Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Malpas Priory, Newport-Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St Triac

St Benedict was the great founder of the famous 'Rule' . Pope Benedict led a great pilgrimage to NMonte Cassino in Italy on the Feast day of Father Pio just last week. There are still thousands of Benedictine Abbeys (including our own BELMONT in Herefordshire-where we had the May procession several weeks ago. There are many in Britain and all over Europe, many of which are attached to schools.

The picture of the Blessed Mary is from over the door of the Anglican Church in Croesyceiliog, which is particularly fine and Mediaeval and very beautiful. St Mary's Croesyceiliog is an Anglican foundation, by the family who lived in Llanfrechfa Grange, which was a grange of the Cistercian Abbey at Llantarnam before being seized by Henry the VIII and its monks turned out.A grange was a small cell of the priory-usually a church and a farm administered by one or two monks.

Priory of The Blessed Virgin and St Triac
Malpas (Monks of Cluny)

Malpas Priory was a house situated a mile and a half from Newport and was a cell of the Cluniac Abbey of Montacute in Somerset, Robert de Haya made a grant to the priory Count Wlilliam de Mortain had founded 0n his lands at Montacute Abbey in 1102, somewhat later than the grant to Glastonbury and this resulted in the founding of a small priory in Malpas. The foundation seems , Bruce Copplestone Crowe says to have been made jointly with Ranulf, physician to Henry I, who had received lands in Gwynllwg (Wentloog) from the King.

Henry II and Mabel of Cefn Mably

King Henry was overlord at Gwynllwg between the death of Robert Fitzhamon in 1107, when the wardship of his heiress, Mabel (of Cefn Mably) and of all her lands passed to him and 1113 or 1114, when he married the heiress to is bastard son .Robert and gave him all the landsheld by her father. It was Mabel, who founded St Peter's Priory near Peterstone, near St MellonsIt was in the period of 1107-1113/1114, therefore that the King gave the lands on the levels of Mendalgieff in the lands of Wentloog (now the site of Newport Docks)with Robert de la Haye’s permission, and since Ranulf joined Robert in founding the priory, he became a monk there himself, and willed the lands at Mendalgief to them. So it was at this time the priory came into being. Bruce Copplestone Crowe has gone into the origins of St Triac, but St Brioc, with St Patrick and St Iltid was a man from the Gwent area who was a student of St Germanus (St German )of Auxerre and ordained a priest by him, as Dr Hunt Nash says.

Robert’s own charter, giving the ‘town of Malpas with the church’ has nor survived, so we don’t know , whether his first wife Gundreda joined him in this foundation as she had at Bassaleg/ If she was involved in the charter must date from before 1109,since by 1111 Robert had two children by Muriel, his second wife. Nevertheless Clunaic monks of Montacute were at Malpas when the king relinquished his Overlordship of Gwunllwg to his son in 1113 or 1114 This Charter which records Ranulf the Physician’s grant to he house says:

Ranulf, physician to King Henry, by permission of the king,Sir Robert de Haya consenting grants to St Triac and the monks of Montacute at Malpas, all his lands in the marsh at Mendalgief(Mendalgif) with his free chapel, namely two hundred and thirty three acres of land and all his fisheries on the Ebbw as in the Usk. And should any wrech from river and sea be cast upon the aforesaid land, as it was his, so shall it be theirs. The aforesaid land, with the chapel etc. Sir Robert de Haya, then lord of Wentloog (Gunlioc) allowing the same. Henry, king of England had given to Ranulf and his heirs and inasmuch as he has assumed theie monastic habit he has constituted the said monks his heirs.
Witnesses:My lord, King Henry, Sir Robert de la Haye, Ranulf the king’s chancellor. Winebald de Ballon etc

Bruce Copplestone Crowe writes in his article ’ There is no doubt that the priory of Malpas was founded by Robert de la Haye , possibly with the assistance of the king’s physician, and not by Winebald de Ballon, Lord of Caerleon, as has been claimed
Winebald’s lands at Caerleon, which he had in succession to Thurston Fitzrolf, their Domesday book holderlay entirely withing the Commote of Edlogan , and did not include Malpas, which was in Gwynllwg. Winebald did give ‘terram de Carrlion’ (land at Caerleon) and the Church of Karion to the Priory of Montacute , the mother house, but these were probably the Church of St Aaron at Caerleon and its associated lands, which were in Malpas’s hands in the fourteenth century.’(p9)

The Priory of St Triac at Malpas was a small house, described as a ‘cell’ in the Henry VIII records. In the taxation of Pope Nicholas, are listed the following possessions and their value:

£1.16s from the manor at Newport (Novus Burgos—new Borough-New-Port))
18 shillings in rent from Newport
8 shillings from the windmill
30 acres of Marshland and its liberties 6 pence an acre
Warda’s pastureland 2 shillings
And near Malpas 20 acres of land and its liberties 3 pence
And near Malpas 3 acresof grazing land and its liberties 2 shillings.
The customary operations in the autumn 2 shillings
All together it comes to £41.18s

‘The Prior of Malpas has 14milk 40 dairy cows ,and all their products and milk.1s 8d each. (altogether 6s8d.’)

It was valued at £15.2s4d.clear and granted as parcel of the cell of Montacute in the first of Edward VI to Sit William Herbert.

The last Prior of Montacute, the mother house, was Dom Robert Sherbourne.The last Prior of Malpas was John Montague. We also learn how monks were delegated to the little Priory at Malpas. When Thomas Chard was Prior, he was recalled after a while by Robert Sherbourne. Then John Cogyn was sent,and then John Montague, the last Prior before Henry VIII seized it. It seems the Prior of Montacute regularly changed the Priors at Malpas.

Daily Life of a Monk at Malpas

The Clunaic monks were among the strictest of the Benedictine monks. Their job was primarily to serve God through the Opus Dei, the Daily Office. Beginning at 2am, they would rise to sing Mattins and then again at six to sing Lauds and then every three hours of the day. The last office of hours was usually around 9 at night when they would sing 'Compline' which ended with their singing the 'Salve Regina' in the Lady Chapel (would have been demolished at the 'reformation'.However all the monks had a responsibility towards the upkeep opf their Abbey. Everyone knows of the tremendous expense of maintaining buildings and there are many appeals today asking for money to help wioth maintenance. These priories were given money and lands by the Norman rulers for the upkeep of these institutions, but they also fulfilled valuable social purpose. People would work on the land and in return would receive an income from their own strips of land. We can see from the assets iof the priory in which farming businesses they were engaged.

This was a small cell, and the brothers would have engaged the help of lay brothers who worked on the tenanted lands. All parishioners contributed to the church with tithes, and the services given to the lord (working for the Lord for part of the week in return for a strip of land, (a hide) was then made over to the church as a ‘liberty’.Of course this system was only as good as the character of the Prior.

Most were saintly and holy men, others could be sharp or brusque, some were generous and so forth. In Malpas -the monks were supervising cheese making and butter and also used their beef cattle them for meat. We also learn that they had land for grazing and they had rents from properties on their lands. Nevertheless, the Priory was not rich but ‘comfortably off’.

