Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Llan of St Non , Saxon Monastery of Diuma,then Our Lady and St Michael and All Angels, Llantarnam


Above,photos of the remains of the old Cistercian Abbey to Our Lady and St Michael, partly concealed in the undergrowth. Also photographs from the present church, within the octave of Christmas.

Today I have made another visit to an ancient Llan and Church of Llantarnam.
During restoration work in 1921, in this Mediaeval church, the remains of an earlier Celtic Church were discovered, a Celtic church built long before the next door Abbey was founded. During the Norman times after 1066 –and 1091 saw South Wales fall,) this church was altered or replaced (since the Welsh were fiercely defending Gwent)with a wall so thick , that like so many of the Crusader churches in the Holy Land, it could have served for purposes of defence as well as a place where the Holy Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours could be sung.

Links to the old Welsh Tale

Idris Davies, who prepared the excellent guide book advances another theory.The story of Teyrnon is related in the early British story of Pwll , Prince of Dyfed in the Mabinogion. He was a man of resounding moral stature and Lord of Lower Gwent Iscoed.. The Glen in which the church stands may have originally been named after him, even though Nant Teyrnon was in Gwynllwg.Terynon, in battle was like a roar of the tidal waters (Severn Bore) in Battle.So at its earliest times Nant Teyrnon became Llantarnam. However, it is possible that the same important site was used as a holy place by St Non and subsequently by the Irish St Diuma.

Founder of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady and St Michael, Llantarnam

Sir Hywel ap Iowerth founded the original next door Abbey at Llantarnam, with a Cistercian Order, and the Abbot ofMargam referred to it in 1244 as ‘Vallium’ (Our Lady of the Valley’ very apt as theproperty extended along the river valleys of central Gwent.

Early names give the dedication to St Diuma

The Next door was called the ‘Abbey of Dewma’ and the Bishop of Hereford’s register for 1449 calls the monastery ‘Dewma’ . The Peniarth manuscript of ‘Plwye Dewma’ in the sixteenth century .In an ode to Sir William Morgan (a Catholic layman who bought the land at Llantarnam) , the poet Dafydd Benwyn refers to it as ‘mynachlog Ydeyma’ Frederick van der Meer in ‘Atlas de l’ordre Cistercian’ has as an entry for the Welsh Abbey , ‘Llantarnam filiation de Clairvaux….Pays de Galles , Co Monmouthshire,d Llandaff ND ET ST DEWMA.’

Saint Diuma-Irish Saint from Iona!

The fact that the Welsh people called the Abbey ‘Dewma’s Monastery’ means the question arises. Interestingly there is no Welsh saint called Dewma, but there is an Irishman . The Venerable Bede confirms that St Diuma was a missionary saint of Irish origin, sent to Iona to preach among the pagan Saxons in Mercia , and that in 655 , he was made Bishop of Lichfield. His connections with South Wales are not established , but the mutual influence of Iona and Glastonbury was such, that perhaps Diuma established a monastic llan here before travelling on to Glastonbury.

The Importance of Caerleon

The Key town in this is nearby Caerleon-City of Legions. This was the link with the British Kings too, Caractacus, Ynyr Gwent, Iddon, Woolos, Cadoc (also a Saint) Morgan Hen, Griffydd and others. Other wise , Joseph of Arimathea came here as an honoured guest, and to trade for tin under the Emperor Vespasian, and later, when sent by St Philip with his family as missionaries and refugees after the Crucifixion of Our Lord.. The guide book suggests, as this was so very old, it may have been a first mud and wattles daughter Church of Glastonbury . Together with London and York, they founded the first three Bishoprics after the Council of Nicea in325 (Mansi vol 11 467 to 477.)

Saint Non and her son, Blessed St David of Wales

Llantarnam may actually have been older even than St Diuma. St David , blessed Sacred Saint of Wales, originally had a hermitage at Llanthony, (still in existence as part of the parish church) was called to defend the Arian heresy of Pelagius at Llandewi Brefi and had reluctantly gone there and been acclaimed the new Bishop.He was ordained in Jerusalem as Archbishop along with Teilo and Padarn,as Bishops then returned to Caerleon after working in Jerusalem for a while for the Patriarch. David’s new home at Caerleon was difficult for him, but it is highly likely his mother, Saint Non established an original small llan here which was abandoned when David moved his whole church organisation to Menevia , in Pembrokedshire, where he was born. LLAN-TOR-NON (The Church on the Hill of Saint Non) . StNon was educated at Porth Mawr , (which Latinised becomes Magna Porta), the name of the extensive manor next to the Abbey Estate .It is possible when her son came to Caerleon she moved to a small llan near her former school.

