side chapels may have been the ones dedicated to St Maches and St Margaret of Antioch, a patron saing of many European saints.These two arches were blocked up during the ‘Reformation’ and no doubt the relics, artwork and votive areas were destroyed by the powers that be.There were opened up again, but have become a vestry and room for the organ. A new south Aisle was built later.
St Maches giving alms

Roman Artefacts

There are many Roman artefacts in the church , a convenient place to keep some of the large number of fines, an ‘altar’ to the Deity Mars

To the deity Mars
Ocelus Aelius Augustinus
Op tio (a junior officer)
Paid his vow willingly and duty.

and also a commemoration of another illustrious Roman. Some decorative building pieces have also been incorporated to the walls of the West Wall of the nave.There is also a pedestal of a statue put up by the local Silure tribe to honour the governor of Britannia (219-220)

To Claudius Paulinus
Legate of the II Augustan Legion
Proconsul of Gallia
Norbon eis is
Imperial pro praetorian Legate at Gallia Lugdenensis.
Set up by decree of the tribal senate by the
Commonwealth of the Tribe of the Silures.

The stone was found in the centre of the village where the modern war memorial now stands.


A stone altar has replaced the wooden table which took the place of the original altar, probably containing a relic of St Margaret of Antioch, a holy virgin of the Eastern Church torn apart by wild beasts rather than accept marriage to a pagan. The new altar appeared in 1965 and this rests on sandstone panels. The centre has the ancient Chi Rho placed on it, representing the symbol found under a jug in the nearby Roman town. The new altar was cut in one piece and needed eight men to carry it and place it in position.

The wrought iron altar rails,altar and altar candlesticks as well as the hanging cross were all installed at the same time. The Pulpit was of Puritan origin.

Also a Roman cinerary urn has been placed in a niche of the church. An old font from the church at Dinham has also been placed in the church.The font was discovered being used as a pump trough in a farmyard.

The church Contains many Roman artefacts as well as some from early British times as well as Mediaeval times, such as the broken head of a fifteenth century wayside cross.

Celtic Cross

The two broken piece sof this cross possibly pre Norman dating to 950.

St Tathan’s Memorial

This is a large stone in the pavement of the South Aisle and beneath are interred the remains of St Tathan .


The Translation from the Latin reads:

‘Here lie reverently re-buried and enclosed in their original coffin, bones found in the orchard of the vicar of this parish within the land upon which about AD 560 Saint Tatheus, under the benefaction of King Caradoc founded a church and college in honour of the Holy Trinity, in which church it is known that he and St Maches the virgin were buried and so it is possible that these bones are the remains of that holy man. In Memory of which ths stone was placed in AD1912.’

Bishop’s Stone

I walked over to the South Wall again where I saw the carving of a huge cross, and this was a large stone coffin lid. Little is known about it but it is still part of the old church at Dinham.

Chancel and Sanctuary

This is long and gracefull but in 1851 the arch needed repars.At the east end were two windows which had two elegant lancet windows typical of 13th century Gothic style. Windows of the North Wall are 15th century.

Original Entrance to the Nave

At the West end of the nave there is a very old tombstone with old Catholic markings upon it, and this was probably the original entrance, with the stone meaning to keep away evil spirits. There are holes for the fixing of a door in the floor (now covered by a carpet)

Strange Customs of Old Wales-The 'Sin Eater'

A past Anglican Vicar of Caerwent has written about ‘sin eating; in a lecture of 1933.This was a funeral custom of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire, which survived in a parish in the neighbourhood of Chepstow until the mid 19th century. The idea was that the person who had just died arrived at the gates of heaven in a sin free state to be judged. This was achieved by hiring a ‘sin eater’.

A plate was put on top of the coffin and salt spread on it in the shape of a cross.. The sin eater would cut an apple or orange in four parts, placing on on each arm of the salt cross. After delivering some sort of incantation , he ate the four pieces of fruit , thereby taking over the sins of the deceased. The ‘sin eater’ would then be paid his fee –two shillings and sixpence , and being full of sin made himself scarce before the burial.

This old custom seems to be a hang over from confession and the viaticum given before death for Catholic believers. Few can imagine the terror in early ‘reformation’ times of going to meet God without absolution, and this custom seems to have been a way of dealing with this fear, though why it survived in Caerwent for so long is not known.