The brothers would be up in the early morning for ‘Mattins’. This included the triumphant hymn (and canticle) the Te Deum. 'We praise thee O Lord, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord', There followed Lauds around 6am –a shorter service altogether, praising God, then breakfast. Around 9, 12 and 3 would be other services then Vespers at 6 pm Containing the Magnificat)

At 9pm , or thereabouts would be Compline (Containing the Nunc Dimittis-'Now Lord, lttest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which should be a light to lighten the Gentiles and rule thy peaople Israel)This was Simeon's Song on seeing the baby Christ presented in the Temple. The Angelus bell would be rung at 6am and 12 noon, 6pm and Midnight . It is lovely to think of the many cattle on the fields around the little Priory all turning towards the Church in prayer when the bells sounded, the 6pm bell probably signalling the end to the working day and call to prayer for Vespers.At this time, all the workers in the nearby fields would turn towards the Priory and say the Angel Prayer They would praise God for sending himself to earth as the human son of the Virgin Mary.Looking at the large and sprawling estate of Malpas and Bettws, the monastic lands of Montacute, it is impossible to imagine it as farmland with scattered thatched cottages for the people working at the Priory.


The monks would have a meeting in the morning after breakfast to discuss the day’s agenda, then they would begin the work of the day. Work was important as a form of prayer to the Benedictines. LABORARE EST ORARE was their rule, formed by Benedict in his rule for a Life of God , and for people living together. The Cluniacs, by contrast spent far more time in prayer as a rule and did less manual work than ordinary Benedictines. Prayer was important and they would have had Mass once a day as well. As the host was raised by the priest , the big bell would be tolled once , as the sacring bell was also rung inside the church. All the workers in the fields and people round about bowed their head and knew at that moment, the bread and wine were being consecrated.Prayer was going on all the time. Indeed many people attended the daily Mass, and were allowed to use the Priory Church as their parish church.

Archdeacon Coxe in his Tour of Monmouthshire gives the following account of the chapel building of the Cluniac monks.He is writing of the Priory Church (now Anglican since Henry VIII seized it)

The chapel of this cell, now the parish church, is worthy of being visited by the Antiquary, as one of the most ancient religious edifices of these parts.
It is a small building of unhewn stone , of an oblong shape like a barn , with a belfry having two apertures for bells. The arch door, which is on the western side the stone frames of the three principal windows , as well as the arch that separates the chancel from the church , are all rounded and decorated with friezes of hatched moulding , deticles and receding columns , peculiar to the Saxon and Norman architecture. (the dedication to St Triac may have been a Celtic/Saxon Church already in existence EN) The arch of the southern window, which seems to have been a doorway( into the attached Priory?)is more elegantly ornamented and embossed with roses,not unlike the Etruscan style. All the columns, which are mostly of a rude form, have dissimilar capitals and shafts a striking feature of Saxon structures.Some modern Gothic windows have been introduced into the stone frames of the original apertures.’


The church was extensively restored and repaired by Thomas Prothero, to whom we should be grateful, because in 1849-50 it had been roofless and ruined. Bruce Copplestone Crowe says, however ‘it may not be very different from the Church Montacute Priory built there in the 12th century,( having been possibly an extension of a Saxon building.EN) It seems from drawings made of the Priory church in 1800 and just before it was rebuilt, for instance, that all he did was to take it down and rebuild it on the same lines , using original carvings where they survived in good condition and replacing others with replicas. It is fortunate, perhaps, that Prohero was working when neo-Norman architecture was fashionable.’ P9 Having seen some unfortunate ‘restorations’ by people not so in love with the original Norman architecture, that there were some insensitive ones at Usk and Chepstow and even at Basseleg, it is good Rev Prothero was so sensitive in his restoration.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Church of St Mary Magdalene in the Apple Trees at Whitson -Goldcliff Priory Church


Whitson –Church of St Mary Magdalene

In the Autumn of last year, I visited some of the churches which had been given to Goldcliff Priory and paid their tithes there. It is important to note, that obviously as the Norman overlords were French, that they invited the monks from some of their own foundations in France to found the priories in England and Wales (as far as they had made inroads into Wales) We know Gwent had fallen to Harold shortly before the conquest, so presumably they took this land fairly quickly.

Locating Whitson Church

I visited Whitson after visiting the Goldcliff site. Somewhat difficult to find, you need to go down the small road signposted ‘Whitson’ and you will see the Church, also dedicated to St Mary Magdalene- set back behind an orchard to the left. You can only access the site now through this orchard where there is a right of way. Locals told me the orchard was on church land, but since the church was closed and disused and in a shocking sense of repair (I have contacted ‘Friends of Friendless Churches’) the next door neighbour has taken the land for himself. I have no idea, but even walking through the field and taking a few pictures for this blog, he kept up a tirade of abuse, which only our persistence in wanting to take photos pushed us on. In the graveyard were a few people who were tending the grave of their departed and told us to take no notice (although on the way back he even accused my son of stealing and apple. He demanded my son empty his pocket, which he did-and showed him-his camera! Obviously some people have problems.

The Thimble Tower was meant to correct the seaward sway of the Tower

We walked around the church and looked at all the interesting features. The church was constructed of a nave and a chancel arch in very early style. Whitson has been called variously Widson, Wytteston,Wistson and Whitson . Whison formed part of the Manor of Whitson, whose tithes were owed to Goldcliff. It seems as you looked at the building it seemed to be seaward leaning and so the famour ‘thimble tower’ was placed there to rectify the angle and great baulks of red sandstone form the quoins of the tower. There was an interesting scratch dial in the porch . Fred Hando says:’Here again there was further evidence that the builders of Whitson had no passion for symmetry, for the right hand column of the inner archway stands on a stone base, while the left hand column, without a base, is three inches shorter’.

With a great deal of sadness , over the left hand column the beautifully carved consecration cross is carved. Knowing this church was consecrated by holy monks in early years of the middle ages (possibly with a llan here before) it is sad to have seen it, stripped out by Henry VIII and Cromwell and then left to a long slow demise.

A sharply pointed chancel arch separated the nave from the chancel and there is a big bold looking font which is definitely Norman and the corner chalice was dated 1575 when the vicar was the evocatively named Dafydd ap Gwilym.

The Bell

The bell in the tower was a later addition in 1758 , presumably in Georgian times and the inscription ‘God bless our King and Kingdom and send us peace. W and E 1758’ and the smaller bell was of the same date and says ‘OBEDITE’.

Hando adds a few further particulars of the monuments on the walls put there after the Reformation as memorials to the Squires of Whitson court, who are buried in the tumulus-like vault in the graveyard.

Without being able now to get into the church, my son did take some pictures through the windows of a descending staircase. The relatives in the graveyard were filled with deep sadness at the closure of the church, and in order for it to be taken on by one of the church charities to be kept open, there has to be someone locally who will take charge of the local end and keep the church open for visits and apply for lottery funding and so forth, although I understand the present government is giving all lottery money to the London Olympics for some time.

Eton College

Mary ‘parcels of land’ owned by Goldcliff were given to Eton College (Henry VIII’s foundations) to whom the tithes would now be paid .It is of interest that Eton gave £2 per year to the village school until the last century (1954) and local children have to travel to nearby schools.

Fred Hando’s accountca 1945 to 1950 (Extract)

Fred Hando was one of the most loved sons of Gwent whose books about Monmouthshire were sent to many of the soldiers serving in the Second World War, in the times when people were still interested in the history of where they lived , its countryside and streams. This is a short account from around the late 1940s to 1950.

It was on an October night that I addressed the Merry Wives of Whitson. I spoke for forty minutes. They told me about Whitson Village. Dewy eyed and with moon kissed innocence , they thrilled me with sagas of spooks in the post office, the pull of the sea on the church tower, of their complete teetotalism(!), of how the absence of inns in the village rendered them proof against legends.

They spoke with affection about their kind vicar who, they assured me, would ring and continue to ring his church bell until a Mrs T appeared.

