Monday, January 31, 2011

The Lost Templars of Monmouthshire and the Marches - Ancient Traces III LLANGERWY-GARWAY

Garway is well known as a templar preceptory and there is excellent information from Bob Simmonds site which you can c+ p or visit here:
I am just putting forward my own photos here and giving basic information about the site, which is absolutely fascinating if you are a Templar fan.

Bruce Coplestone-Crow has suggested, not unreasonably, that the name mutated into Lagademar* ("Lagad-emar"), which is is recorded in the Domesday book as in Archenfield, TRE* (that is, tempora regis Eduardis - in the time of Edward the Confessor). Lagademar is then annotated "Garwi" in the "Herefordshire Domesday" book* (a 1160's copy of the Domesday with annotations and updates: Info), indicating they are the same location or one is in the other.

As secondary evidence* the Domesday Book notes the current holder of the land as Herman* (de Dreux*). In 1189, Richard I entitled to the 'Knights Templar' the area of Langarewi (i.e. Llan Garewi; Llan Garway) including with it castellario quod frit Hermanii*. Coplestone-Crow has suggested the castle was at Welsh Newton, where Pembridge Castle stood - this would (apparently) have been within the manor of Garway* (Castlefield Farm, just south of Garway Hill, stretches towards Grosmont Castle on the first Ordnance Survey maps, while the castle north at Orcop isn't mentioned in the Domesday book and is therefore thought to be later - neither are therefore likely to be associated with Herman's castle).

 White has suggested the name "Garway" alternatively derives from Gaergwy ("fort above the river")*, while Mathews* suggests it may also derive from a discription of the river Garron as garw wy "the rough stream(?)". This seems to suggest an early British 'llan' and there is even there is another Welsh name for Garway of Llanwrfwy*. ( from an earlier spelling ((G)uorvei. The original church was in wood or mud and wattles and situated above the present Church.

St. Michaels Church via the M.5 motorway. Leave the M.5 at junction 8 and move on to the M50, up to Ross-on-Wye. At the end of the M.50, travel a short distance on the A.40 to Bridstow and then turn on to the A.49. In about four miles turn left on to the B.4521. Travel along this for about eight miles, crossing the A.4137 (Whitchurch) and the A.465 (Monmouth) roads. In the Broad Oak make a right turn for the village of Garway.

The church is at the far end of the village, down a hill and turn left down the little road at the bottom - the church is signposted. The church can be seen on the left and Church Farm with its Templar dovecote is just beyond it.

The church was one of only be seen in six Templar churches in the whole of England and Wales (previously Welsh Marches) The church tower was used as a Keep or a refuge and only joined to the church in the fifteenth century.

The former Templar Preceptory, once located on what is now Church Farm, was of strategic importance overlooking the Monnow valley and the Welsh border and the headquarters of all the Templar Commanderies

Newport /Pencarn (on coastal road from Newport to Cardiff)
Kemys Commander  and the Pembridge Castle Bridge

Connection with ST DYFRIG/DUBRICIUS This was an early foundation of the Saint.The land
was granted by the King to St. Dyfrig in the sixth century with 108 acres for the church.

In the 1180s, The Knights Templar were granted all the land in Llangarewi by Henry II and this was confirmed to the Knights in 1199 by King John. They used the land  to pay for the upkeep of the Templar organisation  and for corridies for old, disabled and wounded Templars. As monk-warriors, many had no families to return to, and wished to remain within the order.

Jaques de Molay, Grand Master of the British Templars.later was horribly martyred by the ironically named French King, Philip the Fair, visited Garway in 1294. The lands of Garway are now called Church Farm.Parts of the Preceptory could still be seen in 1844 but that stone was used to build the farm.

Philip the 'Fair' greedy and evil king of France

Philip the Fair's greed and false assertations of Templar 'abuses' led to his imprisonment and horrible killling of the movement. this was entirely a political affair. The Pope's investigation ground slowly and eventually turned up a few cases of abuse, but 'pushed' nby Philip the Fair, the Pope decided to shut down the order and give the Templar assets to the Hospitallers.Most countries, turned a blind eye to Templars themselves and many kings had their eyes on the Templar gold themselves and the Hopitallers had a job to succeed to their lands, and I believe there were court cases to retrieve lands from greedy landowners, wealth being the main motive behind their compliance with the Templar supression. However, there is one entry in the Prisoners of the Tower of London, which indicate that most escaped with their lives.The Hospitallers also wrangled with the government around 1308 as they argued they were outside the tax system like the Templars.They have kept three successive Bishops of Hereford out of Garway out of Garway Church,
because he desired to tax them.

