Tuesday, January 17, 2012

BRYNGWYN, An ancient Church on a White Hill and Cistercian Grange

< St Peter as Pope in Bryngwyn Church

Ancient Welsh Studies.co.uk points to two men of Gwent, the first born c. 1045 and the father of Sir Gwyn, and secondly, the father of Aeddan who was born around 1135 and AEDDAN ap Gwaethfod a King of Gwaethfod . These Gwaethfods lived originally in Tegeingl and identify the earliest Gwaethfoed of Gwent as "ap Gwyn ap Glyddien (Cloddien) ap Gwybedydd ap Gwrydr Hir ap Caradog ap Lles Llyddog “ and believe he (or an intermediate ancestor) took up residence on the family's paternal lands in south Powys when other branches of the family remained in Tegeingl. This is not quite the story given by Sir Joseph Bradney,of a marauding Cardiganshire raider but fits in better with the family history.

They  give the possibility that when his lands were overrun by Normans and incorporated into Shropshire, That KingGwaethfoed moved south looking for new lands.He appealed, the Ancient Welsh Studies site say, on  entering the north of Upper Gwent , to King Ynyr ap Cadwgan, and was given Merwydd ferch Ynyr as wife and lands where White Castle was later built. 

It is even possible Gwaethfoed came to Gwent as an invader/squatter and avoided armed conflict with its king by agreeing to marry Ynyr's daughter. Ynyr is dated  to c. 1030 and Merwydd to c. 1060 .The Theory that Merwydd married a Gwaithfoed of Gwent seems more reasonable, both as to geography and chronology.  His only known son is called Sir Gwyn, born c. 1075, builder of Gwyn's Castle now known as ‘White Castle’ (white also being the translation of ‘Gwyn’. )

So much for the genealogy of Gwyn. About the year 1100, Sir Drew de Baladon (or Balun) invaded upper Gwent as a retainer of the Marcher Lord Roger fitz William fitz Osbern. Ynyr and Gwaithfoed,confronted them but it apppears bloodshed was averted by both Welshmen for their sons to marry de Baladon's daughters. Sir Gwyn ap Gwaithfoed married Emma de Baladon. Sir Dryw ap Gwaithfoed was probably his son, who was father to Aeddan,  born around 1165.
Aeddan , seemingly by now seems to be living at Grysmwnt or Grosmont, grew up a pious and faithful youth. He is mentioned in the Journey through Wales by Gerald the Welshman. I have already blogged about the route that (Catholic) Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury took through Gwent from Llanthony, Patrishow (St Issui’s Shrine)Monmouth, Abergavenny, Usk, Newport etc. This Aeddan took the cross from Baldwin, becoming a Crusader knight. The ceremony was performed as Baldwin, accompanied by Gerald the Welshman, Archdeacon of St David’s was proceeding from Abergavenny to Usk.

.........a certain nobleman of those parts named Arthenus came to the Archbishop ,who was proceeding towards the castle of Usk and humbly begged pardon for having neglected to meet him sooner. Being questioned as to whether he would take the cross, he replied ‘That could not be done without the advice of his friends’, The Archbishop then asked him, ‘are you not going to consult your wife?’ He modestly answered, with a downcast look. ‘When the work of a man is to be undertaken, the counsel of a woman ought not to be asked’ and instantly received the cross from the Archbishop’.....(The itinery of Archbishop Baldwin(Third Crusade 1188)