They denied the waters of the Monk’s Ditch were laced with rum. They had a wondrous story of the Wreck of the Sturgeon.
So I went down to Whitson. I passed places with heavenly names like Somerton, (Summer Town) Spytty (Ysbyty-Hospital) Greenmeadow, Upper Lake, Bryngwyn and Pye Corner(where my Uncle Charles Tritton used to preach)Truelove Farm and Cold Harbour.
Then I drove along Broadstreet Common to New House , where they have a low level and high level reens . (Eda reen (rhyn) :irrigation streams )

I paused to admire this lovely house with its golden chestnut trees shading the two bridges . The High level reen is the Monk’s Ditch, that amazing feat of water engineering which has provided for six centuries a watercourse which runs southwards at an average height of eight feet above the level of the moors. An the embankments are of sand!

The other reens belong to a complicated system of -155 miles of reens and 510 miles of ditches-which aims to place the Netherwent moors among the best pastureland in our islands.

My route now lay on the flat road in the eye of the morning sun. The village consists of a long line of cottages placed prettily a field away from the road.

That field used to be the village common , but now is split into strips, along which the postman has to walk to the little bridges which lead across the reens to the cottages.

I called at the vicarage and spent an absorbing hour working through the church records. ……
Since 1832 the Vicars of Whitson have also been vicars of Goldcliff.

Sunday, June 14, 2009




Philip Gopyler of Tintern, who had carried the shipwrecked wine away with his monk Thomas de Bec and prosecuted in 1334, however the outcome of the case is not known . The King appointed Martel as temporary prior in 1332, noting he was a monk of Tintern Abbey, a Cistercian house, claiming to have been appointed prior by apostolic authority. The King took his fealty, even though he did not bring letters from the Pope or his abbot. It was, says David Williams a ‘put up job’ and a disaster for Goldcliff. A gentleman of Somerset was behind the affair and his name was Sir John Inge, who stood as surety for the Prior’s entry fine of 40 marks and did very well out of the deal.

In 1320.William had been one of the Commissioners called to inquire into the ailing workings of the priory by William le Walsh and others and again in 1322 into the prosecution of the previous priorin the Lord’s court of Lebenydd and Caerleon.

In only a quarter of a year William Martel had completely wasted all the possessions of the Priory, and of the few seals still left half are impressions he made in doing this.March 24th 1333 he rented the priory’s manors in Somerset (Preston and Monksilber) to John Inge, who was to pay a red rose for the first ten years of his tenancy and £20 a year afterwards. The following year, Sir John Inge was again the recipient of Membury manor in Devon for a yearly rose rent. In 1337,William de Saint Albino looked for compensation for this, it was stated the manors had been leased to Inge for £50 per year. It was noted Martel had made himself prior by false and forged sealed letters. In 1337 too, the Priory was found to be only worth £10 yearly to the crown, as only the manors of Goldcliff and Coldra remained to it ‘all other manors and lands belonging thereto being demised to divers persons for life, by William Martel , late prior.

William Martel was ,however, unmasked as a fraud; less than six months after he took possession of the priory, his brother Peter le Comte who was sub priorwas given temporary guardianship of the Priory (June 1332) At the enquiry it was discovered that the Papal bull on which Martel had ladi his claim to the priory was a forgery and because of this and his having wasted the possessions of the priory, the King ordered the restoration of Philip de Gopylers as Prior (who had taken the wrecked wine) in the year 1333. David Williams adds a fascinating extra fact, that Robert de Runceville, former prior had granted the rectories of Woolavington, Puritan and Netherstowey (Somerset) to John Martel, our dear clerk, but his action was later found to be un canonical. So William Martel returned to Tintern to resume monastic duties there,

Within fifty years, the priory was decimated by floods, improper rule and all the troubles of the French Wars.The monks of Goldcliff were without doubt French and from the Abbey of Bec, which is often attested.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

GOLDCLIFF 2- Kidnappings, Expulsions, embezzlements and Tsunami!

The next five pictures are about Goldcliff's 'Mother House' in Normandy (1) Also a sea side location, perhaps these monks had special skills in sea defences and fishing.....Perhaps it is why Robert de Chandos offered it to Bec. Wool was an important commodity as were fruit farms and arable land. Goldcliff owned lands at Membury, Caerleon (Churches of Julius and Aaron and all their lands) and most of the surrounding area.

The Archbishop of Canterbury visited Bec recently, as you can see. Bec is a thriving Benedictine Community again, has a guesthouse where people can stay for retreats and rest, and there are many businesses undertaken by monks to pay for the outkeep of the monastery. Goldcliff was only a Priory of this great house, but would have had similar architechture to some of these pictures of the older bits of the Abbey.


The Fourteenth Century Squabbles and Excommunications

In 1304, the prior began litigation against Ralph, Earl of Gloucester and Joan, his wife on some things touching the freehold. There was a squabble between Philip de Columbers and Ralph de Runceville over who should become Prior! Philip was supposed to stand down but refused to do so and went around all the various lands taking oxen and money, and forcibly stopped the collector of the monies to give the money to Ralph. This dispute rumbled on until it was sorted out when the abbot of Bec dismissed Ralph in 1318, appointing his brother William de St Albino in his place(June 10th 1318 he was admitted by the king) Ralph in turn refused to go and said he had not been canonically removed and was still prior!, but is appeal failed and in 1319 William was accepted by the King.. The Pope himself nominated Adam Brette of Trellech a ‘poor clerk’ to be a priest in one of Goldcliff’s churches.

Robert de Runceville

Ralph de Runceville ‘disobeying his abbot and resisting the king’s mandate’ held the priory for another half a year and during that time ‘probably with is connivance, broke the treasury of the priory and took and carried away the chalices and other silver gilt vessels with other goods and the miniments, and the seal of the priory for sealing divers writings and quilt claims alienated divers lands and tenements, granted pensions and corrodies and charged the priory with divers debts’ One of the four men was William Walsh of Llanwern who at this time gained the lease of the priory mill at Milton and shortly after this troubled spell (1320) Prior William acknowledged the indebtedness of the Priory to Philip de Colombers to the tune of £63-13s 4d. Obviously Philip was right in his estimation of De Runceville-a bad apple in the barrel if ever there was one!

Earl of Norfolk and Welsh attacks

Sadly news had reached the king of the bad running and problems at Goldcliff and in April 1321 and the king issued letters of protection and support to the prior and at the prior’s request the Earl of Norfolk was appointed Keeper of the Priory. It had become very difficult for Bec to keep order when there were problems. Old Father William was beaten up by seventeen Welshmen at Morburne at Goldcliff. The kidnapped him for seven days and afterwards took him to Usk castle , and ransomed him for 100 marks. They also robbed the priory of all its horses and cattle at Morburne, Nash and the Coldra and stole other things. In May 1322 there were only ten robbers left but gives some detail about how they ‘ broke a chest secured with four locks , wherein the priory’s seal was kept.’(David Williams makes the point that this might ave been part of an ongoing problem with de Runceville and, whilst in prison, Prior William might have thought over how Prior Ralph had been treated three years previously before being imprisoned by a band of men including Roger de Wallington. He was temporarily excommunicated for the offence and absolved only on making satisfaction and doing penance. )William le Walsh then tried to prosecute the prior and his tenants in the lord’s court of Lebenydd and Caerleon.’although the Prior was a lord of the Marches and ought not to answer, save as lord of the Marches’.

The Sea, Shipwrecks reclaiming land.

With the troubles of 1318-22 the sea was making life difficult for the monastic lands in Gwent. (Allteuryn). Goldcliff was bounded to the South by the sea wall, which protected the surrounding landscape from the River Severn.

Shipwreck at Goldcliff!'There be wrecking tonight!