The entry in the list of prisoners of the Tower was as follows:

1307 KNIGHTS TEMPLAR Robbery, murder and "shocking habits". Order dissolved. Goods assigned to Knights of St John of Jerusalem. All members sent to other monasteries. List of Prisoners of the Tower of London.

Knights Hospitallers
The Hospitallers changed the circular nave to a rectangular shape sometime in the 15th century. The guidebook tells us that the circular nave could have become unstable due to landslip or subsidence. Also worth lookin at is the very fine Chancel roof which the Hospitallers built around 1400, which the guidebook says is one of the finest examples of the Herefordshire style of medieval roofing. The Hospitallers owned the Manor of Garway including the church until the dissolution of the monasteries in around 1540.

A Loyal Catholic Village in Penal times 1536-ca 1830

Following the dissolution of the monasteries, St Michael's became a simple village Church, which it has remained to this day. However the period of 200 years after the dissolution of the monasteries was a time of religious turmoil in Garway because most villagers remained Roman Catholic and, as a consequence, they were continually fined and their property confiscated. So a place to visit for pilgrimage in thanksgiving.
You can still see many Templar Carvvings and signs around the Church, a fine Norman arch and fine templar coffin lids used as steps etc in the Church.
The Churrch contains 17th century Pews (after the Reformation) It underwent a Victorian restoration in 1836, and it probably literally stopped the church from going into ruin.
The Holy Well  is situated at the church wall and in the past year alone there has been: a historical pageant about the history of Garway and Archenfield, a May Day celebration, and a 'well-dressing' and at the reopening of an ancient holy well.
Evelyn Lord in her excellent book about the Templars in Britain wites that some of the marks in the south
chapel, representing the holy chalice, a holy wafer, a fish and a serpent, might be from the earlier church at Llangerwy, might have been from an earlier church on the premises. These are often considered part of the Templars' 'mystic rituals' but may not be of their time. The Circular Keep or tower of the church was also apparently, apart from a store house and place of defence, a place where people could be incarcerated, in other words a prison. Evelyn Lord refers to the Reverend E.F.Powys in a lecture to the Cambrian Archeological Association also suggested that the windows in the east and west windows of the church were so high , in order that people ccooould not look in on the 'secret rites' of the templars. He claimed that a prredecessor had found an old chestt under the floor of the chancel that had contained deeds and other documents belonging to the order, which had long since 'disappeared'. It seems in 1308, the year it was turned over to the Hospitallers, Garway had a manor, a water mill and a chapel, which may have been the south chapel in the church. There were 200 acres in desmesne in open fields.Evelyn Lord tells us there was a baker and a cook and other servants, in addition to three elderly corrodians who had donated their money and lands to the order in exchange for being looked after in old age. Evelyn Lord also says that it was perhaps the closeness to Wales (formerly of course was Wales) that the Templars at Garway were younger than everywhere else when they were arrested in 1308. Philip de Mewes (preceptor) had been in the Order only five years and William de Pocklington for three! Perhaps the fact the order contained knightly class people from the country is also shown in the fact there were no Welsh names in the Templars arrested in 1308.

Garway, like the church at Llanthony Abbey, had the right of Sanctuary as can be seen in the picture above left. Poaching and other crimes carried the sentence of death from civil authorities, but if a criminal  (and remember the crimes were often quite slight, like poaching) entered such a church clung to the altar and called for sanctuary , he had forty days to consider his options. After that, he had to give himself up or abjure the realm, be escorted to a port and take passage on a ship, or could be killed on sight. trials by ordeal were civil practices and officially not allowed by the church, but this was often ignored, as the very livelihoods of many places relied on the co-operation of such civil authorities.

Jerusalem the Centre of the Order

We learn that the Welsh Templar properties lay at the end of a chain of authority which started in Jerusalem and was overseen from provincial government and Garway was the last management post. When the Hospitallers took it over, they immediately let out the lands , realising that the Welsh estates were difficult to manage.  Evelyn Lord says there is evidence in Aragon, that the Templar land in Bonvillston, Glamorgan that this villiage and Templeton were to be leased into the Lordship of Narberth but points out that they always received the same rents and were not able to capitalise when food prices were high.
More pictures from Garway NEXT!!

