St Mary's Priory Church, Usk, Monmouthshire
Exterior photography: Peter Williams (except where indicated)
Date: 11 October 2007
Camera: Fuji FinePix 2800 Zoom digital
Interior photography: John Ball
Date: 12 August 2016
Camera: Canon IXUS 115 HS digital compact
Dedication: St Mary
Built: 12th century onwards
The Normans who conquered our land were an interesting study in mediaeval personality. Having raised their castles and cowed the country-folk they turned their thoughts to the next world. The churches which they now built bore little relation in size to the population; rather were they an offering, a propitiation, to God, on the basis that the more glorious the church the greater would be the chance of eternal felicity for its builder, his family, his retainers. If, in addition, a group of monks or nuns could be housed near the church, their prayers for the soul of the founder would strengthen his chance. So it was that at Usk the prioress and her five nuns prayed daily for their founder, Richard de Clare, his son, Gilbert, his grandson, Richard and later benefactors.
Sketch by Fred J. Hando (1964)
An early charter was quoted in 1330 by Elizabeth de Burgh, who confirmed in her own charter the endowments granted by her grandfather, Richard.
These included the tithes of St. Mary's, Usk (among which the ninth fish was especially noted), of Llanbadoc, Llangeview, Raglan and Glascoed; their property was widespread, with such items as 27 acres at Trostrey, near the hermitage and 30 acres near the hermitage at Trosty which, says Bradney, might have been Estavarney.
Offerings to images in St. Mary's and in the chapels of St. Radegund and St. Mary Magdalen, belonged also to the priory. The chapel of Radegund is recorded by Adam of Usk as being within the walls of the monastery. [Source: Here and There in Monmouthshire, by Fred J. Hando, R.H. Johns, Newport, 1964]
Note 2: At the dissolution, the 12th century nave and central tower of the Benedictine nunnery founded by Richard de Clare in c1135 were saved for parochial use, three of the round arches under the tower being blocked when the transepts and choir were destroyed. A vestry lies on the site of the north transept. The three south windows and the west bay of the nave are 19th century. The four bay arcade is 13th century. The parishioners provided themselves with a wide new aisle with west and north porches in the 15th century. The fine screen closing off the east bay of both nave and aisle has vine patterns, roses, foliage, and tracery. Fixed upon it is a brass commemorating the celebrated chronicler Adam of Usk, c1365-1421. Other monuments include that of a 17th century soldier who "did advance a pyke for his Queene" and a scroll to Usk Grammar School founder Roger Edwards. [Source: The Old Parish Churches of Gwent, Glamorgan & Gower, by Mike Salter, Folly Publications, Malvern, 1991; ISBN 1-871731-08-9]
Note 3: Thought to have originally been an aisleless cruciform church, having a central, crossing tower and eastern apse, St Mary's Church, Usk has now been extended to the west, has had a northern aisle added and lost its south and eastern limbs: the church is thought either to have been built de novo for the Benedictine priory (see NPRN 20700), in about 1135, or to have been adapted as a conventual church at that time; it was extensively altered following the Reformation and the dissolution of the Priory. There are two elegant late Gothic porches, the one on the north side having a finely carved and moulded entrance arch and a two bay interior with decorative vaulting and stone foliage. There is a large organ dated 1862, and 18th century pulpit and altar rails. [Source: Coflein database of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (accessed 2 Aug 2016)]
Above: Memorial to St David Lewis
Note 4: A Benedictine priory was founded at Usk in 1160 by Richard de Clare, nicknamed 'Strongbow'. Usk Priory was one of only three monastic houses for nuns in all of Wales before the Reformation. The Priory church served simultaneously as both the parish church and the nun's church. The original monastic building extended east and west of the striking tower, but later a north aisle was added to serve the townsfolk. Just outside the porch is the grave of St David Lewis (see below), one of the '40 Martyrs of England and Wales' who was canonised as a Roman Catholic saint in 1970. In 1679 Lewis was executed for not renouncing his faith, near the current Catholic church on Porthycarne Street.[Source: Britain Express website (accessed 2 Aug 2016)]
AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM|
SAINT DAVID LEWIS SJ
PRIEST AND MEMBER OF
THE SOCIETY OF JESUS
BORN ABERGAVENNY 1616
ORDAINED PRIEST 20 July 1642
MARTYRED FOR HIS FAITH
AT USK 27 AUGUST 1679
BEATIFIED BY POPE PIUS XI
15 DECEMBER 1929
CANONISED BY POPE PAUL VI
25 OCTOBER 1970
IF ANY MAN SHOULD SUFFER LET HIM SUFFER
FOR BEING A CHRISTIAN AND NOT BE ASHAMED
BUT GIVE GLORY TO GOD
1 PETER 4 v.16
Note 4: Fr David Lewis laboured on the Hereford-Monmouth border for more than 30 years. Amidst the mayhem of the Oates Plot, he was arrested as he prepared to offer Holy Mass at Llantarnam, Cwmbran on 17th November 1678. At that time, the law of the land deemed it High Treason to be a Catholic Priest and to say Mass in the country. Having been found guilty of High Treason, Fr Lewis was condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the usual punishment meted out to those convicted of the crime of High Treason. On 27th August 1679 he was taken from his cell in Usk Gaol and dragged on a hurdle to a place knows as the Coniger and there executed for his faith, his priesthood, and for the Mass. The site of the Saint's execution is near the Catholic Church in Porth-y-Carne Street. The martyred Jesuit was given a decent burial, an indication of the esteem in which the priest was held by all classes. His butchered remains were reverently carried in procession to the Priory Church of St Mary, Usk, where the incumbent was Phineas Rogers, and interred in the Churchyard just outside the west porch. Fr David Lewis S J was the Last Welsh Martyr.
Above: Detail of carving near west entrance [photography: John Ball].
[Source: Last Welsh Martyr blogspot (accessed 2 Aug 2016)]
Below West entrance [photography: John Ball].|
Below: Memorial to Walter Jones|
inside church near west door.
"Water lones I doe him
prayse a valian sovdiovr
in his days vnto the wars
wovld he goe to fight ag
ainst his forraine foe to
advavnce a pike before his qveene
the which Elisabeth have
seene his sword and speare
he did advavnce and then he
tooke his way to France and
landed in the Ile of Ree
where his desire was to bee
and to the Lord he gave the
prayse that he came home to
end his dayes and whilst I in my
grave doe sleepe I pray the
Lord my sovle to keepe
Water Jones deceased
the 14th day of Febrvary 1656."
Above: Unusual arrangement of pipes on great organ of 1862, brought from Llandaff Cathedral in 1900.
Above: Northern half of magnificent 15th century rood screen, which spans both nave (south) and aisle (north).
Below: Medieval font (left) and example of stained glass windows (right).