British Bishops made pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem and attended the Council of Nicea, Basle, Arles, Pisa, Constance and Sienna.St Cadoc made 7 pilgrimages to Rome!

It is significant that St Dubricius and then St David, with the Bishops of London and York attended the Councils at Pisa, Basle Constance and Sienna . It may be because of St Joseph of Arimathea’s success in heralding the Gospel of Christ to the Britons. The Church was later in the power of the Saxon King INA when the Saxons had overrun Gwent and was then taken over by the Saxon Missionaries of St Augustine when he had completed the Christianisation of the Saxons. The present name of St Michael and All Angels is a Norman one, as it is a favourite Norman dedication.So it is interesting that the persisting dedication to both Church and Monastery was to St Diuma.

St Non’s Well

I understand there is a well here at the site of St Non and later Saint Diuma in Saxon times. I have not yet seen this nor the Norman Crypt-but will do so soon, hopefully. I recently attended a wedding here and there was not time.

I will go into more detail about Llantarnam Abbey later on , when I visit the Cistercian Abbey sites in Gwent and Glwyssing.(South Hereford)

Easter Sepulchre

The Church has an existing Easter Sepulchre, not destroyed at the Reformation, possibly overlooked as it was used for a different purpose.

Monday, January 19, 2009

GUARDIANS OF THE SKIRRID-St Teilo at Llandeilo Bertholau


St Teilo in the Burning Bush

In the north of Monmouthshire lies the Skirryd or the Holy Mountain, and on top of this is a ruin of the church of St Michael. The local belief is that at the time of the Crucifixion,the Archangel Michael brought down his flaming sword on the mountain and split it in two. St Michael is an Archangel and so many mountain areas are dedicated to him in the hope he would protect all the lands around it.

In the case of the Skirryd, it was holy when St David was in his cell, in the area of Llanthony (no Priory yet)It was holy when the blessed St Issui (Esau) was martyred at Pater-Ishow. The early British (in Monmouthshire before the Saxons came)definately reagrded it as holy, and built a fortress of llans or monastic settlements around the mountain, dedicated to Welsh and universal saints.

Llanfihangel Crucorney-- St Michael on the Cranes Island
Llangattock Lingoed The holy place of Cadoc in the trees.
Llanvetherine The holy place of Guithyryn (Vortigern's burial place)
Llanthewy Skirryd The holy place of David on the Skirrid
Llandeilo(Llantilio)Pertholey The holy place of St Teilo by the Burning Bush.

Fred Hando writes in 'Out ad About in Gwent'Our holy mountain, the Skirrid is surrounded by five ancient Churches....(listed above)....Looking from the summit, they appear as outposts to a citadel ;one could imagine the patrons, Michael,Cadoc, James, David and Teilo erecting a ring of prayer around the Skirrid , itself dedicated to St Michael.

St Teilo's Church, Llantilio Pertholey, is a beautiful sanctuary which is about a mile north of Abergavenny. The Skirrid towers above, landslide and ravine very clear from the road , where a by road leads to the church, the Mitre Inn and Maindiff Court on the Abergavenny to Ross road.'(The presence of the Mitre Inn is obviously a tribute to the ishop, St Teilo as the Mitre is a pointy kind of headwear only worn by bishops. Bishops are the successors of the Apostles and the mitre is a symbol of the flames the holy spirit formed around their heads at Pentecost or Whitsun (White Sunday).

There have been many rebuildings and restorations, but you can see the ancient nature of the church.

My First Visit

I visited last Friday and was disappointed to find the church building closed. This church was built as it is with a Norman style embattled tower, with the famiiar circular churchyard, seen in the outdoor photographs. There are many ancient tombstones, many of them Catholic with IHS on them. It thought I would comment first of all on the exterior elements of the settlement. The circle is complete. A few weeks ago, I visited Llantilio Crossenny (also within view of the Skirryd) and we remember the incident recorded in the Book of Llandaff of how Teilo, when Saxons were once again attacking Gwent, received an appeal from the people for a powerful prayer of protection. Teilo (for a biograhy look at last Spring's posts) and his monks climbed to the top of the Skirrid and entreated the Archangel Michael to pray with him to God to protect his children in Gwent. King Meurig was successful in driving out the Saxon menace and so God heard the prayers. Teilo was an early Bishop of Llandaff and Uncle of Ouddoceus (Docco)and it was believed he often resided near the Skirrid and at Llantilio Crossenny and even when rebuilt in Norman and Subsequent times, remained important.