Another trace of Templar Connections can be found in the font at Llanrothal. Was the local Lord of the Manor a Templar, or did the Templars donate the font to the Church. Llanrothal is near Monmouth.
Here is a link to my blog on Llanrothal

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Lost Templars of Monmouthshire and the Marches - Ancient Traces II Stephen de Hastings and the Hastings Family

 The Hastings Family had many connections with the Templar Order, Stephen de Hastings of Abergavenny being one of them. this is a monument of William de Hastings here, which is in the Mediaeval monuments Chapel, formerly the Ladye Chapel of Abergavenny Priory, a Benedictine Priory (now St Mary's Parish church in Abergavenny).Stephen had been reputedly been a Grand Master, but this has been refuted by Evelyn Lord, the authority of the Templars in England. The date given is 1348, and so by this time the Templar Order
had already been suppressed, and the Hospitallers given their land.

Abergavenny Benedictine Priory,
now St Mary's Church and right next to the town's car park!

 Another member of the dynasty of the de Hastings. The beautiful alabaster work has been attacked with hammers during the time of Cromwell whose soldiers knocked out all the stained glass in the church, stabled horses in there and used it as a latrine.

It was spared earlier attacks as the local nobility of Abergavnny was closely connected with the House of Tudor and these were their tombs.

Here are all the members of William's family. All the Knights have their shields beneath them and arre praying for the soul of William de Hastings. In the middle is the blessed Mary and angels.

Temple Grafton. Further afield is Temple Grafton near Stratford upon Afon.Not only was this another templar preceptory, but is reputedly the place where Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway.

The priest at Temple Grafton was a priest who was unsympathetic to the new church of Henry VIII, still secretly said Mass and married and gave the sacraments at the churrch, while conforming outwardly. He was eventually found out and relieved of his post. Joseph Pierce charts Shakespeare's life and career through this turbulent time, and his secret
 Catholicism. Certainly this was the reason for marrying so far from Stratford, and the actual reason for his friendship with other former clergy and recusants, such as the Earl of Southampton.Secrrecy was of the essence.Many people had to outwardly conform at this time.
 This is a plan of the Victorian restoration of the Church

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Lost Templars of Monmouthshire and the Marches - Ancient Traces I

The Knights Templars were the earliest founders of the military orders, and are the type on which the others are modelled. They are marked in history by their humble beginning, their marvellous growth, and by their tragic end.

Knight of the Holy Sepulchre,Monument at St Woolos Cathedral (St Gundleius Abbey) The other knights are to be seen in the fragment above, praying for his soul.
Sir John Morgan 1493 .See below)

‘Poor Knights of Christ’, protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land from Muslim invaders.
Immediately after the deliverance of Jerusalem, the Crusaders, considering their vow fulfilled, returned in a body to their homes. The defense of this precarious conquest, surrounded as it was by Mohammedan neighbours, remained. In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a knight of Champagne, and eight companions bound themselves by a perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the Christian kingdom. Baldwin accepted their services and assigned them a portion of his palace, adjoining the temple of the city; hence their title "pauvres chevaliers du temple" (Poor Knights of the Temple ). Poor indeed they were, being reduced to living on alms, and, so long as they were only nine, they were hardly prepared to render important services, unless it were as escorts to the pilgrims on their way from Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan, then frequented as a place of devotion.

The Templars had at this stage no distinctive habit nor rule. Hugues de Payens journeyed to the West to seek the approval of the Church and to obtain recruits. At the Council of Troyes (1128), at which he assisted and at which St. Bernard of Citeaux was the leading spirit, the Knights Templars adopted the Rule of St. Benedict, as recently reformed by the Cistercians. They accepted not only the three perpetual vows, besides the crusader's vow, but also the austere rules concerning the chapel, the refectory, and the dormitory. They also adopted the white habit of the Cistercians, adding to it a red cross.

Notwithstanding the austerity of the monastic rule, recruits flocked to the new order, as we have described last week, with Bishop Baldwin and Gerald of Wales going all around Monmouthshire recruiting.There were comprise four ranks of brethren:
• the knights , equipped  the heavy cavalry of the Middle Ages ;
• the serjeants , who formed the light cavalry;
and two ranks of non-fighting men:
• the farmers , entrusted with the administration of temporal (physical needs-food etc)
• and the chaplains , who alone were vested with sacerdotal orders , to minister to the spiritual needs of the order.

From then on, the Templars heroically protected the Christian pilgrims, who were armed and encouraged to go on such a pilgrimage to the Holy Places, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They became rich and powerful and successfully in the main managed to reclaim some lands from the conquering Moslems.In the end however, the Richard I, the Lion Heart treated with Salahaddin. He was poised to take back Jerusalem but realised that the Moslems had conquered all the surrounding lands,with the sword and forced conversions to that faith, which was on a mission to take over all the middle east and Europe. It would clearly need huge resources to hold the city in the future. A treaty was made with Salahaddin to allow Christian pilgrimage and the Templars returned home.