In 1331, the takingof a shipwreck (which had been assessed at being worth 2shillings per annum to the priory in 1291, was the cause of a long running dispute with Robert Gyene of Bristol, a ‘king’s merchant’ over the ship, which he had chartered at Bordeaux to carry wines and other goods to Bristol It had been driven ashore at Goldcliff by stormy weather and ‘notwithstanding that those in the ship escaped alive to Clevedon’ when twenty tuns of wine were washed ashore at Goldcliff, Nash, Clevedon Walton and Portishead, a number of men ‘carried the wine away’they included Prior Gopylers of Goldcliff and Thomas de Bec, one of his monks.’ The case was stopped because of an irregularity and then another merchant William de Upton took up the case, a taverner from Shrewsbury-presumably because he ad ordered the wine. A further plea later in the year even adds for good measure the name of Geoffrey , Abbot of Bec in the list of culprits (!) but this was probably legal cover. In any case, Prior Gopylers died a few months before at Goldcliff and the outcome of the case is unknown.

The Sea attacks the Priory

In the next (fourteenth) century, there was continuing coastal erosion and flooding and in 1424, the prior wrote to the king about the attacks. The Priory walls were on the point of being destroyed , and ‘half the parish church of the priory was destroyed by the sea. The Prior was allowed to take stone cutters and labourers to repair the walls . paying them reasonably for their work and food . This was necessary as ‘there are such customs in Wales that no labourers will leave the lordships wherein they dwell to any work, so there is a great dearth of labourers’ For such a huge amount of damage, there must have been huge tidal violence at that time and the new parish church for Goldcliff was built well inland for the parish, but it still suffered in 1606 from the Tsunami of 1607.

Laurence de Bonville-A Controversial Prior!

Laurence was appointed by Bec and in 1439, he was the legal prior , successfully appealing for the restoration to the monastery of its Devon Manor of Membury. Shortly afterwards he was summoned to Bec on a charge of embezzling money out of the priory’s revenues. He refused to go and was excommunicated by his abbot who complained to the commissioners for the alien priories. The Archbishop of Canterbury presented John Twining , a monk of St Peter’s, Gloucester as Prior of Goldcliff and the King ratified his position in September 1441. A few months previously (March 1441) Tewkesbury Abbey , using its Cellarer John Abingdon as proctor, began to negotiate with the Bishop of Llandaff to annexe Goldcliff as a cell of its abbey. This was approved in 1444 ‘to the end that the priory might be appropriated in perpetuity to the said monastery’. The annexation did not take effect until the death or resignation of John Twining, and when it did become effective ,the abbot of Tewkesbury had to maintain at Goldcliff a prior and two monks, there to celebrate divine office for the king, the priory founders and other personages.

Laurence de Bonnville was ejected and kidnapped to Usk Castle! -Llandaff v Tewkesbury

David Williams believed John Twining remained Prior until early 1442 Laurence de Bonneville complained bitterly to Pope Eugenius IV about being deposed and to have ‘transferred it, as far as it lay in him to the convent and abbot of Tewkesbury’. He told how John Twining with a hundred or so lay accomplices attempted to eject him from the Priory, but ‘ was prevented ‘by the resistance of Laurence, the monks and other persons of the Priory’. However on another occasion, about dawn, Twining ,now an official of Llandaff, was more successful, broke into the Priory , kept Bonneville and the monks without food all day, broke the doors ad windows and did much damage, to the extent of more than 100 gold coins. Then at night, they set Prior Laurence on a horse and ‘led him by the bridle like a thief ‘ to Usk Castle where he was imprisoned for five days, chained by one foot . Then he was taken and for one week was imprisoned in Abergavenny Castle, while Twining took control of he Priory bullying money from its tenants . Despite threats, Bonneville refused to resign, he was allowed to return t the Priory (with, he claimed, the King’s license) but for fear hid in the Priory church for three days and nights .

His enemies, one of whom was Thomas Herbert said if he 'would not resign’ they would make him resign with violence, even if he were on the high altar of his Priory’. In another petition to the Bishop of Bath, Chancellor of England, Bonneville claimed have been Prior of Goldcliff for thirty one years(an exaggeration). He mentioned his ‘supposed resignation arguing he had not resigned and claimed that the entry of his resignation in the register of the Bishop of Llandaff had been forged! He describes his eviction by Twining as ‘about midnight’ now and talks about his imprisonment at Usk . (like one his predecessor)

Tewkesbury Wins! Bec Monks are 'violently expelled' then Glyndwr expells the Tewkesbury Monks!

Bonneville also talks about the annexation of the Priory by Tewkesbury Abbey. It was not a peaceful thing. The eight monks of Bec still living in the Priory were ‘violently expelled’ by Sit Thomas Herbert and a crowd of men-at-arms and ‘thereby caused to wander about England’. Lawrence claimed that the King, through the chancellor had intervened on his behalf, but the only result of this had been two more periods of imprisonment in Llandaff. The Pope (1445) therefore ordered the archbishops of Canterbury , Worcester and Hereford to restore Lawrence to the Priory, to test his allegiance and if found to be true, to excommunicate Sir Thomas Herbert and the other offenders. How effective the papal ruling was cannot be known. What is known is that the monks of Tewkesbury were expelled from Goldcliff by the Welsh uprisings of Glyndwr in 1445, but that they returned in 1447.

The Abbey and College of Eton

In 1451, the Priory was given to Eton College by the King, and Eton now had to send monks. In 1462 it was returned to Tewkesbury (and confirmed 1464-1465 by a lost Papal Bull)In 1467, it was given to Eton. David Williams writes tat because of the uncertainty of what happened 1445-50. We do now that in 1474-5 the property was split between Eton and the Dean and Canons of Windsor (the lands in Devon/Somerset)Whether monastic life continued 1465-72 is also not known for certain, but likely. In the troubled days of the 1440’s a monk of Bec, Hugh de Morainville was sent by Bec to Goldcliff and it is possible he was prior there in 1445-7.We know he stayed two years and one record terms him late monk, alias Prior of Goldcliff ‘ and we learn ‘being expelled there from by the abbot of Tewkesbury’ he stayed for a while with Nicholas St Loo of the diocese of Bath and Wells where he ‘duly and with decency performed his priestly office as far as the bishop knows’ The Bishop f Bath and Wells (1455) asked all people ‘to receive him kindly, treat him favourably ,and hold out helping ands to him.’ Perhaps as an alien monk, loose in the English countryside, the Crown took a different view, however, in 1457 he was granted a pardon ‘for all ‘treasons, felonies, offences, and other trespasses or misdeeds’.
We believe monastic life may have ended here, the money for the lands and tithes going directly to Eton College. The Priory had had a turbulent fifteenth century with great floods some murky priors, Welsh outlaws, Glyndwr’s uprisings and politics of greedy men trying to get their hands on the lands chartered to the monks granted by Chandos. Yet through most of it, monastic life had continued at the Priory overlooking the sea. The monks filed in and out for Divine Office every day and night and fulfilled the Benedictine Opus Dei, praying to God for the sins of the world.

I am most grateful to the outstanding local historian David Williams for most of this information and scholarship, without which I could not have compiled information.

The Priory buildings lie on the site of Hill Farm and the church is grassed over. I am not sure if it as ever been excavated in recent times. The sea wall and drainage system (The Monks' Ditch) maintained by the monks still stands and their spirit and work made a huge contribution at this time

If you wish to read Dr David Williams Article, from which much of this information comes, please look at the Monmouthshire Antiquary-available in any library in Monmouthshire.

NEXT****The Year of a Breakaway monk from Tintern as Prior of Goldcliff!

