Ewenny - St Michael and All Angels
Visitors approaching Ewenny Priory Church along the lane may be forgiven for thinking they are coming to a castle, for their first sight is of a tower, gatehouse and fortified walls – fortifications first erected in the 12th century and extended in the late 13th, providing protection for the monks from the repeated raids of the Welsh from the north. The priory housed a garrison of soldiers, with the church tower acting as a look-out post.
Ewenny Priory Church has been described as best preserved and complete Norman church in Wales. This was not the first church on this site on the banks of the river Ewenny. There is mention of an ‘Ecclesia de Euenhi’ dating back to Celtic Christian times, and there are fragments of crosses with typical Celtic design found built into the walls, now on display in the south transept.
The church was built by William de Londres, lord of Ogmore, between 1115 and 1120. In 1141 it was given by William’s son, Maurice, to the church of St Peter and Gloucester ‘in order that a convent of monks might be formed.’ The nave of the Priory Church provided for the parishioners of the parish, while the presbytery and transepts were reserved for the monks. The two parts were separated by a wall, the pulpitum screen. By the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 the number of monks at Ewenny had dwindled to three. The nave continued as the parish church and the monastic end used as a farm shed by the owners of the adjoining mansion. The nave remains in the possession of the Church in Wales, while the presbytery and transepts is in the guardianship of Cadw, the historic environment service of the Welsh government.
Repairs were made to the Priory Church between 1869 and 1886, and the north aisle and porch reconstructed in 1895. The most recent restoration took place between 1998 and 2004, which included the insertion of a vestry, kitchen and toilet in the west end, which had become a ruin, and ramped access to the monastic end.
Entering the church through a 16th century porch, one is immediately struck by the massive round Norman pillars, separating the nave from the north aisle. The eye is then drawn to the glass screen above the 13th century pulpitum wall. This was inserted in 2006, the work of the international artist Alexander Beleschenko and is a representation of the Resurrection of Christ, an empty Cross set in the clouds of glory, with butterflies symbolising the resurrection of the Christian soul.
The monastic end of Ewenny Priory Church is entered through the north pulpitum wall door. This leads into the crossing under the tower, in the floor of which are some original 14th century tiles. In the south transept are the fragments of pre-Norman stones with typical Celtic design, and the tomb stones of the founders and priors of the Priory and of the later Carne and Turbervill families. The earliest and finest is that of Maurice de Londres, with a floriated cross and an inscription describing Maurice as ‘the founder’. In the wall can be seen the doorway for the spiral staircase, the night-stair leading from the dormitory, now lost. This also leads to the tower along a gallery which gave a view of the presbytery for infirm monks and also was used as a singing gallery. A reproduction of a watercolour of the crossing and transept by JMW Turner, painted in 1797, is on the north wall, which shows clearly the monastic end being used as a farm shed.
The presbytery is entered through an oak screen, the upper half of which is 14th century, the lower early 16th century. Around the east windows are decorative wall-paintings, the earliest dated to the 1140s, making it the only surviving Romanesque wall-paintings in Wales. These were restored in 2002-3. The Victorian stained glass shows St Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of the Priory Church.
Ewenny Priory Church is listed Grade I ‘as an outstanding example of Romanesque Norman architecture in Wales’.
Ordnance Survey Grid Reference: SS 91250 77797
Post-code (for Sat Nav): CF35 5BW
Times of services: Sundays 9.30am