The tragic conclusion of these brave knights was a complete muddle of an evil king wishing to rob the Templars of their wealth and a weak pope, unable to stop him. There was a Commission of Philip the Fair, where various allegations were made against the templars and ennabled him to have them arrested and executed and fill his coffers. Some 'confessed to guilt' which was not there and many of these brave and valiant knights went to their death on cooked up trials after suffering terrible torture by Philip’s men, to extract bogus confessions.
By the time of the papal inquiry, they found that many of the accusations had been made up, although some abuses had occurred because of the secrecy with which the order conducted itself, some abuses had crept in, including some unsavoury ones, including murder and devil worship and sodomy in a sacred place, but these really were very much in the minority and truly unequal to the task, the pope decided to disband the Order and give their lands to the Hospitallers, another order of military Knights, but sadly he acted so slowly that some knights still met their terrible ends after giving their lives to protect pilgrims and Christian lands in the Holy Land.
In England,the following is recorded in the Book of Prisoners in the Tower of London
1307 KNIGHTS TEMPLAR Robbery, murder and "shocking habits". Order dissolved. Goods assigned to Knights of St John of Jerusalem. All members sent to other monasteries.

These fragments of alabaster are the only remainsof a mmonument, which once stood in the body of the Church,erected as the arms denote, to the memory of Sir John Morgan of Tredegar +++Knight of the Holy Sepulchre+++who died 1493 andhis wife, daughter and heiress of David Matthew of Llandaf

There is scant evidence of this Templar involvement, but there are some sacred places. Such as St Brides Netherwent-Sant y Brid. It seems the Lord had Templar connections, for there is in that beautiful little church (Ave Maria bell of 1295) a templar tombstone brought in from the churchyard, or more probably kept as a monument of the church. Nothing seems to be known about the person commemorated now as desecrations subsequent to the Reformation or Cromwell have removed the identity, but the person it did commemorate was a Poor Knight of Christ. .
Templar Tombstone at St Brides, Netherwent an abandoned Mediaeval village.

What is sad about it, is that this was a living , breathing human being who went all the way to the Holy Land to protect pilgrims and defend the Holy Places and, grateful it was preserved, who was he? Was he a de Huntley of the local manor. Probably as such a stone looks like worldly status.

 St Bride's Netherwent
 Sant y Brid

On a Llan site, next to a redundant Mediaeval village.Has a thirteenth century 'AVE MARIA' bell.
 Church at Moccas

Looking at this church, with its great apse, immediately struck me as a Templar Church and I was not disappointed. I had become interested in this church because it was an ancient Christian llan or monastic settlement of the great St Dyfrig when Ergyng and Gwent were neighbouring kingdoms and this area still part of Wales. I was not disappointed when I entered the church, which you have to approach through private land, though a right of way is afforded at normal times.

The Knight Templar is
believed to be Richard de Fresne, with his legs crossed to show he has been on Crusade lies facing the altar of his Lord. The Apse has been rebuilt in Victorian times, but in a similar style and there are interesting stained glass windows of Victorian age. The Choir stalls are unusually constructed in a kind of box formation in the chancel around the 'sleeping' crusader.

 The apse at the end, which has been rebuilt gives a Templar feel to the whole setting of the monument of Richard de Fesne and box pews are all around in a square, facing it. The Altar is in the apse.


 All Saints Kemys Commmander, a Commandery or Perceptory of the Templars. a nearby cottage is still called 'Templar Cottage'.I visited in 2009.

In the Report of Prior Philippe de Thame to the Grand Master Elyan de Villanova for AD 1338, not so long after the take over from the Templars, it seems to have been just land and a church-and village.
The Report and account on Kemys Commander is:

Est ibidem unum mesagium quod valet
ijsItem CXX acre terre, pretium acr
ijjd        Summa xxxs   (30 shillings
Et ecclesia ibidem in proprios usus valet per annum    1 s (shilling)

So the villagers' tithes were not worth as much as the fields being farmed.

 An early window in the church, which originally would not have had much natural light and been lit by candles.