St Michael the Archangel and the Skirrid remained very important in post reformation times as most in this area defied the authorities, their fines and persecutions to remain true to the Old Faith of the Apostles.The English prayer book, unintelligible to the Welsh Speaking people remained a puzzle to the locals who clung to their rosaries and their covert priests and many climbed the Skirrid secretly to attend Mass celebrated by the heroic priests of the time. There are tales of a martyred priest at Rockfield and another called Aynsley or Ainsworth in Elizabethan times at Skenfrith (now known as the Priest's Well in Darren Wood) and Bishop Matthew Pritchard, the Franciscan and other friars made many secret pilgrimages to the spring near where Father Aynsley was martyred.Father David Lewis, Father John Kemble of Welsh Newton, Father Philip Evans and John Roerts , all local men, sons of local people, all were brutally hung drawn and quartered because of the lies of Titus Oates and widespread anti-catholic prejudice fanned by the recipients of church lands stolen in the 1530's. The Arnolds of Llanfihangel Court had a picture on their walls(described by Fred Hando' in 'Journeys in Gwent' shows Catholics climbing up the Skirrid (as they still do today on Good Friday and on Michaelmas (St Michael's Day (September)for their secret Masses and Rosaries. I will write more than this when we reach the chronological time).All the priests above were canonised in the twentieth century.

So St Michael and the Skirrid have been very powerful in Catholic history in Gwent. So St Teilo remains a patron of Llantio Pertholey (Llandeilo Bertholau)Church, now in Anglican tradition with a primary school attached.

I have to confine my report to exterior features at present and as I say the churchyard is circular and a small spring and stream runs almost all around the settlement. There are lovely trees around and Hando's Mitre Inn seems not to be in evidence there. There is a large Church car park. The Lych gate is ancient (Lych meaning Saxon 'Lyke German Leiche or 'Corpse') where the mourners would rest the coffin on a bier and the bearers have a rest efore takng the coffin into church. On the right hand side are many small memorials where ashes have been buried. Approaching the church, there are graves with Catholic inscriptions, and I have photographed some examples of this as well. The one which caught my eye was actually a representation of the crowning of Our Lady , the relief of Mary holding the Christ Child. The relief is very overgrown with mould and fungae, and the photo is not as clear as the real life monuments.I will go back later to investigate the interior of the church, which originally would have carried a relic of St Teilo in its altar, but at this point I am not sure it is the original altar.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Today we will look at this priory Church,of St Mary de Crypt built by the Augustinians of Llanthony Secunda Abbey as their base in the city of Gloucester. They built up the priory church by extending the Norman Church of the Blessed Mary. These monks were from the second Abbey built near Gloucester Dock, who themselves had moved, following waves of attacks by Welsh rebels!I will blog about Llanthony Abbey separately, as it, too is part of the Norman Story.Whilst a great deal of the Norman remains in Chepstow Priory remain, interesting here is the priory building attached to the Priory Church. This church is later than Chepstow, and the interior style Early English rather than Norman. The tower is centrally placed , as Chepstow's originally was.Also, on the photo above, you can clearly see the priory accommodation in the fourteenth century building with the special window crest. I believe the Chepstow building to have been similar and perhaps L shaped.

The interior of the Church is more Gothic than the Chepstow building. The Chapel in the transept remains. Formerly dedicated to Our Lady, it would have had a statue, flowers and candles, and open for everyday devotions. The Central aisle leads all the way up to the altar and what would have been the sanctuary. There in the Chancel on the right hand side is the sedillia or sacred priest's seats and the piscina, where the chalice was washed.

The Left hand aisle, which probably contained the Easter Sepulchre, where the consecrated host was held from Holy Thursday until the Easter Vigil. The Church is lighter and slightly smaller than Chepstow, but the St Mary de Crypt, fairly typical of the Priory building of the time (very similar to the restored Monmouth Priory)could have looked quite similar to this.The Chepstow building branching down from the South transept to the road which goes over te old bridge, the Priory accommodation spreading up along the contours of the road.

The centre had a courtyard, containing a well. The Priory also had a brewery, orchards to the north and contained a room for the priest. It must have been an equally large affair as St Mary de Crypt in Gloucester. This area of Gloucester also contains the remains of Greyfriars and the whole building of Blackfriars, the Dominicans early building, which is in fine order.