Another vicar wrote that when a young couple left after the marriage, the ground was strewn with herbs, dandelion, burdock and carious grasses, parley, thyme etc in anticipation of the fruitfulness of their relationship. The compiler of the excellent guide book mentions this may have been universal and the origin of our confetti custom/ Incidentally it may have been moreenvironmentally friendly!

The Porch

Is said to be 15th century and contained some accommodation for the monks of Tintern who came to say Mass here.The roof timbers are probably original and uncovered when the plaster was removed at the last restoration.On the East wall you can still see the staircase which led upstairs to the ‘attic room; or Parvese )Porch Gallery. There is a niche, probably carrying a statue of Our Lady or holy saint-like Michael.There are two stone seats and two damaged holy water stoups, one outside and one inside the nave. These were for blessing oneself and in Catholic practice, reminds the worshipper of their Baptism. This signing of the cross on the body of the worshipped was carried out in blessing, entering and leaving the holy ground of the church. Puritans always tried to remove them, but they have persisted almost everywhere there is an ancient church.

The Churchyard also contains an ancient Elizabethan yew tree as she decreed so that the army would always have wood for longbows.

The Excellent Guide book revised by Reverend Lawrence Dudley, (the original author the Anglican archeacn of Newport, Revd J.Barrie Evans, a former vicar )can be obtained from the church.

Mediaeval Shrine of St Margaret of Antioch

I was a little disappointed that the important mediaeval shrine of St Margaret was not mentioned anywhere, nor a commemoration of St Maches, but was relieved that through the turbulent church wrecking time of the Puritans and iconoclasts,that as much has been lovingly restored and looked after, so that it remains the centre of the village worship and I saw that, though the choir stalls are removed and modern chairs put in and carpets that the parish is an active one, even putting on its own Festival of Light at the eve of All Hallows complete with fun, apple bobbing and dressing up.

Various people working around the churchyard (which is still circular in the style of the old Llan enclosure St Tatheus would have known) waved hello. All around you could see the mountains of South Gwent and distant farms. It has also been said this was originally the monastic enclosure and would not have been that of the laity’s burial place.

Finally, let us look at the former Abbots of Caerwent:

500 Abbot Machutus )known French as St Malo, Bishop of Aleth and Brittany, a native of Caerwent. Died 541

535 St Tathan-St Tatheus

940 Goronwy ap Gwrvod Abbot of Caerwent witness of a deed executed by Peter, Bishop of Llandaff.

Early Priests of Caerwent

After the Conquest it seems to have ceased being a monastery, possibly the monks had suffered from Harold’s sacking of Southern Gwent just before the Conquests. Just as St Woolos seems to have become attached to St Peter’sGloucester, St Tatheus Monastery seems to have been rebuilt as a parish church for the area being served by priests, probably served from the Benedictines of Chepstow or later from the Cistercians of Tintern.There may also have been some secular priests at times, and it is almost certain, that clergy from the nearby monasteries said the masses while the Rectors undertook ecclesiastic duties connected with their office.Many of these former monasteries had become manorial churches, such as St Brides Netherwent, for example.

Early Priests

1070 Eidav –a Welsh name, possibly a former
1150 Ieuan ap Run
1270 Priest named in dispute about housbote in Wentwood.
1307 Thomas de Hamme
1328 John de Crockford,Rector, Canon and
Prebendary of Romsey
1347 Roger de Milford DCL Rector
1501 Sir Richard Richards Capillaries de

Roman Finds-Stones and Urn in the niche in the wall

Friday, October 24, 2008

Second Milennium in Monmouthshire/Gwent

I have been very busy recently and am off to Cornwall on Sunday and will be visiting various site in Cornwall and will be posting from there. There has been an enormous calamity with my camera, which has not produced very good pictures of late and have now upgraded to a very god one, which is great and I hope to have some good pictures next week.

Same with the podcasting. I work most days and have not the time for frequent podcasting as we are shortly anyway to move into the second Milennium of the Church's Sory in Monmouthshire. Also I am compiling a list of posts which are to be placed in order on a post. If you are interested, can I ask you to cut and paste it into a word document so you can see the huge amount of information on first Milennium Gwent and know what is available.

Our Next Group of posts will look at the various religious foundations in Gwent , which were priories of French Monasteries

Augustinian Foundations)

Llanthony Priory (Near St David's Cell
Austin Friars of Newport

Benedictine Priories

Chepstow Priory
Monmouth Priory
Abergavenny Priory
Goldcliff Priory
Bassaleg Priory
Usk Priory (Benedictine Nunnery)

Then the Cistercian Abbeys

Abbey Dore

Franciscans (Followers of Francis of Assissi

Franciscans were mendicant friars. They landed in England and formed a base at Oxford.Their tenedency was to minister to the poor and a house was established in Cardiff, but they tended to move around and records are scanty. It may also have been that houses were established and then the brothers perhaps died of the plague.
There are two places with a strong tradition of Greyfriars.