Interestingly, Garway is included as the head quarters of the Welsh Templars in the Hospitallers' Report.
 Simple Church with a barrel roof, sanctuary and chancel and nave. Most of the furnishings in the church are modern.
Piscina, where the remains of the precious Blood and any crumbs from the Sacrament are sent back to the earth. These were often blocked up by Protestants, although Anglo Catholic churches often kept them.
  Tried to upload a link to google maps, but for some reason was unsuccessful-however here is a small detail of the location of Kemys Commander.

Llanmadoc Church near Swansea (dedicated to St Madoc) was the other Templar /Hospitaller Preceptory or Commandery in Wales.

The present churrch of St Madoc in  Llanmadoc, (LB 11532 II) dates to the twelfth century. When the Saxons and Normans conquered the area, the church was given to the Knights Templar in 1156 by Margaret, Countess of Warwick and, after the suppression of the order imposed by Pope Clement V in 1309, to the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. In turn the church was seized from the Church by the officers of Henry VIII so he could benefit from the proceeds during the Dissolution of the Monastery. The Church building was renovated by Revd J D Davies, a local historian, who spent  £500 on the restoration of the building which was finished in 1866, and the nave, tower and chancel were partially rebuilt. All the windows were restored. The eastern window to the south of the chancel  may be the original medieval east window relocated.

St Wulfstans Hospital (near Worceter)
 This was founded by a Templar known only as Walter, who began the hospital on his return from the Holy Land. It is now open to the public as a museum with Mediaeval exhibits and others. It was a wonderful hospital supported by the Knights Templar and subsequently by the Hospitallers, although the Bishop had to step in at times, as it became financially profitable too, and he needed to make sure the money ended up with the poor and sick. Henry VIII closed the hospital and turned out these people.

Tomorrow I will look at Temple Grafton and at Garway, the largest and most influential of all the Templar properties.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


A Roman Villa, ancient Church and Mass Centre West of Christchurch on Roman Road on way to Llanbedr.
The church and later in were raised at the junction of two ancient roads, both used by the Romans. The Ridgeway came from Trellech heights through Wentwood , while the Chepstow Road came via Penhow and Llanbedr. Part of the original road, The Ridgeway can still be seen leading of the road to Abernant, a short distance from the junction. There are no existant records of this Inn as an inn, but there is strong folk memory of this inn and another at Goldcliff, a Benedictine Priory who owned and served Eglwys y Drindod at Christchurch.
 Every so often I become really enchanted, when Monmouthshire throws up an unexpected gem. The thought that so many saints are standing all around us, urging us on, in a county that has traditionally been so faithful is quite fascinating and encouraging. However, a ‘tip off’ from a friend led me last Friday to a wonderfully interesting place. This was Catsash on the ancient Roman road-villa Julia, which comes out at Christchurch. The interesting mediaeval window had caught a friends eye and he was anxious I should investigate. I decided to find it for myself and I found a mediaeval chapel, where Henry II, after having St Thomas Becket murdered had made a pilgrimage to St Davids, and reputedly stopped a while here in Monmouthshire at the small Capel Curig next to the original Roman road and prayed, reflecting his crime. Both the church and the inn, however, were to yield many more secrets, than even I dreamed, thrilled to discover another gem of a chapel, where it seems wartime dances were held, and the only place large enough to house activities for the hamlet.In fact it is possible the whole farm and original inn was built on the foundations of the original villa,

 The church and later in were raised at the junction of two ancient roads, both used by the Romans. The Ridgeway came from Trellech heights through Wentwood , while the Chepstow Road came via Penhow and Llanbedr. Part of the original road, The Ridgeway can still be seen leading of the road to Abernant, a short distance from the junction. There are no existant records of this Inn as an inn, but there is strong folk memory of this inn and the one at Christchurch, where the monks from the Benedictine Priory at Goldcliffe (who owned and served Eglwys y Drindod (Church of the Holy Trinity) stayed when they said Mass there. These monks were originally from the Abbey of Bec in Normandy.

Saint Curig’s Church in a Roman Villa possibly renamed for St Cyricus by Normans

On the face of it, St Curig is a strange saint for Gwent. St Curig, Curig the Blessed was a sixth century Bishop of Llanbadarn-very close to Aberystwyth in Dyfed. Capel Curig also houses a church dedicated to him, possibly because he was born in the area and is commemorated there, and it is possible a small mud and wattles church was erected and dedicated to him. There often seems to be a ‘mirror effect’ with a church dedicated to a saint in North Wales practically ‘twinned’ with one in South Wales as happens with so many. However Wales was part of the one world wide universal church and by 1066, the Normans took advantage ,perhaps of the similarity of their names to change Curig for Saint Cyricus. His mother was JULITTA (and there is a church near Boscastle dedicated to her)In the 4th century ,the Diocletian persecution was raging. Julitta was sidowed with a three year old son. Her life was too dangerous and she decided to leave with her son from Iconium in central Turkey.     Entrance to Priest Hole