The fifteenth century nave contains an early renaissance style pulpit.When the Anglicans took it, it became the Crypt Grammar School and later Robert Raikes founded the 'Sunday School Movement' which spread all over the country. Unfortunately the administrators of St Mary's took the statue of Our Lady out and put a picture of Robert Raikes in there and this has now been called the 'Robert Raikes Chapel'. Many details are still extant from the old priory such as the steps leading to the dormitories. In all this is a fascinating church and even the head of one of the abbots of Llantony lies high near a pillar on the left hand side of the nave. Amazingly the pulpitum of the Lady Chapel has been restored and is pristine.The Easter Sepulchre area now contains a large organ, and the bells are rung regularly. The Priory interior is in a poor state of repair and closed to the pulic at present. When you look at this Priory Church, however, think of Chepstow.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Mediaeval Priory of Striguil/Chepstow and the life of the Monks


Later Middle Ages-Effect of the Wars with France

As with many Benedictine Priories, and priories, the nave of the church was always used by the townspeople as their parish church and the Parish Priest had is own room in the priory, and was treated as one of the monks. During the 12th and 13th centuries, these were sent from the Abbey at Cormeilles, although I understand some local men were recruited as novices.
R.C.Shoesmith, who headed the excavations at the Priory in 1973-74 said that it is doubtful that the number of Benedictines at Chepstow ever went above 12 monks (the number of the Apostles) and a Prior. The problem lay in the difficulties between France and England in the Middle Ages and the frequent wars.After the loss of the French territories y King John in 1204, relationships between the Norman French abbeys became difficult , the number decreased. In 13790 there were only four monks and the prior left.

Another Problem-Taxation

y the mid 13th century French or 'alien' priories and monasteries were eing taxed y oth the Papacy and also the Throne, which made these small priories very short of money. St Peters was falling down and needed to be rebuilt, which was a priority by the 15th century. In 1291 Chepstow/Striguil Priory had an estate of 126 hectares (311 and a half acres) with a value of £35 .19s.11d everything included.

The Black Death

The Priory and townspeople of Chepstow all suffered from the viscious swathe of the Black Death. Rents were non-existent as people died, rents were not forthcoming and monks themselves fell victim to the plague as they went about their duties trying to administrate and care for the sick. Financially, therefore, it became weakened, as did so many other monks in similar places.

Edward I

Edward I seized the lands and rents of the alien priories, and appointed commissioners to collect the revenue and provide some maintenance for the foreign monks. Also in certain cases, the foreign monks were kept within their priory under a sort of house arrent.During the Hundred Years' War there were several orders given to seize the Priory no action was taken. In Edwards time however, the the value of the revenue and rent was £45.6S.8D.between 1360 and 1369 the taxes went back to normal but when war broke out again, things got worse. None of this did anything for the prosperity of the Priory as money was salted away everywhere and in 1387 until the Prior paid a fine for custody incurred since the egining of the war.

1396-1388 No Prior or Monks-Parish Priest in reseidence

In 1398, the Abot and monks of Cormeilles granted it to Sir Benedict Cely on several conditions which included the maintenance of three monks from Cormeilles at Chepstow.In 1399, Parliament appreiated that due to the expulsion of priors and misconduct of some commissioners at the various alien priories, the buildings had become broken down and granting hopsitality to visitors and giving alms to the poor had had to cease, as the monks themselves were very poor.To change this, English men were allowed to enter as novices again and, in the case of Chepstow, the Priory was returned to Simon of Bristol (descendent of Roger de Bretuil-son of FitzOsbern) in 1400, provided he paid the yearly fee to the Abbey of Cormeilles (apport)to the King.

Further Financial Trouble

But the temporary respite was not enough.In 1414, the Priory was attached to the English Benedictines at Bermondsey Abbey, in whose care it remained. With England and Normandy rapidly going their separate way, this was a sensible arrangement and for the rest of Catholic life at the Abbey, it remained with Bermondsey.The Priory lands themselves if you take the road to the Left of the Priory Car Park , extended straight up from the priory to the town Wall, which I imagine is now the main road , then extending southwards to the river, up to the bend following on from the road where the car park is, up to the end and down to the river. There was arable land, an orchard , sheep and cows, also rents from various town houses.Nevertheless, the Priory struggled on financially. The monks also served the Chapelwithin the castle,where the Earls of Worcester had their residence. The Earl and Countess' effigy has remained undisturbed in the Priory Church in spite of the efforts of the people sent by Edward's Regent and Elizabeth as well as Cromwell.It is very interesting to see them in their colour form.