Greyfriars near Llangattock Vibon Afel in North Gwent (South west of Monmouth.
Greyfriars at Usk (where a house was traditionally called Grey Friars

The Usk house became the prison by the bridge and here the house became the town prison, when it ceased to be used as a religious house, and it was here that the 62 year old 'Father of the Poor', blessed Saint David Lewis spent his last days before being martyred in the town.


This house in Usk was described in detail by Fred Hando and again there are no documents, except the House was called 'Whitefriars', traditionally the name for Carmelites. There are no official papers that assert this, but the place name (as the name llan)seems to confirm their presence as do the various religious artefacts found in the house. Again all the records for these religious foundations were held at Raglan Castle (Castell Rhaglen) and when General Fayrfax ruined and burned the castle, the records were burned- a grate shame.

The story of these foundations says a great deal about our county's faith. The Benedictines tended to be French at the start of the Norman period. St Woolos, Gwynlliw's shrine (not originally being near a castle-Newport castle was a new one build in the thirteenth century)was given into the care of St Peter's Abbey in Gloucester (now Gloucester Cathedral.

I still have a few more Old Welsh institutions to visit and report on so these will appear from time to time.

I am not primarily a historian but have read some of the great historians of our time, like Madeleine Grey and David Williams and will also work on subjects of popular devotion like the 'Five Wounds' devotion, popular in the Middle Ages. One of the interesting things is that Catholic worship has not altered very much in the past thousand years, except for the Latin Language and the Tridentine Rite of Council of Trent in the Late Mediaeval times. While the 1962 Rite was identical, vatican II also introduced an English version and since last year , the Tridentine Rite has been reestablished as an alternative.

Nevertheless, a fist century Catholic , a fifteenth century Catholic and modern Catholic still attend the same Mass with the same vision of the Revelation. Mass is still the name for our Mission. Monmouthshire people still go on Pilgrimage and may old Pilgrimaes are being reestablished. I have an upcoming podcast about one such group of pilgrims from Pontypool.

So I will spend more time here from now on, but am first off to Cornwall with some more of the immensely popular saints of the first milennium. So see you there!


There is a Mary in Monmouth group on Facebook. If you are on this-do join and post what you would like me to put in. Also I am asking for anyone living in SKENFRITH to get me some photos of the Priests Well in Skenfrith. I am not sure if it is the same as St Bridget's Well. I went up there but could not find it!

you can all reach me and post information and photos (I would love this site to be a resource!) at maryinmonmouth@googlemail.com. One of the very lovely things about doing this is how many people from Monmouthshire and Wales throughout the world, Canada, Australia and USA 'drop in' to see familiar places and read up on the history.

The other wonderful thing is to bring out all the Christian history there all around, which many have forgotten about. Also children can see how very ancient the Faith of OUr Fathers is in Gwent.

If you can log on to

ourlady oftintern.co.uk

and join the Friends. Friends of this project to resetablish the Pilgrimages to Tintern by construction of a Pilgrim Centre for all Christians at the Abbey -a new and exciting project.Annual membership is £15 per annum and will bring great fruits spiritually.

Sunday, October 12, 2008



Here is another important Llan named after Saint Tyddwyg, obviously another monk of the sixth century or thereabouts who established this lovely llan here at the side of the Wye. With his friends he would have purged it of evil spirits by praying and fasting overit for thiry days. The church and buildings would be built. There was once again the semicircular Churchyard providing a firm border between the holy terrain of the monks and that of the outside world, oftern. bloodier and moe cruel than today.

Llandydiwg or Dixton

This site is a confirmed ancient Welsh manastery by the eminent writer Diane Brooks.Its renaming after St Peter was probably confirmed after the acoming of the Normans to Britain. They were very interested in Welsh culture, but found some of the saints just twoo obscure. This Church of St Peter at Dixton, because of its fishing, and also that of St Maughams, Dingestow, Wonastow and several others, was given to the Priory of Monmouth and their tithes supported this church. The French Monks who administrated the whole were from St Florent at Saumur in France, and abbey which is still there!