So she fled to Saleucia and she found that the governor there, too was persecuting Christians. The four runaways travelled on to Tarsus but they were recognised and arrested. Julitta was tried with her young son and refused to say anything about her life,e xcept she was a Christian. They decided to put her on the rack and beaten. The guards leading her away frightened the child separated from his mother and Alexander in order to pacify him to ok him on to his knee but the child kicked and scratched him and the governor, furious hurled the toddler to the ground killing him with a fractured skull.Julitta did not weep, instead she tahanked God and went cheerfully to torture and death. Her son was martyred. This made the governor angier and he decided Julitta should be disembowelled and then beheaded.Julitta and cyricus were flung outside the city on a heap of criminal corpses but maids rescued the corpses and buried them in a field nearby.

So runs the Life of St Julitta and St Cyricus, martyrs and if the original chapel was dedicated to St Curig, it is possible during the Norman re-organisation that the saint being commemorated was St Cyricus, someone they knew something about and could pass off as similar to the Welsh saint and bishop.The Normans were not unsympathetic to the Welsh church, but could not speak Welsh, nor pronounce the names of he ancient saints, many of whom were retained in the place names if not in the dedication of the church. This was policy of the conquerors, not of the church as an organisation.
 The Chapel of St Curig, Bishop of Llanbadarn, or St Cyricus of Iconium.

This Chapel , at the side of the Roman road, Via Julia was once a Roman Villa and mentioned in the Book of Llandaff as the Villa Cathouen. In the time of Trychan, bishop of Llandaff in the fifth century, it was given to the See by someone called Erbig and described as the Villa of Carhouen, the son of Hundu (hindee) and built along site of the Dowlais brook. It means, (in common withMichaelstone-le-Fedw, St Medwyn’s church west of Newport), it was possibly originally church on an old Roman site, and possible even a Roman ‘house’ church, so common in early British Christianity. Of course, when Romans left, local British owners either lived in them or had no use for them and in this case, the building was handed over to Llandaff shortly after they left . It also may mean that the original church was actually a Roman villa, dedicated to a Welsh saint and in Norman times given the dedication of St Cyricus. In fact there was widespread devotion to both him and Julitta, with churches dedicated to her in Cornwall, but Staircase leading to the loft of the church and blocked the original dedication likely to have been Welsh.
Decorated window, in what is now a wood store.

Outside of the baking oven                    Elizabethan doorways

Add caption

Extra window added to North aisle of church, next to a secret spiral staircase.
The decorated window, which had first attracted attention in the Eastern wall of the church was dated to the fourteenth century, so it seems, it was rebuilt in Norman times, when it probably gained its new dedicated. Above the window are the coping stones which indicate the original roof lines of an even earlier building. By the thirteenth century, from Erbig’s ‘Villa Calhouen’ it had become Cattisaisshe by 1536, the year of the dissolution of many of the monasteries, a fascinating document had been drawn up (quoted by Sir Joseph Bradney). This was where William Morgan of Pencoed let to Morgan ap Einion for 99 years ‘the old chapel at Caiche Ashe’ in which’ prayers were to be said for his soul by the parson of Langstone’. He left one shilling yearly for four masses ‘for the fowles of his auncestrices, his fowle and his wiff fowle and all that cu’mys of his body’ and £5 for ‘repairs to the walls, windows and roof of the chapel’. Indeed this was the only church between Christchurch and Llanbedr, as I wrote before, many travellers will have stopped here for rest and recuperation, as well as , it seems Henry II on his pilgrimage to St Davids (Tydewi)

The Church and the Inn
Interestingly the Inn at St Curigs was joined to the church, probably at some point after ther Reformation. The church was probably sold off to a publican at some stage, and by 1604 a John Thomas had built a fine Inn next door .There is a shield over the door ,bearing what looks like and alpha and omega mark with John Thom written over it. At the rear of the house are barns , which used to be stables where the horses were kept when it was an inn, and it seems there was also a sign on the house where there was once a sign with a cat sitting in an ash tree.
The chapel is approximately 34 feet by 17 feet with a blocked in window of which the coigns remain. Mr and Mrs Rosser, the charming owners of the property were so kind to show me round and the floor of the chapel is used to store wood .It seems an upper floor has been built, with a staircase at the altar end (sanctuary-where the Blessed Sacrament would have been kept).

