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St Mary's Priory Church, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Denomination: Anglican

Dedication: St Mary

Built: 14th Century
Partially rebuilt: 1882-1896
Photography: John Ball
(Exterior) Date: 14 May 2000
                 Camera: Sigma SA-300 35 mm SLR
(Interior) Date: 11 Dec 2013
                 Camera: Canon IXUS 115 HS digital compact

Note 1: This large cruciform church served a priory founded by Hamelin de Ballon in circa 1100. When dissolved in 1536 there were only a prior and four monks. The nave was already used by townsfolk, who then took over the whole building. For a while, the chancel was used as a school, but is now part of the church again. It and the transepts are essentially 14th century work, altered after being ravaged by Owain Glyndwr in 1402, and since several times restored. The nave and north aisle were entirely rebuilt 1882-96. Among the furnishings are a Norman font, probably from another church, late mediaeval choir stalls with miserichords carved with various motifs, and a wooden representation of the tree of Jesse, probably from a reredos. On a board in the south transept are Royal Arms dating from 1709. There are more effigies in Abergavenny Priory than in any other Welsh church.
[Extracted from SALTER, Mike (1991) The Old Parish Churches of Gwent, Glamorgan & Gower, Folly Publications, Malvern, Worcestershire; ISBN 1-871731-08-9]

St Mary's Priory
St Mary's Priory
Above: View through nave towards east window.

St Mary's PriorySt Mary's Priory
Above: Chancel and east window.

St Mary's Priory
Above: Recumbent figure of Jesse late-15th century (see note 2, below).

Note 2: The figure of Jesse is the only surviving element of a huge composition, and is one of the finest pieces of late-medieval sculpture remaining in England or Wales. The initial dismantling of the Tree of Jesse took place in the 16th century. The great figure of Jesse lies recumbent, his head resting on a pillow supported by a singe angel. Jesse's missing right hand was a separate piece, dowelled on, but otherwise the whole figure is carved out of a single piece of what must have been a massive oak. The wooden Jesse was selected because of its particular quality and size. There would have been a whole tree sprouting from the middle of this figure with the entire genealogy, all of the various ancestors, of Christ displayed on its branches. Carved with a particularly strong and confident sensitivity to line and scale from a single enormous piece of oak, it sits on a mattress made from richly-grained Douglas fir. [Source: Information card displayed alongside the figure of Jesse]

St Mary's Priory
Above: Collection of monuments and effigies in the Herbert Chapel.

St Mary's Priory
Above: Dr David Lewis, died 1584, Judge of the High Court of Admiralty in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Below: George de Canteloupe, 10th Lord of Abergavenny, died 1273, or John Hastings, 11th Lord of Abergavenny, died 1313 (see note 3 below).

St Mary's Priory

Note 3: The wooden effigy, said by Mr Morgan (though with a query) to represent George de Cantelupe, the 10th Lord of Abergavenny, lies on a trestle in the centre of the Herbert Chapel. Symonds [p.233 et seq] describes its position when he saw it [in 1645] as under the north window, and says that the person it Commemorates was called the builder of the church, but it gives him no name. The present church was, however, built in the fourteenth century, and George de Cantelupe died in 1273. It is probable that this represents John de Hastings, the 11th Lord, who died in 1313.
Sources for Note 3:
1. A History of Monmouthshire, by Joseph Alfred Bradney, Part II The Hundred of Abergavenny, Mitchell Hughes and Clarke, London, 1906 (page 164);
2. Some Account of the Monuments in the Priory Church, Abergavenny, by Octavius Morgan, Monmouthshire and Caerleon Antiquarian Association, Newport, 1872 (accessed 20 May 2017 on the website);
3. Diary of the Marches of the Royal Army During the Great Civil War, kept by Richard Symonds, edited by CC E Long, printed for the Camden Society, 1859 (accessed 20 May 2017 on the website).

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