Henry VIII and the destruction of the monasteries

Henry VIII wanted a divorce from his wife of 35 years, the daughter of the King and !Queen of Spain , known now as Blessed Catherine of England.Cast off after a succession of mistresses, including the sister of Anne Boleyn, he cast off Catherine ostensibly because he claimed he could not marry his brother's wife because otherwise 'Children they shall have none'. This was clearly not true as they had a child, Mary, also declared illegitimate. The Queen argued desperately with parliament and suffered a whole series of Cranmer's sermons but was banished , and there were reports she was later poisoned, though I have no source for this claim, told to me bya historian. Mary bravely resisted all attempts to change her faith. Henry then went through a form of marriage with Anne Boleyn after the Pope had refused to grant an annulment-as he clearly had no authority to do. Henry had also asked to be cleared of 'affinity' with Mary Boleyn (he had had relations with her, and she became pregnant and was also cast off both by Anne and Henry) The result of this was that Henry, strapped for cash seized all church lands in England, destroyed the monasteries and banished the monks. Very few got pensions and with a swathe the social services they rendered to those around them, such as the 'dole' disappeared. The issue of the care of the poor was never settled, even with the Elizabethan poor laws and the Victorian solution was the workhouse.The King made himself Head of the Church, but never found real happiness and there is a report, that on his deathbed he prayed to our Lady of Walsingham for forgiveness.More of all this later. For some of her banishment, Catherine was at Sudeley and there embroidered the famous tablecloth, for Winchcombe Priory (now St Peter's Parish Church)

Chepstow and the Reormation

Henry sent around agents 'visiting' the various Abbeys Monasteries and Priories and often these agents themselves were able to buy the poorer properties at a knock down price. The Abbey houses were often rebuilt and converted for the large houses of the aristocracy and they later were to enclose the lands and banish the peasants, whose houses cluttered the land.There also followedterrible laws against Catholics.The Priory at Chepstow was destroyed in 1536. The monastic end was destroyed, leaving the nave as the parish church with the tower. The Priory buildings (accommodation area)were destroyed 'which the said Lord King will have ordered to be demolished and removed'. The demolition took place, because as the expert Shoesmith tells us that there was a report in the early 17th century, the greater part of the prory had been demolished, with the remained converted to a parish church.(1607)

The Priory was leased to the Goldsmith of London Morgan Wolfe, citizen of London, but not the church and priory itself.

The Norman Church had been designed on a grand scale, a choir, choir aisles, a crossing with transepts and a central tower, with a long nave and North and south aisles.In the Victorian times, the monastic end had been rebuilt as a high altar . 1841, the nave aisles were removed, and the Eastern End , crossing and transepts will be rebuilt.Shoesmith says the size of the windows of the tower 'giving some slight impression of the aspirations of the Norman founder and the builders.

On my visit, I was amazed at the size of the chuch and its antiquity,and feel it is one of Wales best kept secrets. The Priory is open most days for viewing and there are many artefacs, like the Millenium tapestry above. Also golden angels. The piscina of the original Abbey church still remains, although the sink has been blocked up, ut there is an element of huge grandeur. The Church is well used by the people of Chepstow and a Mass was recently held there by a French group of pilgrims to Tintern Abbey. Concerts have also taken place there. Everyone in the area should visit this wonderful Abbey Church and the kindly wardens, who keep it open for prayer and viewing by anyone.

Later this week I will post some pictures of the Gloucester Church of St Mary de Crypt, which although Old English in Style, has a Priory building similar to many priories of the period, and whose tower remains in situ in the middle. St Mary de Crypt has recently had a rebuilt stone pulpitum.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Benedictine Priory of Our Lady at Chepstow (Striguil)


Priory of Our Lady,
Striguil (Chepstow)

Founded by 12 French Monks from the Abbey of Cormeilles in Normandy, by William FitzOsbern and then his son, Roger of Bretuil (Bristol)The lands between the Usk and the Wye were given over to Cormeilles for rent to found the Priory.Pope Alexander III confirmed the gift, and Henry II granted a charter. In the Wentwood Survey of 1271, the Prior was said to have been entitled to houseboot and hayboot'by prescription since the Conquest'(Wood 1910-42-43) but there was a dispute with St Kynemark's (Cynfarch) over this.It does show the early foundation sate to be likely, however.

Duties of the Benedictines

St Benedict had reformed monastic life by his Rule , and the Normans were powerful supporters of the Benedictines, having had a care for their future after death. These monks did all their business for them, collecting tithes and taxes , bringing the chaotic into order and acting as a civil service for the new Lords. They had to keep records as well. Benedictines took over some original Welsh Church sites, but some, who were celibate were allowed by the Normans to remain if they embraced the Augustinian Rule, follwing the 'Desert' charism of the Ancien Welsh Churches anyway.

In addition, the Benedictines had considerable spiritual duties to perform-all the customary Sacraments, caring for the sick and becoming a sort of Social services as well. The Word 'DOLE' came from the Abbeys and Priories. In addition, the Benedictines had to service the Chapel of Our Lady in the casle itself.