St. Peter's is situated on the banks of the River Wye, just north of Monmouth. This attractive whitewashed building dates back to at least the 12th Century, though was probably a holy site before then. The llan stands to the East of Blestium or Roman Monmouth.

Here in the 7th century A.D. standing in Dixton churchyard and looking at the River Wye below you see you are standing in the llan or religious enclosure of an obscure Welsh holy man, Tyddwg. He gave his name to Dixton. Upstream and across the river is Hadnock, Hodda's oak, a Saxon settlement on the site of a Roman Villa. The river bank on the Hadnock side marks Offa's Dyke, dividing England from Wales.

The herring-bone masonry in the north wall of the nave may be Saxon.

The Church is frequently subject to flooding and brass plates near the chancel arch record the height of the more memorable floods.

There is a new balcony at the back of the church so that precious items can be out of reach of the water. This has been decorated with a beautiful oak screen.

It was unfortunate I could not gain access to the church, possibly because of security concerns...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Saint Mawgan at St Maughams-A Church with a Secret

The first two pictures of Trivor Farm (with the secret attic chapel) and Hilston House two recusant centres which sheltered priests and Catholic generally.The others are pictures of the present St Maugham's church and the plaque comemmorating the gift of Charles Rolls (of Rolls Royce fame) who restored the church in the nineteenth century.

SAT MAUGHAMS -A LLAN and early Mediaeval Church

Kelly's directory describes this interesting Church as follows:

'ST. MAUGHANS is a parish on the river Monnow, which bounds the parish on the east and separates Monmouthshire from Herefordshire; it is 5 miles north-north-west from Moiimouth railway station, in the Northern division of the county, hundred and petty sessional division of Skenfrith, union and county court district of Monmouth, Monmouth and Skenfrith highway district, rural deanerv and archdeaconry of Monmouth and diocese of Llandaff.
The church of St. Maughan is a small but ancient building of stone in the Early English style, restored in 1866, at the expense of the late J. E. W. Rolls esq. and consists of chancel, nave, south porch and a small western tower with open wooden lantern containing one bell: there are 150 sittings'.


This little church began life as a Catholic Church and when I visited it, I found it , in some ways as being quite mysterious, with many yews and a preaching cross. This church is not far from either Trivor Farm, or from Hilston House, or from Rockfield and Perthir, where the vicar Apostolic , Matthew Pritchard is buried, also in an Anglican Church.

An Early LLAN

The Welsh Name is Llanfocha which I think may have been one of Dubrcius' early monasteries, yet it is dedicated to St Mawgan, or St Meugan, a great early saint whost influence was felt, from Denbigh (North Wales) or to Cornwall, where an RAF airfield still bears his name. The round churchyard enclosure, showing the early deliniation for the Old Welsh of HEaven and Earth. I have covered how the early monks prepared their llans in the post on Trefethin Church as an incident in the Life of Cadoc show the process. Clearing the ground, praying and fasting over it for 40 days and casting out any demons that may be there. The water source is not far away.

To my delight I found it was open.I am not an expert in church architecture, but it seemed the first church (under which a Catholic priest of recusant times is interred) seems to have been an early narrower affair in the Gothic style which the Normans would have built over the original site of the Old Welsh monastery. At some point the mud and wattle buildings would have been created into stone in later tmes and then finally a larger , Norman stone building was built, with a priest installed. The Priest would probably have been a monk attached to The Priory Church of Our Lady and Saint Florent in Monmouthshire, he church and priory there also being built on the site of an old Welsh Llan.

The church seemed to have two naves, half divided into a Sunday School, I think and a wonderful stained glass of the Nativity. I plan to do another visit some time, but many of the 'Catholic' features like the piscina were gone, sadly, although the place had a feeling as if people were still there. I said a quick prayer, but was anxious to explore the circular Churchyard.


At some stage, perhaps in Tudor times, or possibly later still, I am not sure because there is little information, a second nave was added, which in an odd way seems to take the focus of the church away from the altar. The Church became Anglican under Henry VIII but this circle of Monmouthshire was still largely owned by Catholic gentry who owned the livings of these churches and could decide which Vicar was appointed. The owners of Hilston House , Trivor, Treowen and all the local manors were all Catholic and held Masses covertly at their houses and numbers attending the old churches few. The Vicar of Llantiolo Crossenny gave evidence of the mutitudes going to Thomas Gunter's House in Abergavenny for the Mass when at most forty cane to his church. Church attendance was compulsory then.