Monday, June 8, 2009

GOLDCLIFF.1 The Benedictine Priory of St John the Baptist and St Mary Magdalene

Here you can see the entrance to the original seaside priory.You can see part of the sea wall they built (now reinforced with concrete!) Also the outline of Hill farm a later development of where Goldcliffe was.More pictures in the next post.


This information has come largely from the excellent account given by the eminent scholar, David Williams in the Monmouthshire Antiquary.

The Name-Gold Cliff-Allteurin

The name ‘Goldcliff ‘(Allteurin) is said to have originated from the silicious limestone cliff, about 60 feet high, at the Priory , rising over a great bed of yellow mica which breaks the level at the shore and has a glittering appearance in sunshine, especially to ships passing in the Bristol Channel.The survey of alien priors drawn up in 1324 explained that the reason for the low value of £66 13s 4d which was te amount paid to the king was ‘because its possessions in Wales are in large measure submerged by the water of the sea’.

Alien priories

Alien priories were cells of religious houses in England which belonged to French monasteries; when manors or tithes were given to foreign monasteries or convents, the monks built small priories and established priories. Within the ;cell’ there was the same distinction within those priories which were cells subordinate to some great abbey. Some of them could choose their own priors, some had priors appointed. Some kept all the tithes and revenues and monies to maintain their buildings and carry on their work in the community, and others depended entirely on their ‘French ‘mother’ houses who removed and appointed Priors as they saw fit and removed all the revenues to France, leaving just enough for he priory to survive. Most of these priories were founded by Norman families who had already founded the mother houses or contributed to hem. According to Dugdale, there were more than one hundred and twenty in England and Wales. The cells which were independent had been made denizen or English.

Alien Priories and the French Wars in Mediaeval times

These alien priories of which Goldcliff is one were first seized by Edward I in 1285 on the breaking out of the war between France and England , and it appears from a roll that Edward II seized them as well and this is referred to in an Act of Restitution under Edward III In 1337 he seized all their lands again and rented their lands out himself for 23 years and then restored them in 1361. Sometimes he granted their lands out to noblemen . During Richard II’s reign they were grabbed again and the ‘Mother Houses’ in Normandy were allowed to sell their priories to English noblemen who wanted to endow priories. They were restored and then seized again under Henry IV. They were all, of course taken by Henry VIII later on.

Abbey of Bec-the Mother House and trained Archbishop Lanfranc and St Anselm of Canterbury

Giants of the Mediaeval Church from Bec- Lanfranc and St Anselm of Canterbury.
The Benedictine Abbey of Bec, or Le Bec, in Normandy, was founded in the earlier part of the eleventh century by Herluin, a Norman knight who about 1031 left the court of Count Gilbert of Brionne to devote himself to a life of religion. The modern name of the place, Bec-Helloin, preserves the memory of its founder.. Herluin's first foundation was at Bonneville, or Burneville, where a monastery was built in 1034, and here in 1037, Herluin was consecrated abbot. But in a few years it was decided to move to a more suitable site, two miles away, by the banks of the Bec (Danish, Bæk, a brook) which gave its name to the abbey. This removal took place about 1040. About two years after this,the great teacher Lanfranc, who had already become famous for his lectures at Avranches, left the scene of his triumphs and came to bury himself at the monastery of Bec. At first his retreat was unknown to the outside world, while his fellow monks seem to have been unaware of his worth. But within a few years of his arrival at Bec, he had opened a new school, St Anselm and scholars were flocking from all parts to listen to his lectures. The abbey grew and prospered and the good work begun by the simple piety of Herluin was crowned by the learning of Lanfranc.

Bec Expands

Before long it was necessary to build a larger and more lasting monastery. As the site first chosen had proved to be unsatisfactory, the new foundations were laid in another spot, higher up the valley of the Bec and further away from the water. This important change was really the work of Lanfranc, who was now the prior and the right hand of the aged abbot. As the first change of site was closely followed by the arrival of one great teacher, this second foundation was almost coincident, with the coming of a yet greater glory of the abbey, St. Anselm of Canterbury. Two giants of learning then came out of the abbey of Bec, which sent monks to our priory at Goldcliff, Newport.

Robert de Chandos

Robert De Chandos, whose lands lay very near the monastery at Bec founded the Church of St Mary Magdalene at Goldcliff in 1113 endowed it with several possessions and lands, and by the persuasion of Henry I gave it to the Abbey of Bec. It was the third cell of Bec to be established in Britain. Goldcliff was given an annual allowance of £1 and originally supported by Bec. The Church of St Mary Magdalene of Goldcliff with its lands and tithes and the Chapel at Nash were all given to Bec….
This dedication is revealed in the seals of the priory,the best preserved being the scene on that first Easter Day , with our Lord appearing to Mary Magdalene who is kneeling and holding a box of precious ointment.

He was to send a prior and twelve Benedictines to Goldcliff.

David Williams writes 'The monks of Bec and consequently their dependent priories had the especial privilege of wearing the white habit , a feature exactly paralleled today by the modern Benedictine foundation of Prinknash and its dependent priory of Farnborough whose monks wear white habits , unlike the black ones worn at Belmont, Downside, Ramsgate and elsewhere….

So the monks of Goldcliff would have worn white habits unlike those at the Benedictine Priories of Monmouth, Chepstow and Abergavenny. There is added proof that this was the case, for in the troubled, declining years, an ousted prior . Laurence de Bonneville, petitioning Pope Eugenius IV for re-instatement specifically drew that Pontiff’s attention to the fact that monks of a dependent house of Bec where ‘ a white habit is worn’ had been replaced with monks from Tewkesbury ‘wearing the black habit of that said monastery’

The site of the Tudor farmhouse adjoining the churchyard at Christchurch was a grange of Goldcliff Priory, the later house may have been an extension of the former. The tiny window in the south wall at the far end of the house looks directly on to the Priory and as Hando says that he found it pleasant to think that a light in the window may have signalled ‘All’s Well’ to the bretheren below.

Iowerth ab Owen and Robert de Chandos buried at St Mary Magdalene Goldcliff

Robert de Chandos died in 1120-23 and was buried on the south side of the choir of the church at Goldcliff (the only other recorded burial was that of Iowerth ab Owain in 1174.)William le Marshall got the priory then and then it passed to the De Clares The Prior was still appointed by Bec and after he was nominated the new prior would present himself to the patron and then the diocesan Bishop . David Williams writes again that ‘One Prior at least claimed to have exercised his rights asserting that the then prior of Goldcliff had been removed once by the abbot, but sent back at his request’.

Oath of Fealty during the French Wars

Shortly afterwards the wars with the French began and there is plenty of evidence of the procedure. Ralphe de Runceville becoming Prior of Goldcliffe in 1313 was presented to the king by the abbot of Bec as by the letters patent of the abbot to the king appears , from whom the king, admitting that presentation has accepted fealty and to whom he has restored the temporalities , the monarch holding the latter, while the priory was vacant.

The king then sent the letters of the abbot of Bec to the Bishop of Worcester , as keeper of the great seal, commanding him ‘ to proceed in the business according to the law and custom of the realm’. David Williams writes ‘The next stage was as the Prior of 1290 put it to be ‘presented to the Bishop of Llandaff and admitted as a prior and then have the spiritualities of the Priory entrusted to him.’ Another account of 1491 is recorded. In the mid fifteenth century , the Register of Tewkesbury claimed that for 318 years no prior was admitted to the Priory of Goldcliff , except previously he had presented him to the king and had been licensed by the king and admitted, inducted and instituted by the Bishop of Llandaff or his archdeacon!!!. In 1328 the crown had charged Prior Peter Gopylers 40marks for restoration of the lands, after another seizure!

