- Priory Church of St Mary, Abergavenny
The Priory Church of St Mary, Abergavenny is a church in the centre of the
market townof Abergavenny, Monmouthshirein south east Walesin the United Kingdom.
St. Marys has been called 'the
Westminster Abbeyof Wales' because of its large size [http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/710315] and the number of high status church monumenttombs and the rare medieval effigiessurviving within it [http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/710352] .
It was originally the church of the
Benedictine Prioryestablished under Hamelin de Balunthe first Norman holder of the title Lord Abergavennyor later Baron Bergavennyin the 1090s. At this time it was a cell of the Abbey of Saint Vincent at Le Mansin France. Recent archaeological surveys have revealed significant finds of Roman Samian warepottery, suggesting that the Church may have been on the site of a previous site of Romano-Britishand possibly Celtic worship. Henry de Abergavennywas a Priorhere and later at Llandaffin the late 12th century and was chosen to assist at the Coronation of King John I of Englandin 1199.
Successive Lords of Abergavenny were by necessity also benefactors, including the
piousand ruthless William de Braose, 7th Baron Abergavenny.
John Hastings, 2nd Baron Hastings, called on the Pope to set up an investigation into the Priory, in which the monks were accused of failing to maintain the Benedictine Rule and the Prior, Fulk Gaston, absconded to the mother Abbey with the church silver!
Dissolution of the Monasteriesthe Priory had only the Prior and four monks. Due to the close connections between the Lords of Abergavenny and the Tudor dynasty the priory was spared and became the parish church.
The church is
cruciformin layout and impressively large with a chanceland nave172 feet long or 52 metres in length.
The central tower has Ten bells.
The church is mainly in the
Decoratedand Perpendicular Period architectural styles and was like many churches subjected to Victorian period refurbishment in the 19th century with sadly little trace of the original Norman architecturesurviving. The Norman Baptismal fontwas rediscovered in the churchyardin the 19th century; it had been removed from the church in the 17th century by a local Baptistminister, John Abbot, on the grounds that he did not believe in infant baptism.
oaken choir stallswith carved misericords and carved lattice work backs are 15th century survivals. They bear the name of the Prior at that time named 'Wynchestre' and his own stall remains, slightly raised and surmounted by a mitre.
The chief claims to fame for the church today lie in its collection of effigies. The effigies are in wood,
alabasterand marbleand range in date from the 13th century to the 17th century. One effigyis that of John de Hastings, Lord of Abergavenny (died 1324) and shows him as a young knight, wearing a long surcoatover a hauberkand hood of fine chainmail.
The Lewis Chapel
In the Lewis
Chapelwithin the priory church are two female effigies, one holding a heartin her palm, a device used to signify a possible 'heart only' burial and dates from the end of the 13th century. Her identity is unsure but she is certainly a high status individual as she bears a shieldbearing a coat of arms, which is rare for a female effigy. Her neighbour, a second female effigy, dated from the 14th century, is likely to be Eva de Braosewho died while pursuing her pet Red squirrelwhen its escaped and ran along the castle walls at Abergavenny Castle, causing Eva to fall to her death while attempting to recapture it. The effigy has a light chain around her waist and was documented once as having been attached to a small squirell which formed part of the effigy. It has since been knocked off or defaced. This act of vandalism most likely dates from the Commonwealth of Englandperiod (1649 - 1660) under Oliver Cromwell.
The Herbert Chapel
The Herbert Chapel contains
recumbentmonuments and effigies in both alabasterand marbleassociated with the ap Thomas and Herbert families. Sir Richard Herbert was brought up with the young Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, at Raglan Castle. In 1485 Herbert supported Henry's claim to the throne, fighting with him as he defeated Richard IIIat the Battle of Bosworth. It is this support that ultimately saw St Mary's spared the worst of the despoliation of monasteries in the dissolution.
Within the chapel are also
brassesdating from the 16th centuryand 17th century.
Jesse[http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/710335] is an elaborate, very large 15th centurywooden carving which would have once been part of an even larger carving forming a Jesse Treetelling the lineageof Jesus Christbased on that in the Bible. It is unique in Britain and described by Tate Britainas one of the finest medieval sculptures in the world.
The Priory Church of St Mary Today
The church also contains a large 24 foot
tapestrydepicting the history of Abergavenny and constructed to mark the Millenniumin 2000. This is shortly to he hung on public display in the adjacent tithe barnwhich has recently been restored as the Priory's Heritage Centre.
* [http://www.stmarys-priory.org/ St Mary's Priory website]
* [http://irenamorgan.users.btopenworld.com/epriory.htm Local History website info]
* [http://www.history.uk.com/articles/index.php?archive=34 History UK website]
* [http://www.stmaryspriorychoir.org/ The Choir website]
* [http://irenamorgan.users.btopenworld.com/etap.htm The Tapestry info]
* [http://www.shipoffools.com/Mystery/2002/465Mystery.html A review of the church from a mystery shopper / worshipper]
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