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Views from the Vicarage...

Come with me on a day out

July and August are times to enjoy a break away, as we can’t travel abroad (largely), I want to give you some information for a day out, on the boundary of our Diocese and the Diocese of Monmouth. The Valley of Ewyas follows the R. Honddu from just above Aberegavenny to Hay-on-Wye in the north. Within this valley, there are several rather ancient and very interesting churches. Take the A465 north of Abergavenny, turn off at Llanfihangel Crucorney – turn left at the Skirrid Mountain Inn (a pub full of history, which does quite acceptable pub grub too!).

As you begin driving north up the valley, you will need to turn right to the tiny village of Cwmyoy, where you will see up on the hillside, St.Martin’s Cwmyoy. The church has suffered from subsidence over the centuries, nothing is straight and true. The church is difficult to date but the North-West window in the nave is the oldest feature, from the 12th century. The initial landslips must have occurred soon after the original construction as the medieval fabric of the church shows evidence of repairs and rebuilding in attempts to address the instability of the site. The tower is medieval but cannot be dated with certainty. A Victorian restoration by J. James Spencer in 1887 added buttresses to the nave and chancel and flying buttresses to the tower.  These efforts sought to stabilise the church rather than to "set (it) straight".  Further renovations took place in 1991.  St Martin's is known as "the crooked church" due to the extreme nature of its non-alignment and has been called "the most crooked in Britain".  The church is an active church in the parish of Llanvihangel Crucorney with Oldcastle and Cwmyoy and Llanthony. 

On the opposite side of the valley, you will find St.Issui’s church in Patricio. Issui was an early Welsh saint who lived by the well next to the site of the church.  Following his murder, the well became a place of pilgrimage and the church was founded with the offerings of pilgrims in 1060.  Gerald of Wales is reputed to have preached at the church in 1188 while on his tour of Wales. You will find this delightful church, high up on the steep sided valley, in the village of Patrishow. The church comprises a nave, chancel and porch with a separate shrine-chapel to the West.  The style throughout is Gothic. The wall to the right of the porch has a rare stone bench facing the preaching cross in the churchyard.

The rood screen is the highlight of the interior.  It dates from 1500 and was sensitively restored.  It stretches the entire nave, and has a frieze of dragons or wyverns expectorating vines. In addition to the rood screen, the church has a significant collection of wall paintings. They comprise four groups: a Stuart Coat of Arms which the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales considers are those of James I; two groups of Biblical texts, including the Lord's Prayer, the Decalogue and the Apostles' Creed; and a "Doom Figure" of Death as a skeleton with an hourglass in his left hand and a knife in his right, which dates from the 17th century.

Now we journey north up the valley floor, towards Llanthony Priory, which you will find on your right approx. a couple of miles ahead. Llanthony Priory is a partly ruined former Augustinian priory in the secluded Vale of Ewyas. The priory is a Grade I listed building. Within the precincts of the Priory are three other buildings with Grade I listed status: the Abbey Hotel; St David's Church, and Court Farm Barn.

The priory dates back to around the year 1100, when Norman nobleman Walter de Lacy reputedly came upon a ruined chapel of St. David in this location, and was inspired to devote himself to solitary prayer and study. He was joined by Ersinius, a former Chaplain to Queen Matilda, the wife of King Henry I, and then a band of followers. A church was built on the site, dedicated to St John the Baptist, and consecrated in 1108. By 1118, a group of around 40 monks from England founded there a priory of Canons Regular, the first in Wales.

In 1135, after persistent attacks from the local Welsh population, the monks retreated to Gloucester where they founded a secondary cell, Llanthony Secunda. However, around 1186 another member of the de Lacy family, Hugh, the fifth baron, endowed the estate with funds from his Irish estates to rebuild the priory church, and this work was completed by 1217.  

The Priory became one of the great medieval buildings in Wales, in a mixture of Norman and Gothic architectural styles. Renewed building took place around 1325, with a new gatehouse. On Palm Sunday, April 4, 1327, the deposed Edward II stayed at the Priory on his way from Kenilworth Castle to Berkeley Castle, where he is alleged to have been murdered.

Following Owain Glyndŵr's rebellion in the early 15th century, the Priory seems to have been barely functioning. In 1481 it was formally merged with its daughter cell in Gloucester, and after 1538 both houses were suppressed by Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The buildings at Llanthony gradually decayed after the Dissolution to a ruin, although in the early 18th century the medieval infirmary was converted to the Church of St David. 

In 1869, Joseph Leycester Lyne (known as Father Ignatius) founded an Anglican monastic institution in nearby Capel-y-ffin which he named Llanthony Abbey. It survived until 1908, and its buildings were later the home of artist Eric Gill.

If you are heading north, towards Hay-on-Wye, passing around Hay Bluff, you will see the tiny church of Capel-y-ffin on your left.

Enjoy your day out!

Your Friend and Vicar,

Canon Phillip

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