Sub Tuum (Contemporary prayer to Our Lady-as the monks wuld have understood it)

Sous l'abri de ta miséricorde,
nous nous réfugions, Sainte Mère de Dieu.
Ne méprise pas nos prières
quand nous sommes dans l'épreuve,
mais de tous les dangers
délivre-nous toujours,
Vierge glorieuse, Vierge bienheureuse

I have spoken on the blog a great deal about how the Normans tried to subdue Wales , giving the Marcher Lords of Wales huge powers to conquer lands. He would both keep them busy AND gradually conquer Wales and the Welsh. Castles were built all over and the Welsh called the Normans ‘The Castle Men’. Over the next three hundred years many religious houses sprang up, firstly catered for by the Benedictines. Castles occupied many places on the Marcher Borders. I also mentioned it was not Norman policy (in the beginning) to subdue the Welsh .Monmouthshire, as I said was won by the quarrels the Welsh princes, such as Prince Meredith had among themselves, enlisting Norman help in fighting each other.

These Priories, erected by the Normans , in the main, next to the new Castles were to afford the new French monks protection. All were dedicated to Our Lady and the Chepstow Priory was founded from the great Abbey at Cormeilles.


Abergavenny Our Lady and St Florent 1100-1135-Hammeline de Balun, first Norman Lord of Abergavenny


Our Lady, (now St Mary’s Parish Church)St Mary Magdalene and St Radegunde of Thuringia! was formed later as a Nunnery with six nuns, connected with the family in the local castle.Famous Mediaeval shrines.

Llangua, (Laln-Ciwa-St Kew)Priory Monks from the Abbey of Lire (Lyr)

Monmouth Priory 1101(Our Lady and St Florent)

Withenoc,Lord of Monmouth 1075 -1082.St Florent, Saumur.

And at the top of the county were:

Grosmont (Former Celtic settlement developed into the large St Nicholas Church)

Skenfrith (the former St Bridget Settlement made into St Bridget’s Church)

Castell Gwyn (Gwyn’s Castle) erroneously called ‘White’ Castle

Several more Benedictine Establishments in the South of Gwent were:

Benedictine Priory of St Mary Magdalene,Goldcliff White Benedictines Bec Abbey)

These monks were famous for strengthening the sea wall created by the Romans. They came from the Abbey of Bec , also in Normandy and wore white habits.The Abbey of Bec has been restored to Benedictine use as an Abbey.

Benedictine Priory of Our Lady, (Cluniac)at Malpas

(Cluniacs from Montecute Abbey in Somerset)

Benedictine Priory of Bassaleg

near Modern Newport (from Glastonbury Abbey)A small cell holding lands at Mendelgief.

St Peter’s Abbey Gloucester received the Old Welsh churches at

St Gwynllw’s (Woolos’) Newport
St Bride’s Wentloog (Gwynllwg)

The Benedictines had many duties, apart from seeing to the legal and domestic matters of the Lord of the Manor. It was their duty to organise the Lord’s Lands and business affairs, as well as their necessarily working to pay for their needs and looking after the affairs of those in their charge

Founding of Chepstow Priory and the Castle

William FitzOsbern, (a great supporter of William the Conqueror )built Chepstow Castle and founded the Priory from the Abbey at Cormeilles, which was named after the Beati Spetri de Cormeliis (1171) It lies on the old Roman Road going to Lisieux-, (famous home of St Therese in the nineteenth century). In 1055 William FitzOsbern founded the Abbey of Notre Dame et Saint Pierre at Cormeilles ,which was occupied by Benedictines monks until the French Revolution. Most of the abbey buildings were destroyed in 1778, and sadly, only the facade of the abbey and its enclosing walls survive.

Chepstow in Saxon Times

The Welsh called Chepstow ‘Ystraigwl' (us-try-gool) meaning ‘The bend’.
During Saxon times, the Chepstow area was of some importance. Harold had conquered it, but in general left the local Welsh to get on with running the ferry from Sudbrook. Nothing much was situated actually at Chepstow until the Norman Conquest and the building of the Castle on a site carefully chosen by them to control shipping into the Wye . The Priory was built as a package with the Castle, as I will explain later. Shoesmith who did recent exavations at the old Priory Church, believes that Nelson street was constructed next to a Roman road, which served as a boundary for the grounds of the Priory.

William Fitzosbern

William Fitzosbern, who was given the Lordship of Striguil after the conquest, was not totally happy and wandered back to Normandy and sadly died in a battle. He had built Chepstow to subdue the Welsh and control the River Wye and collect the lucrative taxes due for using the River,
Insofar as possible, as far as the Church was concerned, the Conqueror attempted simply to take over the pre-Conquest structures and to exploit them for his own ends, always trying to satisfy the pressures acting upon him with a minimum of expenditure and loss of personal power.