It is recorded, that soon after this, fired by his commitment, Aeddan and his sons founded three new chapels (which may have been founded on more ancient sites)Aeddan’s Chapel in Clytha, Bettws Newydd Chapel (Bettws Fovour Aeddan)(Bettws is a corruption of Bet-Haus-ancient for House of Prayer) and Bryngwyn Chapel,  which he dedicated to St Peter.) (Cambria Triomphans by Percy Enderby 1661 p 250)He held the manor of Clytha by payment of a sparrow hawk and granted out his lands to his relatives to hold by suit of court and a red rose (which was his badge)The Papal charters were given for this by Pope Honorius II and given to Aeddan by Teilo.The family supported the church and its Holy Well (St Peter’s Well-300 yards SE from the Church)and the church and manor were administered by the abbot and Community of Llantarnam. The church was likely to have been served with priests from Llantarnam also.
Some of the possessions of the Abbey of Llantarnam in Bryngwyn descended to the co-heirs of the manor of Wentesland and Bryngwyn . Lower Ty Mynach House in 1845.The small farm called Brynhyfryd was part of Lower Ty mynach.(Monks' House) The house was built on the site of two original cottages.The Chapel Farm, so called because of the association with the monastery, descended with the manor.It is likely they appointed local men as parish priest.
Following the collapse of the rural economy with the Black Death, and depletion of priests and monks and finally the Reformation, Clytha, seems to have collapsed, and the other churches taken over by Henry VIII’s new church. The tithes were formerly paid to the priory at Abergavenny but now paid directly to the Crown’s commissioners.
The visit was taken at Christmas, and I did not get to see the well, which was hard to locate, but I am going back there later on a warmer brighter day. From the pictures you can see we church was visited at Christmastide. It was charmingly warm and inviting, with a definite sense there is a real community at the Church. At the altar is a lovely reredos carved in wood, and pride of place given to a beautifully carved crucifix next to a carving commemorating The other carvings are equally remarkable, and most wonderful was, that the church was actually open! These were carved in memory of a beloved Rector, William Crawley a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. This Anglican rector died at the age of 94, arranged for the building of a North aisle and a new chancel arch and in 1872 built the first parish school and the first bell of this school displayed in the church.The other figures on the reredos carvings are  St Peter, the disciple, Our Lady, John the Beloved Disciple and Peter shown as Pope. The carvings are of a beautiful quality.
The last three priests of the Catholic Church recorded who said Mass here were
Father GREGORY DE TREGRUG Both these priests are mentioned at the same year 1352. Possibly these were the first non monks  to become rectors following the plague, monks at Llantarnam having been reduced to a small number.
Priest's door into the Sanctuary
Fr Gregory seems to have survived as priest until 1399 when FATHER JOHN AP GRUFFYDD became the new priest. After that the records seem not to give subsequent names, but we must assume the Lord of Bergavenny appointed future priests. They seem to have all been Welshmen, because until Henry VIII ‘annexed and extirped Wales’ and the Welsh language .
this area still spoke Welsh (and possibly English as well!) the Language of the church always was Latin, as it had been from the beginning in Wales.
 The church has a long nave and simple chancel, which would have originally housed the sanctuary. The tower was probably added by Aeddan’s family in the thirteenth century. The Sanctuary (Chancel) was added in the fourteenth century.The Old West gallery had been removed before 1850.No tombstones in the graveyard are existant from before the 19thcentury. The church has been lovingly cared for by the Crawley family in recent centuriesand their crest is at the side of the reredos.

The original bell (Tenor) cast in Bristol about 1480 is inscribed AVE MARIA GRATIAE PLENA (Hail Mary, full of Grace) the second, commissioned in Anglican times was cast in Gloucester by John Palmer (Feare God, Honor the King-SOLI DEO DETUR GLORIA)1632 and the third bell cast in Chepstow by William Evans ‘ WM Henry Churchwarden ‘ is written on this 1766 bell. The writer of the Handbook of the Church, Mr C W Crawley also records that ropes were frequently purchased, so the bells were fully used at a time when parishioners did not have watches.
The church also possesses a silver chalice and patencover of the early Stuart Period.

< The Font
I plan to return to Bryngwyn to find the well and publish more informationon that, although I understand it is in much need of restoration.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Heartwarming and Uplifting Epiphany Meditation at Belmont Abbey and a poem

Epiphany Meditation                  Such a great afternoon yesterday, when I  drove up through a balmy and sunny Monmouthshire landscape into the ancient Welsh Kingdom of Ergyng where Belmont Abbey is in modern Herefordshire. Belmont, I understand was originally built as the Cathedral for Newport. We had already been to a lovely Mass at Abergavenny but after the frenetic rushing around before and after Christmas, the Meditation at Belmont, which included two Spanish carols, which were movingly sung by Father Abbot and one of the brothers from Peru who was spending Christmas and Epiphany at the Abbey.

Una estrella que llama en la noche and  De Luz nueva se viste la terra.

 The parish choir sang some lovely things, the Epiphany Hymn, 'How Brightly Shines the Morning Star'  and a 'Untous a child is born' not the usual 'puer nobis nascitur from 'Piae Cantiones' but a more unusual version, with a rrefrain for the congregation. There were some beautiful prayers from ancient liturgies of Our Lady.These meditations, were of extraordinary beauty and insight, and were interspersed with the carols you might expect, 'Bethlehem of Noblest Cities',  'As with gladness men of Old', 'We three Kings', 'O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness', and the 'First Nowell'. The organist delighted with the testing chorale Prelude:' Wie Schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern' (How brightly shines the Morning Star' by Bach played I believe by Mr Tom Hempson. Amongst the shimmering candles and rich decorations, the relaxed and quiet mood made this an inspirational hour, quite different from Christmas excitement, and getting to the heart of the miracle of Christ coming to the gentiles, drawing the Whole world to theFather. The liturgical chants were especially moving in this setting. Ecce advenit , Vidimus stellam eius (We have seen his Star) rang around the Abbey, as it has been sung over the centuries by our Benedictine Monks.It occurred to me that the highlight of the BBC's surprisingly (on the whole) faithful 'Nativity' TV series last year curiously finished with the Wise Men, (they were not neccessarily kings, nor three,) bowing before the Infant God-Man , Christ the Child. The line in one of the Belmont hymns, 'Bow down before Him, His Glory proclaim' seemed apposite and moving. We were able to reflect, the Lamb was born in a cave, associated with Shepherds. He was born in Bethlehem, which means THE TOWN OF BREAD and placed within a MANGER (an eating place for the animals) Both heavily pointing to the Eucharist. The quiet atmosphere allowed these insights and all was beautifully done.Remembering the birth of my own son, I thought of Mary, poor girl, nine months pregnant having to ride all those miles on a donkey and give birth in a lowley animal shed.