A Recusant Hideaway (‘secret Catholics’)

Upstairs , however, there was something which spoke of the history of this interesting chapel. In the wall of the chapel was a small door, wide enough for a slim person to get through, this was leading into the space upstairs. I was told, there was a ‘secret room’in there about 4 feet by 4 feet. Also the windows were of more recent date on the north side, giving a good vantage point. It seems, we had a priest hole, which means, almost certainly the secret masses were said at St Curig’s even after the ‘ Reformation’. Mr Rosser told me there was another priest hole in the house and all the house’s original features were still there, albeit enclosed .

When the middle aged Henry VIII had ‘divorced’ his wife of 35 years Blessed Catherine of England in order to marry the ambitious Anne Boleyn, faithful Catholics were forced to attend Henry’s Church on pain of heavy fines. Going without their sacraments grieved them and many would meet quietly in remote chapels, farmhouses and inns, posting ‘lookouts’ for soldiers and ‘priest hunters’ out to catch priests. These priests were often sons and daughters of devout people of the areas, who trained in Northern France, or even Rome or Spain to be priests, and then put their lives on the line to return to Monmouthshire to serve their flocks. The break with Apostolic succession meant they did not acknowledge the new church, but while outwardly conforming and attending services in what were now parish churches of the new faith, they continued to attend Mass, where priests could be found. The whole business of sending out priests initially was masterminded from Raglan Castle, where the Earls of Pembroke were devout Catholics, and received and sent out priests. When the castle fell to Fairfax following the stay of King Charles I and its subsequent support for the royalist cause, the priests founded their own college at the Cwm farmhouse another remote place near Monmouth, who were led by the blessed saint David Lewis, the ‘Father of the Poor’ a fluent Welsh speaker and son of the headmaster of Abergavenny School.
Other Centres of Catholic Recusancy in Monmouthshire
These heroic priests had a hard life travelling from one place to another, often at night, sleeping in hedgerows and barns for safety . The interesting thing about Monmouthshire was its faithfulness. The nobility of Monmouthshire, with two notable exceptions, stayed true to the old faith, especially the heroic Herbert family, descendants of the Earls of Pembroke.The nobility and others had houses built all over the country which contained places priests could be hidden, should soldiers come. Also inns and farmhouses contained such hiding places and remote churches and chapels. Generally they are in North Monmouthshire, notable examples being at Abergavenny, in the Gunter House, Blackbrook House near Skenfrith, Llanrothal, Bettws Newydd , a priest hole at the old Benedictine Priory Church at Llanciwa Inow Llangua) priest holes at Treowen ,the Joneses being another offshoot of the Herbert family. If priests were kept there, there were often marks around the door, which told other faithful Catholics that it was a Catholic household. These were often the ‘tools of the crucifixion’ nails, hammer etc. and the origin of the phrase ‘five for the symbols at your door’ in the ‘secret catechism’ Green grow the Rushes –O.’