William the Conqueror as a Politician and William FitzOsbern

William made brilliant choices in his choice of Bishop of Llandaff and St David’s, men of Welsh extraction who had great empathy with their flock and clergy. What he had to do was be practical and not cause conflict all the time. When the conquest of South Wales began, FitzOsbern began to build Chepstow Castle, and the Priory of Our Lady, which he founded in 1071, sixteen years after he founded its mother house in Cormeilles.

Twelve Benedictine monks arrived and supervised building work and prayed for the souls of the Conqueror and his Knights, presumably because of the bloody way William dealt with the Northern English and rebellions in various places.
William FitzOsbern was. born in 1020 and died in 1071, after he had begun to build the castle and Priory. He was Lord of Breteuil, from where we get the name of ‘Bristol.’ He was a relative and close advisor William the Conqueror. William FitzOsbern became one of the great magnates of early Norman England having been right hand man of the Conqueror. He was created Earl of Hereford in 1067, one of the first peerage titles in the English peerage.

William FitzOsbern was probably raised at the court of his cousin and namesake Duke William, and , like his father, became one of the ducal stewards. He urged William to invade England, and tradition holds that he convinced the doubters amongst the Norman barons of the feasibility of the invasion.

As Duke William took control of England (becoming William I of England), FitzOsbern was given charge of the Isle of Wight, and then in 1067 was given the status of an earl. He is generally considered Earl of Hereford, though his authority may have extended to some of the neighbouring shires as well. In any case, that part of England was not yet under Norman control; the understanding must have been that FitzOsbern was to take charge of their conquest when he was able.

FitzOsbern as Regent of England

Also for the central part of 1067 the king returned to Normandy, leaving FitzOsbern in charge of England. The king was back in England in 1068, and FitzOsbern accompanied him in conquering southwest England. He attended the king's Whitsun court in May, and then himself paid a visit to Normandy, where he fell ill for some months.

Adeliza de Tosny

In 1069 FitzOsbern and his followers pushed on into Wales, beginning the conquest of Gwent. FitzOsbern’s first wife was Adeliza de Tosny who had died prior to 1069 and was buried at his beloved Abbey in Cormeilles, where he also was later himself laid to rest.

As part of the assertion of Norman control over England (and Wales), FitzOsbern was one of the major Norman castle builders. Early castles attributed to him include Carisbrooke,Isle of Wight(also monks from Cormeilles) Chepstow (Striguil), , and Monmouth.

FitzOsbern dies and leaves his property to his son, Roger of Bretuil (Bristol)

Fitzosbern founded the Priory of Striguil and was persuaded to lend help to the Cistercian monks of Tintern Abbey to build their new Abbey. In 1070 trouble arose in Flanders, where king William's brother-in-law Baldwin VI of Flanders had died, leaving his county and his young sons in the hands of his widow Richilde, Countess of Mons and Hainaut.

Her control of Flanders was challenged by the brother of her late husband, Robert the Frisian. Looking for help, she offered herself in marriage to FitzOsbern. He could not resist the chance to become also count of the rich principality in the German Empire, close to Normandy. He married Richilde shortly before the Battle of Cassel He hurried there with his army, but nevertheless was defeated by the Count of Flanders: FitzOsbern lost his life in the Battle of Cassel on February 22, 1072. He was succeeded in Normandy by his eldest son, William of Breteuil, and in England and Wales by his younger son, Roger de Breteuil.

Robert de Bretuil begins to build the Priory at Striguil (Chepstow)

Building work started in 1072, under the supervision of Roger de Bretuil and confirmation of its status was confirmed in a Papal Bull of 1168 by Pope Alexander III. It is one of the few Norman buildings designed to be vaulted. The arcades consist of massive square pillars under whose arches you could once walk into the nave. In 1841, during a Victorian reconstruction) these square pillars were sadly removed. John P Harris in the guide book to the Priory church writes ‘Notice that the spaces in the upper wall above the arcade, called the ‘Triforium’are not the same on each side of the church which is called ‘the nave’ In many ways, the Normans left the lands of the church alone but they did bring a semblance of order to a Celtic church which had become somewhat disorganised,in its amalgamation with the Saxon Church, although thriving with numbers, excellent teaching and faith..

Taxation of Pope Nicholas

The Priories of Chepstow and Striguil are one and the same. There is no mention of Chepstow in the donations to Cormeilles . FitzOsbern, the founder of Tintern Abbey is called the Lord of Striguil alias Chepstow.