Conventual Priory

Goldcliff, says David Williams was a conventual priory as distinct from a monastic cell. They trained to keep enough monks to faithfully perform the daily Litugy of the Hours which was the essence of a Benedictine Community.Praying the psalms in the rhythm of the day, the pattern of psalms-which they learnt in Latin by heart, canticles which are extracts from the Bible like Mary’s Song of Praise (known by its Latin name ‘Magnificat’)at the service called ‘Vespers’ the ‘Nunc Dimittis’(Now Lord lettest thou thy servant depart in Peace) at a service called ‘Compline’ Featuring strongly was the ‘Benedicite’ (Blessed be the Lord) at Mattins or lauds. Most of the psalms were sung. Every day there would be Mass, where the monks would personally meet Jesus Christ. Prayer was one of their fundamental activities as Benedictines and so was study. David Williams said ‘We get a glimpse of this prayer life when Prior Laurence de Bonavilla (ca 1441) told how one attack took place, when the monks were in their church at divine worship at Midnight’. (Williams)

Chedworth Church in Gloucestershire-an Ordination

All the priors were Frenchmen, as their names would imply, and it was said of William de Vedast long after his death that he had been a Frenchman. Many of the monks too were from Normandy-some are described as monks of Bec and if there was a death in the community, the Prior sent to Bec for a fresh monk. We can’t really tell how many English and Welsh monks were there because of lack of records at Llandaff. There is only one detail of an ordination of a priest of a Goldcliff monk at Chedworth Church in Gloucestershire-Richard Frageron in 1301.The community was at times a sizeable one with 25 monks in 1295 and eight towards its close. It also supported lay chaplains with the priestly work in the chapel of Nash, and the local churches.

Travels of the Prior

The Prior was the most travelled member of the community.Every summer he had to go to Bec to attend the annual chapter, and often had to present himself at the King’s council during the wars with the French. In May 1292 the Prior went to Cottisford (Oxon) and two bushels of oats were provided for his horse. In the spring of 1294 he was going abroad . In early summer 1303, the Prior was travelling to Bec, not to return. In 1347, the Prior was visiting his lands in Membury, and on legal business in Chepstow assizes in 1415. In 1190-1119, there was a real prior of note, Prior William who served archbishop Hubert Walter as judge delegate in an appeal in Canterbury and was also a commissary in a Llandaff ecclesiastical case. He was the only Prior who achieved high office and was described as a provident and honest men. He was consecrated bishop of Llandaff in 1219 . He died ten years later.

Corrodians (Terminally ill or old crown employees, larger abbies took others)

There were a number of Corrodians at Goldcliff. These were sick people and invalids in the service of the King who were cared for by a monastery when in lingering ill health or old and retired with no home. Or they could donate property to the monastery in return for regular nursing and care. The wholesome air at the sea must have been wonderful. Two of the Goldcliff corrodians seem to have been local. In 1305 Geoffrey de Llantrissent ‘who was maintained in the king’s service’ was sent to the priory. He had been detailed for Tintern the previous year. David Williams goes on ‘In 1316 Thomas de Marteleye ‘who long served the king was to ‘receive the necessaries of life’ at Goldcliff.’ When he died Thomas le Foyar appeared in 1343 from the Forest of Dean. Others were Geoffrey Hurst John Seys (1345) 1375 Richard de Careswell had taken his place.(1386)John de Banhan replaced him 1403 Agnes Henyver replaced Bahan.She was replaced by Thomas Reingwood (Yeoman of the King’s robes) and his wife.’during their lives and the life of the longest liver’As far as royal corrodians were concerned there were only two at most, so the nursing burden was not heavy.

Goldcliff, the Hill Farm

There is a picture showing the location of the Priory today. The Abbey Church is ruined, but there are some remains in the farm building , now built on the site, which must have been idyllic. In the foreground is a modern fishery, which would have undoubtedly also been a focus for the monks. Ironic that the sea wall they reinforced is still working today.

The Monks worked on the Sea Defences

The construction of the abbey was uneventful. The church would have been in the normal cruciform shape plus tower, since at times the Priory would have to defend itself. There would also have been a wall. Lay brothers were recruited and also other workers. They shored up the sea wall ,improving on Roman sea defences. They farmed .We know the local people used the church for their services. At Midday and at 6 the Angelus Bell would be rung and during the Mass the bell would be tolled at the moment of consecration. All the people working would stop and then turn towards the Priory Church , kneel and join in the prayer. The monks fulfilled their duties as Priests, scriptors and administrators, cooks, cellerers, infirmarians and apothecaries, Throughout it all they would pray the Liturgy of the Hours and pray mass, feeling the rhythm of the days, seasons and years in the service of God. Now and again there were problems. In 1265 Prior Jean du Plessis was recalled to Bec .
Court Case against the Earl of Warwick

Goldcliff in Poverty-Had to pay Taxes to Bec, THe King and Rome


In 1291 the Taxatia Ecclesiastica hit the Catholic world, and made it clear how much the fortunes of Goldcliff had decreased.The King had made a mention of the poverty of the Priory the previous year. Gilbert de Clare, Lord of Caerleon, Earl of Gloucester and was also Patron of the Priory had a number of issues with the Priory , and tis was also troubling Llantarnam Abbey (Cistercian) In 1289 he withheld money from the Priory ‘asserting that the prior and monks had abused these liberties to his detriment’. The Prior brought the case in front of the King’s bench 1291, pleading that he held his possessions in chief by gift of Hywel of Caerleon and should not be destrained to appear at the Earl’s court at Caerleon concerning the avowson of Undy church. De Claire claimed that he should not have to answer the Prior as the latter was a ‘bailiff of his abbot and not a legal person’. However he was overruled , since it was felt that he had already recognised the Prior legally . The Prior claimed he had ‘ given lands, gifts, annual pensions, freed villains and no acre of theirs had been even disputed by any abbot and Bec. He had a Convent in his Priory and a seal and presented clerks to the churches in the Patronage of the Priory. While the case was pending before the king, the bailiffs of the earl in Newport and Caerleon told the Community they would still be forced to appear at Caerleon, despite an order from the king telling them not to do so until the case before the king was settled. ‘The four offending bailiffs were ordered 1291 to appear before the king for contempt The case, suspended for a time was cut short by de Clare’s death 1295 The following year, however, the prior found it necessary to proceed against a clerk Alexander of London for trespassing on his land.

Years of War with France

In 1295 war with France began and lasted for the rest of the Priory’s life.’All foreign monks dwelling thirteen miles or less from the sea , or by waters bearing ships to the sea were to be removed and sent to their manors twenty miles at least away or to other orders of the same order and language.’A guardian was to have charge of the priory , the monks confined within it. They were to send to messages or letters with allowance of 1/6d per week for food and drink and 10/-a year for clothes and shoes. As soon as the number of monks to be removed was known, they were sent at the cost of their houses with their beds and books to the places ordained for them and if they were found to be going around the country they should be arrested.’ In 1295 Goldcliff had 25 monks at this time. Five were removed ‘ for lack of sustenance ‘in 1296.In the following year a further five were removed leaving them fifteen in the Community. It is possibly because these were the actual French content and the fifteen more local monks. There is no record of the appointment of a guardian, but it seems ,according to David Williams , that ‘its Prior was allowed , as many alien priories were to keep the priory, holding the land and goods not in his own right but of the king and rendering him there from a very heavy annual payment to the Exchequer. This varied, in Goldcliff’s case with the prosperity of the house-£100 in 1295,£71 in 1298,£79 in base coinage in 1300, £66.13 in 1324,£10(!) In 1337 to pay the annual tribute to the mother house. The position may have eased a little with Prior Germain (1406)who was allowed to old the King’s manor of Membury without rendering anything to the king, but he had to maintain the houses and buildings and support all charges. Being seized again 1324-7, 1337-60,1369-1400, and from 1403 on. On the outbreak of war again, the ‘sureties which were called in by the priors gave pledges that the prior would stay continually in his house , maintain the ancient number of monks and servants , find chaplains for chantries and repair the buildings ; and also that neither the prior nor the monks or servants would pass out of the realm , reveal state affairs or secrets to foreigners by letter or word of mouth , or send away money or jewels ‘

There were other problems. Because of these restrictions, Goldcliff could not easily collect the money from its churches and there is a great deal of evidence to support the fact that the king did this . At least four times the Prior of Goldcliff had to present himself at Westminster (January 1342) with the priors of other alien priories to discuss the custody of the priory and the financial arrangements.’ on pain of deprivation’ on Hune 25 1347.

