St Michael & All Angels Church

History of our Church

Men's Group



 

The medieval church of St Michael at Llantarnam with its fine Tudor Tower and C16 chancel arcade is a grade ll listed buiding and well worth a visit. It was probably built by the monks for the use of the local community.

The church is of early 12th Century design and occupies the site of an earlier building, the foundations of which have been uncovered. The earlier work may have been a church - possibly the ancient chapel of St Aaron that may have been a private chapel to the nearby Llantarnam Abbey. The basic structure is twelfth century and there is evidence that it was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary & Mary Magdalene, on her feast day, July 22nd 1179.

an early drawing of the Church

The church building was radically altered in the 15th century, but, far from falling into decay when it became monastic property, a thorough reconstruction took place.The east of the church was renewed, a north Chapel (the present Lady Chapel) was built and the aisles were lighted with larger windows. A church tower was added, rather squat and without windows, strongly constructed, its battlemented walls being one metre thick.

The chapel to the north seems to have been added in the fifteenth century, possibly as a lady chapel. (The Cistercians were known for their special devotion to the Virgin Mary.) it was referred to in 1535 as the 'chapel of St Michael near the monastry'. Some of the chapel stonework including the Italian marble altar reredos more than likely came from the Cistercian Abbey at Llantarnam.

In the 16 th century the poet Sawnder Sion who was known as the "Lion of Llantarnam" and was a protégé of Llantarnam Abbey died. He had been one of the lay brothers or conversi. He lived at Llangovan but desired to be buried in the Church of Llanfihangel Llantarnam , presumably as this was after the dissolution of the monasteries the closest Church (which had belonged to the abbey). He was buried beneath the Choir in the Church and the burial was witnessed by Dafydd Benwyn another poet who wrote:

  • "In the choir of St Michael
    Is a bed. I shall weep
    There is poetry there
    And great learning and choice knowledge.
    And there went the lion of the monastery Of Deuma yesterday to our regret."  

(Deuma is one of the names by which the Monastery was known.)

This is referred to by Dr D.H. Williams in "The Welsh Cistercians" published by Gracewing  (2001) and by J.H. Bradney in the History of Monmouthshire (The hundred of Usk part 2)

Marble altar rerdos

The stone arches, early renaissance in shape, to the north chapel were put in during the sixteenth century, possibly after the dissolution of the monastery, when the Morgan family took to using the chapel as a burial place. It contains a massive 16th century tomb bearing the family arms.

The church of St. Michael, restored in 1860, is an ancient building of stone in the Gothic style, consisting of chancel with side chapel, nave, south porch and an embattled western tower containing 6 bells: in the chancel are some handsome marble monuments : the mortuary chapel of the Dowling family, adjoining the chancel, is separated from it by two ancient freestone arches: the church was entirely new roofed in 1899. The register dates from the year 1727. At that time the living was a vicarage, net yearly value £108, with 21 acres of glebe, in the gift of the Bishop of Llandaff. A Cemetery, six acres in extent, was formed in 1892 at a cost of £3,100.

Early Renaissance Stone Arches looking towards the Lady Chapel

The present church building prior to restoration in 1921, had walls covered with plaster and an enclosed 'barrel' roof. When the plaster was removed a magnificent series of medieaval murals were uncovered, one of the Virgin with a boy altar server, others of a priest dressed in mediaeval clothing, Elijah in the wilderness and St John the baptist. They had been covered with lime wash at the time of the reformation, unfortunately they were lost during repair work and no record was made.