St Maughams lies at a Crossroad, where the Old Roman Road from Monmouth went down over the hills to South Gwent and the fortresses there at Usk and at Caerleon and Caerwent, so it would have been an important Old Welsh Monastery. As new roads were built it lessened in importance and the area around the church itself, being small and rural is as it always was, with a larger settlement at Maypole just up the road. Nearby is also the ancient Holy Well of St Maughams.

The Church is small and dark and and yet beautifully proportioned and kept. And the Church does have a secret.


Trivor Farm up the road had a secret attic Chapel where Father David, Father Philip, Father John and Father Kemble occasionally said Mass. When we chronologically come to this era, I'll post more about it. When a Catholic person died, there was always the distressing thing about where to bury them. There are many such burial grounds in Northern Gwent. The use of the Welsh language kept the secrets much better from the English overlords, but they still had the difficulty. To lok carefully at St Maughams, you can see how many graves in one portion of the churchyard bear the marks IHS and many the Sacred Heart. These are amonst the oldest in the cemetary. When a Catholic died, the vicar often looked the other way. A funeral Mass would be held at Trivor just down the road, then the coffin make its way up the track to he Church. At the Well, there is an imprint for a head and here the bodies were laid out , washed and annointed. The cortege would make its way up the hill to the graveyard, where the burial service was held. Many Catholics were buried like this, here and in other places, at Llanarth, Skenfrith and Rockfield where the living was held by the family at Perthir, which kept Beishop Matthew, and where he incientally spent his boyhood. Many priests are buried at Rockfield as well. Brave men, who risked their lives just to carry out their calling, in terrible times.


Two priests are buried in the Graveyard at St Maughams and I am trying to trace their whereabouts. Under the altar is another. They may not have been martyred like Fathers David, John Roberts, Philip and John Kemble, but they received the call from God at a dreadful time of Calamity for the Catholic people locally and bravely went out on cold dark nights to minister to the sick and dying and minister the Sacraments of the Holy Church.So indeed the Churches in this area do have a great secret. It could have been that the Requiems themselves may have been said in the church at Midnight, when all this went on, but that would have been risky.

If you visit, please say a rosary at Rockfield Cemetary or in the Church, or at St Maughams. If anyone knows the location in the Jesuits records of their names, I would like to know. I do know that it was Bishop Matthew who attested to a miracle at the grave of John Kemble.

ST MAWGAN, Meugan, Maugham, Sancte Maucanne

I hope to do more research on St Mawgan in Cornwall for you, but there is no 'Life' written about him by Benedictine or Cistercian monks. On the other hand his influence was widely felt in Cornwall and up to North Wales and there is a dedication to him near Brecon as well. Since the Brychan Brycheiniog family were the holiest in Wales, this may have been a possibility. Yet there are also links to West Wales.


Two parishes are named after St Mawgan in Cornwall and he may have been one of the roving Welh monks who travelled around especially to escape the yellow fever which had ravaged around the country and killed so many people, wipng out most of Tewdrig's children even. (see the post on Tewdrig)


Mawgan (possibly even spelt 'Morgan'-a more popular name)was possibly the Holy Abbot of Demetia-now Powys, which is why the parish at Brecon may have been his 'home 'parish) and possibly travelled to Britanny during the yellow fever outbreak) and then been blown back to the British Isles on a 'White Martyrdom' and been blown up on the shores of Cornwall where he ended his days, perhaps.Roscarrock another researcher, believes he was made Bishop of the Isles of Scilly.


Sancte Maucanne Ora pro nobis

Clearly therefore , he had a huge influence on the development of the Kingdom of God. It is possible he first went to North Wales to establish some houses there, then returned perhaps during the Yellow Fever to Brecon, moved south and dedicated St Maughams and then joined the other saints to go to Britanny , returning via the Scillies to Cornwall.

If you have any extra information about either church or St Mawgan, please let me know at maryinmonmouth@googlemail.com.

Finally more to enjoy here. St Tydfil's Church, Merthyr Tydfil. Hannah and Caitlin sing 'Panis Angelicus'.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

St Tydfil's Concert - the NAME of JESUS by HANNAH

Remembering the Name of Jesus-In Welsh

In the post of a couple of months ago, I told the story of the Martyr Tydfil and the Monastery, the site of which has, since early times contained this parish church. There was a concert on Monday night, adn this was the first of some fine performances by Cwmbran singer Hannah.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Morgan Hen, the Black Pagans and the Vikings in Gwent


The Vikings in Gwent and Monmouthshire

'from the fury of the Northmen, good Lord deliver us!'