Thank you to Professor David Williams for his considerable Research, which I referred to here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Has St Cadoc's lost Church been found in Monmouth?

The Church in Ongar, Essex has several claims to fame. For many years it has been regarded as one of the oldest timber buildings in Europe and is certainly the only wooden Saxon church to survive in England. Wikipedia claims it is the oldest wooden church in the world.St Cadoc's in Monmouth may have looked like this church.

Al sent me the link to the Western Mail cataloguing this exciting archeological find.

The Saxons were coming! A tiny sword stud found under a shop rewrites Welsh history
Jun 6 2009 by Steffan Rhys, Western Mail

AT BARELY a centimetre across and almost unrecognisable after centuries underground, it may not look much, but could shed light on an almost unknown era of Welsh history.

The discovery of a sword stud beneath shops in Monmouth, made public for the first time in today’s Western Mail, could be evidence of an Anglo-Saxon period settlement.

But now there are concerns the site where it was found may be destroyed by development.

And radio carbon dating on bones from postholes beneath the buildings suggest that some timber posts were removed in the middle of the 10th century and others in the early 11th, suggesting they may have put in place earlier.

According to Stephen Clarke, chairman of the Monmouth Archaeological Society, the discovery is of “one of the most important early medieval sites in Wales”.

“The structure may be centuries older than these [carbon] dates as they follow the removal of posts which must have been erected years before,” said Mr Clarke.

“It survived until dismantled in the late 1000s or early 1100s when the Normans dug a huge defensive ditch across the site, from the Castle to the River Wye. The buildings are ancient and date from before the Normans arrived. It could be evidence of occupation unbroken since the Dark Ages.

“The purpose of the timber building is unproven but considering the structure’s age, size, aceramic nature and the lack of domestic refuse it might be the remains of the lost church of St Cadoc, amongst the earliest of the Celtic saints active around the middle of the sixth century.

“What we know but can’t prove is that the wooden church of St Cadoc was still standing when the Normans arrived and built Monmouth castle. Whatever it is, it’s a substantial size, it’s post-Roman and pre-Norman and that makes it very important.”

The tiny sword stud is a silver pyramid 12mm high with a 12mm square base and a setting for a stone at its top, similar to two found in the burial of the King of East Anglia at Sutton Hoo.

It was used on leather straps which held a scabbarded sword to the sword-belt and none have previously been found in Wales, where any Anglo-Saxon material at all is extremely rare.

A preliminary report, based on pre-conservation assessments, by Dr Mark Redknap of the National Museum Wales suggests it is similar to those found elsewhere in the UK and dated to the sixth and seventh centuries.

But Neil Maylan, of the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust , a specialist adviser to Monmouthshire council, was less certain about the find’s significance.

“We know very little in reality about what was happening in Wales between the Romans and the Normans,” he said. “We have lots of legends and stories but very little in the way of absolute fact and archaeological record.

“It’s possible that what we’ve got with this find is evidence of the Normans arriving. It’s also possible it’s earlier but the Anglo-Saxon stud doesn’t prove that. All we can say for certain is that there was activity there at the Normans’ time, which is still hugely significant.”

However, there are concerns that the proposed redevelopment of existing shops on Monmouth’s Monnow Street could cause irreparable damage to the archaeology underneath, where there are also the remains of the earliest Roman fort in Wales.

Any demolition of the stores’ frontage could necessitate new foundations which would in turn damage the archaeology.

However, planning laws now require developers to protect existing archaeological sites and local authorities should not grant permission to plans which would damage the site.

Philip Thomas, Monmouthshire council’s planning applications manager, said: “The developer and architect are well aware of the archaeological sensitivity of the site and the need to satisfy the advice of the council’s expert advisors on archaeology, the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust. The [trust] would be involved in the planning application process and their advice will be a key factor to advise the application decision.

“We do not know whether permission will be granted at this stage, let alone which planning conditions would be appropriate – these would become clearer once the application details have been submitted.”

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Another Catholic Martyred Priest-Llantarnam, Cwmbran

A plaque was unveiled at the blacksmith's shop in Llantarnam, Cwmbran, where Father Lewis was robing for Mass. He was dragged off to London. Called 'The Father of the Poor' he was loved by Catholics and Protestants, all of whom he looked after. The lies of Titus Oates (later hung drawn and quartered for perjury) helped to condemn him. After a short spell in the Usk Prison (used to be 'Greyfriars') he was executed close to the present Usk Catholic Church, St Francis Xaview and St David Lewis. Protestants rushed forward to hold his hand as he was hanged to prevent his drawing and quartering as the law demanded and the mayor, relieved gave the order to bury the corpse without this mutilation. He was reverently buried next to the old Priory Church (now Anglican) and in recent times, the Vicar during an extension, found the body , and it was buried right next to the door of the church, with a handsome tombstone. Fresh flowers are left throughout the year . The tombstone bears his last moving words.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009


The first few pictures are of The Priest's Well (RIP Father Ainsworth).The lower ones are of St Bridget's Well (Ffynon Santffraed) I have given the links to my previous posts about this fascinating church, originally a 'llan'-a Welsh monastic settlement and then a Norman Church, serving Skenfrith Castle. There is an account of a artyrdom of Father Ainsworth.



My previous posts about Skenfrith Church in this wonderful, amazing village in Monmouthshire.Blogger will not let me publish links for some reason. The posts are as follows, you can either c +p or go to July 2008 in the list of archives on the Left hand side of the blog page, scrolling to the bottom of the Left hand layout pictures and access it from there.


The first two times I visited Skenfrith last year, I was unable to find the Well of St Bridget of Kildare (Sant Ffraed) nor the 'Priest's Well' and I arrived recently with OS map, compass and a pair of wellies.

I went to Skenfrith on Saturday and asked in the Bell Inn about the ‘Priest’s Well’ and St Ffraed’s Well. The very pleasant landlady was very helpful, knew of St Ffraed's but not of The Priests Well. Nevertheless an old map on the wall revealed ‘Darren Wood’and she mentioned someone in the ‘Shop’ who knew where it was. Only the old people remember it, it seems. When we went to St Ffraed’s well, I was very disappointed because it was very delapidated and desperately needs restoration. The well is on private land and so it seems if the owner does not restore it, there is nothing anyone can do-although of course it may be a question of money. By mistake we visited a nearby farm, where the farmer remembered it and pointed vaguely in the direction of the wood on the other side of the Monnow River.