Survival of the Old Faith in spite of the ‘Gunpowder Plot’of 1605

Catholicism managed to survive in North Monmouthshire because of the Welsh language and what is interesting is that in the English –speaking south of the county there were fewer such places , notable examples being the large ‘hen house’ at Llanarth Court near Usk, which kept a priest and a chapel disguised as a hen house throughout the ‘penal times’ , and one at Cafn Mabley between Newport and Cardiff. Since there were so few, it was exciting to find another at Capel Curig here at Catsash, near Christchurch, where our brothers and sisters worshipped at great danger to themselves and where William Thomas himself may have been a faithful Catholic, as such secret passages and priestholes would have had to have been built into that original Inn in 1604, during the reign of James I. Interestingly too this was the year before the Herford rebellion of Catholics in Hereford, over a Catholic woman being refused burial in the local churchyard, when a whole Herefordshire villiage rebelled and fled into Monmouthshire and the summary death of poor, frail father Ainsworth of Skenfrith who was unable to escape. It was also a year before the ‘Gunpowder plot’ where a group of desperate young Catholics tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. This ‘plot’ never had any chance of succeeding, being managed from the first by the government. James I in deference to his mother was determined to be tolerant of both Catholics and Puritans forced to flee England (as Wales had by now , according to Henry VIII ceased to exist (1536) and the wealthy men in government, grown rich on the lands and the monasteries, which they had made into nice homes for themselves, were determined the Church should not be tolerated and worked hard at ‘spin’ against Catholics which was highly effective , and still exists to this day in some quarters.
Life at Capel Curig during Recusant times
In fact only the government had gunpowder and so Lord Burleigh knew about it all along and encouraged the ‘rebels’ knowing such a plot would alarm Londoners so that they would know that Catholics were evil and traitors and procured horrible lingering deaths for all these men, who would not have been driven to this extreme except for the raft of about twenty eight laws passed against people of the original faith of these islands. In spite of this, the county remained faithful, because of the support of the local aristocracy who protected their priests and people as far as they could, and sought for the welfare of the faithful, even though they had to attend the parish church on Sundays to escape punitive fines, some families fleeing to France for a hundred years and returning when the persecution ended. Yet the county remained staunch in its support for the Old Faith, and whilst it was disappointing all these secret places at Capel Curig were boarded up, it was warming to know that here was a place where John Thomas had kept a priest pr at least maintained one and masses were said, people were buried, others were christened and married and where the faithful gathered on dark nights secretly and the old Bishop Curig of Llanbadarn had nodded in approval. Lookouts would warn of soldiers and the priest pushed into his hole and hidden, whilst worshippers pretended to be patrons at the pub. Another such inn in South Monmouthshire is the White Hart at Llangibby (Llancybi) where a priest hole can still be seen displayed behind a fireplace. After the death of the beloved Father Lewis (now ‘Saint David Lewis’ of Usk, though he and his priests served the whole of the county,the community lost heart, but within a short time, Franciscans and other priests returned to take over where they had left off, proving that as Christ had promised Peter, the ‘gates of hell would never prevail against the Church’-the mission would go on.
Original Features Enclosed
A big bake oven from the original inn was still there at the extreme south of the inn and the large inglenook fireplace in the centre of the inn, was also enclosed. I saw large spacious rooms and some Elizabethan black oak doorways and passageways. Then Mr Rosser told me too, that there was a second priest hole in the house, leading from another enclosed spiral staircase. There are heavy oak ceiling beams. Fred Hando, writing in 1957 said he had heard of a secret staircase at Catsash Inn and Mrs Rosser produced a note written by Lady Watson, wife of Sir Thomas Watson, who owned the house. He said the letter contained the following words:

Catsashe secret stairs starts from passage going in cellar in the body of a wall-spiral stone staircase goes up two floors-small place about 4 feet square in wall of the bedroom, oiver th dining room facing the lawn on the first floor Told to Sir Thomas Watson by Parfitt(builder)14 May 1900.

One one of the photos, the ‘bulge’ with the staircase may be seen. These ‘bulges’ were not afterthoughts but considered planning for a staircase or fireplace built to give more room in the house. I was also shown part of the garden he had grassed over, originally a churchyard, which he reverently pointed out,

Mr Rosser is one of those unsung heroes who has maintained and repointed the chapel to preserve it at his own expense without any help from grants from anyone, simply to preserve our heritage, which is what all loyal men of Monmouthshire do.He loves the old chapel and its heritage and it has remained a place of worship and Mass centre for much longer than the age of the church. I would like to thank him and his wife for his kindness to me and the enthusiasm with which I was shown around.The stables were still there where the Ostlers would change horses and were Catholics would ride in for Mass and a jar afterwards! This is very much a listed private property and I am very grateful for

Thursday, January 20, 2011


On the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, an Epiphany  Carol Service (complete with mulled wine and mince pies was held at beautiful Tewkesbury Abbey) This former (now Anglican)Benedictine Abbey has a very close connection with Gwent, as its monks once inhabited Goldcliff Abbey and served it, as the monks of Gloucester were granted St Gwynlliw's (Woolos') monastery in Newport and administered it. This included Marshfield church near Peterstone and various other churches including Bassaleg. The singing of Lullay mine lyking by Holst and many other wonderful carols in the spaces around the abbey church was stunning and a worthy tribute to Carlton Etherington, Choirmaster and Benjamin Nicholas the superb organist. Choirs from all over the Anglican spectrum in the area joined together to promote an audio visual feast. The singing of Bethlehem of Noblest Cities and The First Noel, complete with choir kings and full organ was very inspiring as was the work of hundreds of volunteers, providing all the candle displays and mince pies. It was very happy and ecumenical occasion, as many Catholics attended, complete with Christians of all Protestant denominations! At the end chalk was blessed and each Christian given a piece of chalk to draw over the lintel of their house , proclaiming it to be Christian.A wonderful evening enjoyed by many, and much credit must be given to Rev Paul Williams the vicar and all his team for organising it for the whole community!