Gwent did not escape the invasions of the Danes. At first they came in small bands to harass Caerleon and everywhere along the South Welsh coast, plundering and burning localtowns. St Davids was attacked many times, also Abertawe became a Viking town of Swansea (Schwansee). They ran their ships ashore, attacked, plundered and burnt a settlement and returned to their boats long before people could be assembled to fight them. In the course of time , however, they cahnged their methods of attack, and crossed the seas in large numbers fully determined to settle in the land. At home they had been fishermen and hunters and their constant exposure to storms and hardships made them untiring and daring warriors. Fighting was their one ionterest in life, and they were the most pitiless and savage of enemies slaying women and children along with the men in their fury. The people prayed

'from the fury of the Northmen, good Lord deliver us!'

First recorded Danish Incursion 877 AD

This was recorded in 877 when a band under Hubba , a borther of famous Viking Halfdene, invaded South Wales and laid the country waste. They intended spending the winter , but 'found the land so wild and inhospitable, and the people so poor, that they remained no longer tan they could help'

In the Welsh records, the Northmen are called the 'Black Pagans' probably on account of their black boats and clothing together with the fact that they hated the Christians , and loved nothing better than to spoil churches and monasteries and burn them to the ground.

The Burning and sacking of Illtyd's monastery and Cadoc's monastery at Llancarfan 891 AD

In 891, the Vikings appeared again and burned Llantwit Major (Llan illtyd Fawr) and Llancarfan and advanced towards Gwent. At this time, Cadoc's relics were taken for safekeeping to Mamhilad near Pontypool. One of the princes at this time was Morgan Hen. HEaring of the advance of the Black Pagans he made preparations to fight them and defend Gwent against the invaders and defend the monasteries. The two forces met at Caerleon and the men of Gwent won, so they put to sea and went to Ireland.

The Black Pagans want revenge

The Vikings took their revenge by returning and returned in 892 with even larger numbers , determined to overthrow Morgan Hen and spoil Caerleon. Landing on the shores of the Severn, they ravaged the whole of Monmouthshire and attacked and plundered Caerleon, destroying the shrines of St Julius and Aaron and St Cadoc at Caerleon as well as many others. The story of their attempted attack of Mamhilad, God intervened. According to the Life of St Cadoc, a Viking who attacked the Reliquary of St Cadoc was destroyed and frightened off all the other Pagans. Four years later, however, those Danes who were defeated by Alfred passed by land into Gwent again and ravaged it. (897)

Ohter and Harold

Another attack of Danes which the Welsh Chronicales give is an account to 915. The pagan pirates under two chiefs, Ohter and Harold entered the Severn and fell upon everything they could seize near the shore. 'Their usual practice was to venture up the river as far as possible , and suddenly to land from their boats. The horses in the neighbourhood were seized and haveing mounted them, they sped like wildfire into the interior. Their speed was so great, so as to baffle all means of defence , for while the farmers were gathering to oppose them, they had swooped down on abbeys, churches and manor houses (or 'Halls' as the Saxons called them)From these, they plundered everything of value , and then with their rich spoil they hastened back to their camps and their long black boats'.

Cyfeiliog or 'Cameleac was seized and the Bishop of Llandaff was borne to their ships with great glee. Here they held him prisoner until he was redeemed by King Edward for forty pounds in Silver!!!

Another Invasion Attempt

Battle of Severnside

At last the whole of the Danish hosts landed from their ships intending to venture further inland in search of plunder. The men of Caerleon,Glwyssing (Hereford) Gloucester and other neighbouring towns however, banded themselves together to head off the Danish onrush. A fierce battle was fought where Harold and Ohtar's brother was killed, together with a great part of the Viking army. Every care was now taken to guard the coast from further Danish attacks.

Another Danish Invasion 976 AD

Over fifty years passed before the Danes appeared again, but they had not forgotton the ferce reverse the men of Caerleon had caused their fathers. In 976 AD they undertook a fresh attack on Gwent and the severity and ruthlessness wuith which they did this seemed to indicate their desire for vengeance , for they did not stop their fury untill all of Gwent had been ravaged and the stronghold of Caerleon destroyed, although many buildings still stood and were rebuilt.