So after visiting St Ffraed’s Well, we went to the Shop to get more information, as there were two ladies in there,neither of them knew where it was. There was an elderly person who DID know but was not there! When I mentioned 'Darren Wood', they said it was in new private ownership and we should have to ask the new owner.I was a bit afraid to go and ask as the 'Sand House' was now a mansion at the end of a long landscaped drive. I just hoped we were not going to be chased off with a gun and a lot of dogs! But we need not have worried, the new owner was only too happy to show me the well. The Priest's well was a bit of a legend now, it seemed. All she knew was in the days went priests could be executed at will and £5 retrieved from their head(!) some priest had been executed whilst hiding in the woods by the well.

I took the book about the priests well to show her and she showed it to me (the last three pictures above)It looked more of a spring than a well. I said I wanted to make a private pilgrimage, since I knew that Bishop Matthew , a former bishop and Vicar Apostolic of Western Britain had made many pilgrimages there in the 18th century. It looked exactly as in the book (‘The Folklore of Monmouthshire’-Roy Palmer)who had lived in Darren Wood. There must be evidence somewhere that Bishop Matthew visited there. I prayed a rosary there for the priest. I had tried to find out, however, I had a lucky breakthrough when I consulted ‘The River Running By’ by Joan Fleming Yates.(Amazon £20)This gives a great deal of history of recusant times.

Anyway Joan Fleming Yates has an account of the Herefordshire Catholic Revolt of 1605 (the year of the Gunpowder Plot). It started in the Village of Allensmore (five miles SW of Hereford). Alice Wellington the recusant wife of Thomas W. a yeoman farmer died excommunicate and refused burial by the Vicar. The Catholic Community became very angry and early in the morning of Tuesday 21st May 1605 Alice was buried by torchlight in the graveyard with the full rites of the church, candles and bells. The vicar went to the Anglican bishop and gave the names of all the people he had recognised in the burial party. 25 names were given including James Coles from Hungerstone known to act as massing clerk to Roger Cadwallader, a Priest(who was martyred at Hereford in 1610). Also there was Philip Giles, who ‘bare the crosse’.

Three days later, the High Constable of Hereford turned up with a warrant. They arrested two weavers at Hungerstone. Coles grabbed a knife and wounded both constables and Chandos escaped. Leonard March joined in the struggle and then his brother urged the constables to wait until they had spoken to William Morgan (another secret sympathiser) but they refused and suddenly 40 or 50 rioters, armed with staves,bows and arrows and swords surrounded the officers and demanded to be told where the prisoner was being taken. Outnumbered, the prisoner was released, warning the men of the consequences of their rebellion. He went on to the bishop who relayed it all to the Privy Council in London, who tried to deal with it with firm repression. The King made it plain there was no further any need to hold back on recusants, but the PrivyCouncil urged moderation, as they were frightened of further armed riots in a very unstable times, and one rebellion could have sparked another.The idea was to arrest the rebel leaders. By the end of June, the Bishop Bennet had decided to arrest William Morgan of Whitefield in Treville Park.

At Midnight on the 5th June 1605, the bishop’s party arrived and with them various local gentry who had close links to Catholics as they were married to them and a moderate Catholic Sir James Scudamore, who was known to be a papist but acted with discretion.

There were 60-100 men all ready to fight for the faith, and armed to the teeth.An attack on the Bishop’s Party was not planned , but they were going to wait for William Morgan to be arrested and then rescue him. The ambush had been ready. Reinfircements were expected from Catholics in the Monnow Valley, The Leader was Thomas Pritchard of Skenfrith.The magistrates arrived and took away many incriminating letters written by Morgan himself. Morgan was arrested and sent to London. For some unexplained reason the ambush was called off. Most of the men in the ambush party went into hiding. So they escaped –where?

Well they went to Monmouthshire. Anglican Bishop Bennet reported Monmouthshire‘hath always been counted a true daughter of Rome’. Monmouthshire was out of his and the Justices' jurisdiction!

Sunday, following the fiasco , three hundred people had gathered for Mass at Darren 'Chapel' , still carrying weapons.Was Darren Chapel, originally a room in the farmhouse, called the 'Sand House'. Expecting trouble, they hung on for Monday and Tuesday. Among them were William Hugh of Monmouthshire and William Vaughan of Llanrothal The bishop was worried as if he went with too few people, they would be attacked and with too many and the men would flee into the woods and they would not gather them all until the Assizes were over.

Wednesday June 19th 1605 the Justices made their biggest effort yet. The Justices searched all the cottages over the Darren and villages adjoining, house by house, all day and all night , making a thirty mile sweep along the Monmouthshire border. They found altars and various other Catholic artefacts but hardly a living soul, except for an old woman or an old man. The houses were deserted . The villages were deserted. The entire population had fled downward and westward into the comparative safety of Monmouthshire.

Only one person did not escape, said the bishop. The elderly priest of Darren Chapel. According to Bishop Bennet’s records he did not escape. The Catholic Priest Father Ainsworth was the priest. The strong tradition in this area, is that he was caught by a spring in the woods , where he was beheaded on the spot, according to the law, which paid £5 for the head of every Catholic Priest found in England after 1589 after the Day of John the Baptist.(June 24)

The stonework in the well is coloured red, and when the vegetation has died back in the winter you can see more of the stone and then it appears very red indeed. Romantic legends began to grow that this was Father Ainsworth’s life’s blood infused into the stone and in recent memory the people filled their bottles of holy water at the well (reputed to heal diseases) and prayed at the martyrum, where he was probably buried as well. Now it lies close to ‘The Sand House’ which is on the Darren side of the Monnow (northern)

To finish the story, the Justices returned to Hereford with no results and a report reached the king on June 23rd that the Bishop of Hereford had to flee ofr his life. The Privy council were undecided and blamed the justices’ incompetence. Eventually the Earl of Worcester was sent to cool the situation. He was a personal favourite of the King and a Catholic himself. His seat was Raglan Castle . He was an interesting character and natural overlord of the area. He was to talk to the leaders and cool down the situation. He was married to Elizabeth Herbert and gained many lands in Wales. He was also Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. So he arrived at Raglan Castle on June 29 1605 and this was the beginning of the end of the rebellion. Most priests and others who would suffer serious punishment were quietly spirited away and put out of reach by the Earl who warned them after he had requested them to meet him. He had a few ruffians put in prison to satisfy the Justices and show he had done something. The rebellion in the Monnow Valley was over. Raglan Castle hid priests and had priest holes. Several rich and influential Catholic families in North Mon had moved there because the remote nature of the area meant they could practice their faith in relative safety and obscurity.

Nevertheless I have the date for Father Ainsworth. He may have been a secular priest ,or an religious chaplain of the Hospitallers Order at Garway, who was perhaps too elderly or sick to flee and had stayed on after the reformation to tend to the parishioners at the Darren Chapel, and in other secret places.

IT had to be said that the burial of Catholics was one of the most upsetting of aspects of the terrible times of persecution. In Monmouthshire, the landowners were almost all Catholics, as were the justices and often the constables as well and since there was no concentrated 'push' to 'extinguish popery' until 1679 by over zealous priest hunters, anxious not to lose their lands, stolen from the church, and bribery and threats on Catholics to 'shop' their information about the College of St Francis Xavier in the Cwm farmhouses they were all comparatively safe. Because the Catholic families also owned the livings of the churches in Monmouthshire, they were able to appoint vicars sympathetic to the Catholic plight, who turned their backs on night time burials, washings of the corpses in holy wells and requiems in churchyards at Midnight. Many vicars were humane and compassionate and turned the other way.

I am returning to recusancy when we reach that far, but at present we are just in the Norman period and I will be continuing with the post on Goldcliff Benedictine Priory later this week.

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