Afterwards people took the trouble to walk around the wonderful displays, especially the crib above and take photographs, as well as to pray prayers of thanks for the grace of such a wonderful meditation in beautiful surroundings. The faith and love of the monks, is shown in the tremendous care they take in carefully preparing the whole church for the feast, slightly after the Twelfth Night, and yet still in Christmastide, which the church will continue to celebrate until Candlemas on February 2nd. Refreshments, pies, biscuits and drinks of various kinds were available for the considerable congregation afterwards. I walked out past the crib the monks had built outside the Abbey, the beautiful words and sounds ringing in my head and felt greatly blessed!


Abbot Paul was kind enough to send me his sermon of the morning, in which he offered some reflections on the Epiphany, which I will lay down for you here so you can share them, and I am looking into a podcast of this lovely event.

 From the End of the Nave to the High Altar  
The poem below is one of my favourite Epiphany poems, along with 'The Burning Babe' and 'The Journey of the Magi' by T S Eliot.  
BC:AD by U.A. Fanthorpe   
This was the Moment, When Before turned to After
And Time's unelected Timekeepers presented Arms.
This was the Moment, when Nothing Happened
Only dull peace sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the Moment, when even energetic Romans
Could think of nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the Moment, when a few farm workers
And three Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard, by Starlight
Straight into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Christmas Display under the stained glass window of Benedictine Abbot , Blessed Richard Whiting of Glastonbury, who was hung drawn and quartered on the orders of Henry VIII.

The traditional Announcement of Easter in the Roman Missal reminds us of the centrality of the Feast of the Epiphany to the Christian faith and the liturgical year. This proclamation is made not on the First Sunday of Advent nor on Christmas Day but on the Epiphany, the great feast of Light, Easter in winter. “Arise, shine out, Jerusalem, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord has risen upon you, though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples.”
Although the Epiphany recalls and celebrates the triple manifestation or revealing of the Son of God as recorded in the New Testament: the Star and the Magi, his Baptism in the Jordan and the miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana, today’s Gospel concentrates on the first of those events. Yesterday we heard how Jesus transformed water into wine at the behest of his Mother, the first miracle or sign, which would ultimately lead to his Death and Resurrection and the Eucharist in which wine becomes the Blood that was shed on the Cross. Tomorrow we will hear the testimony of St John the Baptist, a vision of the Trinity in which the Father’s voice is heard, the Spirit is seen descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove and his identity is revealed, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”
Today’s Gospel story is sheer magic. From its first appearance 2,000 years’ ago to the present day it has blown the minds and fired the imagination of countless writers and poets, artists and musicians, and of entire nations and cultures.
 It can only have been the Protestant Reformation and the Puritan abolition of all popular religious customs in this country that has denuded Great Britain of the many wonderful traditions we meet all over Europe and the Middle East, not to mention those countries on other continents where Catholic, Orthodox and other ancient Christian Churches have taken root. For them all the Epiphany far outweighs Christmas in importance and tradition. We also recall that in the early Church it was only at Epiphany and Easter that people, young and old, were baptised and made members of God’s family.
Outdoor Crib-Belmont Abbey
We all know that much Old Testament imagery lies behind the story of the Magi and the Star. In Matthew’s mind it becomes an anticipation of the fate of the good news of salvation, a fate that he knew so well in the light of the Resurrection

By the time he writes his gospel the Church has become predominantly Gentile, so the believers attracted to the good news of God incarnate are Gentiles just like the Magi. It is through nature that God reveals himself to the Gentiles, and to the Magi through astrology, but it is an imperfect revelation.
 Without the help of the Jewish scriptures they are unable to interpret the revelation, hence the need to ask, “ Where is the infant King of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.” Ironically it is King Herod who provides the answer after consulting the chief priests and scribes. He sends them on to Bethlehem with the treacherous promise. “Go and find out all about the child and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.” The Gentiles come to worship the Saviour of the world, but they must learn from the Jews the history of salvation.

Here Matthew highlights the paradox: those who have the Scriptures, and can understand what the prophets have said, are not willing to worship the newborn king. They reject the Messiah and seek his death. Here we see the essential gospel story in miniature. God has made himself present to us in his Son, Emmanuel, yet this revelation, this Epiphany, was considered an offence and contradiction to many.

On the other hand it was recognised as salvation by those who had eyes to see and hearts to believe. Of these the Magi are the first, the anticipation of all those who would come to worship the risen Christ proclaimed by the apostles.

 In the Star of the King of the Jews at its rising, they see in prophecy, hence the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the One whose kingship would not be fully visible until he had hung from the Cross, beneath the title “The King of the Jews”, and been raised to God’s right hand through the Resurrection

The question for us and for all Christians today is simply this: which road do I follow: that of King Herod and those who reject the truth of the Gospel, the light of faith, or that of the Magi and those who gradually make sense of divine revelation and can grasp what it means to be saved? In other words, what does the Epiphany mean to me?
by Abbot Paul Stoneham.

Our Lady of Belmont, Pray for us
                                                                      Our Lady of Tintern,  Pray for us
                                                                      St David....                  Pray for us
                                                                      St Winifride...             Pray for us