The Discovery of the Newport Viking Ship

An interesting relic of the repeated attacks of Gwent and its religious settlements and towns by the Danes was discovered during the excavation for the timber float at the Alexandra Dock, Newport in April 1896. In the course of their work, the workmen came across the remains of an ancient vessel several feet below the surface of the soil. The vessel appears to have been over 70 feet long and was constructed for speed rather than for strength as it was only slightly put together. In an old chronicle it is recorded that in 893 an invasion and warfare with the Danes took place on this spot (at Newport Docks!!!) They were driven over the Bristol Channel in their ships , and it is more probable this ship was left by them in their haste to escape.

The place where it was found is now more than a mile from the Usk and half a mile from the River Ebbw. The channels of the two rivers have therefore altered their courses considerably during the period that has elapsed, and this, combined with the fact that eight feet of solid mud was deposited there, will give us some idea of the changes that have taken place at this spot during a thousand years or so!

Thursday, October 2, 2008



GWYNLLIW and HIS VISION - ORigin of St Woolos


When Dyfrig/Dubricius was Bishop of Caerleon, Glywys-(Glaoo-iss), a local British chieftain governed one of the districts of Gwent. When he died, his land was divided between his sons, but only one Gwynlliw Farfog (The Bearded) was able to fight off marauders and keep the kingdom intact. He exceeded all his brothers in nobility and prowess in battle and was such a worthy prince, and ruled so well that peace ws established throughout the district all his life. He was based in Caerleon, which was still a magnificent city.

After a while, Gwynlliw (Gwinn-thloo)wanted to marry, and found a bride in the beautiful princess Gwladys born at Gwynllwgat Bochriwcarn in Gelligaer, around 497,daughter of a neighbouring prince. Their marriage was happy and they had a noble son, Cadoc, who was a very holy and good person to whom the Church (and hospital)at Caerleon was entrusted in a dedication. he Church was built on the site of a Temple of Jupiter in the centre of the city. Cadoc (baptised "Cadfael" by St. Tathyw)begged his father to think of his immortal soul At a young age Cadoc had been sent away to be educated by this Irish saint (Tathyw) at his monastery in Caerwent. For Gwynlliw had killed many people to achieve his peace

. The saintly Gwladys and Cadoc prayed that Gwynlliw would repent of his sins and turn to God. Fred Hando writes the fierce Welshman revelled in his adventures and scorned the prayers of his saintly wife and son’

Near the mouth of the Usk (Wsg) in a creek called Pill Gwenlliw ,he kept a long fast boat and it was his custom to go out into the Bristol channel with his men and attack passing ships, killing the crews and stealing the cargoes.
One night, so tradition has it, he was visited by his Guardian angel, who told him to leave his worldly possessions.


The angel instructed him that on the hill by the banks of the river, he would discover a white ox with a black spot between its horns. The land where he found the ox would be uncultivated and there he must live and labour. Gwynlliw and his wife went out , and discovering the ox on the side of an ancient hill fort, where the angel had told him , he built a cell on the hillside overlooking the sea, and the site of modern Newport. There he also erected a Chapel for prayer and meditation dedicated to the Mother of God, whom he thought should intercede for him with God, because his sins had been many and he thought Mary would plead for him.


Finally he was became very ill and when he knew he was dying, sent for Cadoc ,his son and Dyfrig (St Dubritius) the Archbishop, who came to comfort him in his last hours. Dyfrig heard his confession and gave him the last Holy Communion (Viaticum)so he would die with Christ. He was buried at a spot which was situated immediately above the entrance to the present tunnel which penetrates Stow Hill. So Gwynlliw is buried underneath the present St Woollos Cathedral (dedicated to Gwynlliw) and the present beautiful Catholic Church of St Mary is also sited nearby and has a stained glass window dedicated to Gwynlliw as well as David .Gwynlliw was regarded as a Saint, because he was a reformed sinner and had devoted his life to Christ.He had been obedient to God’s message by the angel and, like Mary, had been obedient to God’s Will and had done what God had commanded.


The original Cathedral was built of ‘boards and rods’ and was built in the sixth century .This was known as ‘mud and wattle’. The little Chapel to St Mary (Llanfair) nestles between the tower of the cathedral and the nave of St Woolos (St Gwynllw). The sixth century building was replaced by a stone chapel, part of which probably survives in the stone of the walls. Fred Hando says ‘From the ancient chapel the view of the Norman nave is magnificent , seen through a semi-circular arch .This arch was never an exterior doorway and is itself unique , in that its detached pillars have a Roman character and may have been brought from Caerleon.