In 1291 in the Taxation of Pope Nicholas there were several entries for Striguil/Chepstow where we learn that two of their pigs had to be paid ! from Tidenham 1/- and from Stonehouse £1.6s 8p. The Abbey was seized as an ‘alien’ priory by the crown during the French wars, but restored by Henry IV. In the second year of his reign, Henry IV granted the Priory to the College called ‘God’s House’ at Cambridge but the grant seems not to have taken effect and the priory remained here as a Denizen house (A local house) until it was seized by Henry VIII and Cromwell, when it had only three monks left and was valued as at the clear annual income of £32.3s. Chepstow sent annual taxes to Cormeilles.

In the time of war, the reigning king would receive the revenues and appointed the vicar. In 1415, alien priories were transferred to the crown and Chepstow was attached to Bermondsey. It probably became independent in 1442.

How the monks used the Priory

The monks held their services in the chancel and the transepts , separated by a stone ‘pulpitum’ (screen) from the nave where it was used by the people for their parish church. It was here that the monks would come every day and pray the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass. Essentially the Liturgy of the hours has not changed from then until today, except that it would have been in Latin, which all the monks understood.

During the vandalism of the ‘Reformation’ the transepts were ripped down and the monastic end taken away. The tower remained in the middle of the church.The Victorians during their renovations replaced the transepts and built some of the monastic end on again for a high altar. The tower became unstable in 1701 and the western tower was moved to the West end of the Priory Church.

The Present Church

The present Church consists of a shallow chancel, transepts, clerestoried nave of four bays, and battled western tower, erected in 1705-6, rising within the church, and in part built on the ancient front; it contains 8 bells and a clock with chimes; of the central tower, which fell down in 1701, there remains only the base of one of the massive piers once probably supporting it.

In 1841 the whole fabric, in order to provide an increased number of sittings, was extensively altered The late shallow chancel was erected and the transepts enlarged by destroying the eastern bay of the nave and incorporating it in new transepts; the aisles were also pulled down, and the arcades, consisting of plain round arches on massive square piers, built up; the north porch was removed, and its Norman arch placed under the tower, the western gallery was extended, and other galleries were erected in the new transepts.

Benedictine Religious Houses

Earliest Benedictines at Striguil

Priors of Striguil

Dom John de Hemmyngsbourg
Resigned promoted to Goldcliff 26April 1349

Dom Ralph de Compton
(Vicar of Goldcliff)

16th June 1349
Dom William Guby Chaplain

18th August 1382
Dom John Heppern Chaplain

18 November 1394
Dom Charles de Wenlock

Clerk,|Appointed Farmer of the alien priory at Chepstow during the war with France

12 February 1393
Dom John Davy, Chaplain

______________________________________________________________________________________More About Chepstow Priory next!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

HAPPY NEW YEAR! and in search of Meredith

I mentioned in the recent podcast about Meredith and his attempt to keep the Saxons out of Gwent. On Christmas Day, after Mass myself and my family went in search of Meredith and were thrilled to find his settlement near Machen in South West Monmouthshire from Basseleg to Caerphilly. At first we came across Machen, clearly also an ancient Welsh monastic settlement, by its tell tale round wall, but it also showed signs of being a Grange of a Monastery-perhaps Bassaleg Priory as ancient buildings seemed to be build on one part of the wall, possibly in the Middle Ages.The Church, now Anglican , was locked on Christmas Day- a great shame, so I could only photograph the outside. Here are some of the photos.

You can listen online to the podcast by selecting the post about Meredith from the radio programmes here (just click on link-then click on to 'listen')


Al sent this via the comments and I have put it our in case you do not read it)

'Located in the pretty village of Lower Machen, this church was possibly founded during the Celtic period in the 6th century. A number or Roman fragments of ornamental capitals were discovered during excavations in 1921, including coins bearing the heads of the Emperors Nero and Dimitian, many of these are now kept at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. During renovations in 1901 a Gorgons head from the central block of a pagan shrine was also discovered, suggesting that the present church stands on a pagan Temple.

The church also has close connections with the Morgan Family of Tredegar, and there are 11 hatchments connected with the family, the Morgan Family Chapel is now used as a vestry. The Church, which is renowned for its fine acoustics hosts the superb Lower Machen Festival each summer, for further information on the festival visit

Also the church (Dedicated to St Nicholas-)can be seen by arrangement with the Vicar.'

Following on from this visit to Lower Machen Church, we went on to Castle Meredith as it was marked on the OS map and we turned right into what appeared to be some kind of quarry.The path up to the Earthworks was through a gate and it was far too cold to go walking up there, but I did get some photographs of the home of this early King of Gwent, moreover a brave king who fought hard to keep out the Saxons.The first photos are of the Castell Meredith site and the last are views from the site, as it is of outstanding beauty.

Castell Meredydd

See previous posts for mention of Meredydd.
Location A 465 Lower Machen turn right at the VOLLAND.