Two steps lead down to the nave. St Gwynlliw’s has, from earliest times had a close connection with St Peter’s Abbey and now Cathedral at Gloucester.and it may be that Benedictine monks from Gloucester raised the first beautiful arcades in the Newport Cathedral. Of one thing I am certain, no man who has ever attended service in summer under those grand old arches will ever forget them


Fred Hando also mentions that from the rising floor of a chancel is an ancient window, still called the Leper Window so that through the open window, lepers could take part in the Masses and Prayers of the Hours. Lepers were, however sadly forbidden entrance to churchyards and this was a ‘sacring’ window and the sanctus (holy) bell was rung at the consecration of the host, at the hours and at the Angelus so that all the people working in the fields would stop and pray facing towards their church.


The ancient church of Our Lady and St Gwynlliw on the hill served as a beacon for King Harold and his Saxon brothers, his mother sister and daughter had viewed it during the twelve long months refuge on the Holmes. William the Conqueror and William Rufus had looked on the church: outside the walls the solders of Rufus had camped and then knelt inside. Henry II had travelled past on at least two occasions.


Gwynlliw was named after his kingdom From this name comes, as I have said ‘Pill Gwenlly’(Pill), Wentloog (Gwynlliwg-gwinn-thloog) (The area around the ‘Lighthouse’ Peterstone and Church of St Brides)Wentwood (Coed Gwynlliw) ‘Gwynlliw’s wood’(situated to the left of the A48 if you are travelling to Chepstow. There is ‘Netherwent’ as in St Bride’s Netherwent-Lower Gwent. Even the Royal Gwent Hospital is named for St Gwynlliw. The legacy of Gwynlliw is all around and he recently gave his name to the Welsh medium secondary school in Pontypool.

The County called Monmouthshire was created because it was attached to the Oxford court circuit (assizes)in the time of Henry VIII, who was also trying to 'extirpate 'Wales '. It should me mentioned again, that large tracts of Gwent were owned and colonised by Saxons (English ) before the Norman invasion of William the Conqueror as seen in the deeds of the monasteries who, in turn took their lands. The charters of Bassaleg names –Kenered, Wilfrid, Kadmor, bear testimony that there were established Saxons wielding power in the twelfth century, since Harold Godwinson’s Saxons had conquered most of lower Gwent by the time of the Battle of Hastings.

We shall return to St Woolos again, as it contains many treasures from later times, but it was a monk of St Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester who wrote down the details of the Life of Gwynlliw, and we must be grateful for that.

Harold Godwinson attended Mass here.

Gwynlliw married the glorious Gwladys of Brecon, one of the holiest families in Wales , decended from the family of Joseph of Arimathea. His son, Cadoc was one of the three Grail Guardians and one of the greatest monastics and saints of Wales.His children , Maches (martyred) Cynydir and many others I have written about here. St David probably visited here on the way to see Dyfrig/Dubricius at Caerleon.

This hill saw Gwynlliw’s ‘bull’ vision, where he had to build his church of Our Lady.

It was from here the Angelus prayer would be rung by morning and evening to people working in the fields from earliest times, and to tis building they would turn in their prayer.

Here existed a long standing llan, an early monastery , founded by Gwynlliw and tended for hundreds of years by successive monks and clergy. Here Mass would be offered and St Woolos part of a network of such ‘llans ‘ where the early holy saints of Wales moved around and on route to Rome and Jerusalem. Cadoc made 7 separate journeys to Rome during the time of 7 Popes.

Gwnlliw’s bones became holy relics and a shrine emerged in Mediaeval times, where many implored the help of the Soldier Saint for help with their prayers, where they left flowers and votive offerings and candles.


All this was, of course smashed up during the sixteenth century, but it seems the relics of Gwynlliw were thankfully kept and buried under the floor of the nave (see picture above)


This is a Welsh medium school in Pontypool.

Today the podcast ‘Praystation Portable’ carries all the morning and evening prayers right into your iPod, as well as the Rosary. Good to sit up at St Woolos and pray the Rosary, a meditaion on the life of Christ , or the Liturgy of the Hours. The Benedictines cared for St Woolos until the sixteenth century, and were responsible for the buildings.Interestingly there is a lot of evidence of stone and columns and pillar being brought from Roman Caerleon. A Knight of the Crusades lies buried here. There is much to enjoy and an excellent Guide Book. St Woolos now belongs of course to the Church in Wales. It was extended with stone from Kemys Inferior Church, in the 1960s I think and is very interesting to view.