The Church is dedicated to Saint Wonnow or Winwaloe, an Abbot or Confessor. The Saint’s name is given differently as Winwalloe, Gwenaloe, Wingualvens, Winwaloy and Walovay. At the Abbey of Landevennec, Brittany, he is known as Gwenhole.
The history of the Saint is confused and in part mythological. It would appear he was born in Wales of Celtic parents, some time in the mid 5th or 6th century (in Britain it is thought either 457 or 462; at Landevennec it is thought during the 6th Century) and died 532 approx. The family were driven out of Wales by Saxon invaders and settled in France. Young Winwalloe became a disciple of Abbot Budoc and after a short time in Ireland was asked by the Abbot to set up a settlement with eleven monks on the island of Tibidi near Brest. After three years the island was thought to be unsuitable and the monks moved to Landevennec on the River Aulne near Brest. There a semi-fortified monastery was built – the ruins and museum are well worth visiting.
Besides Wonastow, there are churches dedicated to St Winwalloe at East Portlemouth and Gunwalloe in the West Country near Heston, probably following the movements of monks from Llandevennec during periods of persecution.
The first church on this site at Wonastow appears to have been built in the 7th century when Cynfwr ap Lago gave the church and village to the Church in Llandaff. The price he paid for this property was given in old records as:-
a good horse
the value of twelve cows
a useful dog worth three cows
a second horse worth three cows
The Church went with the Manor from the early 16th century and until the early 20th century was in the gift of the Milborne family. (The family tree hangs in the nave.)
John Milborne, High Sherrif, was a supporter of the Parliamentarians during the civil war. Troops were garrisoned at Wonastow Court and their horses stabled in the church.
The present building was greatly restored in the 1860s. In 1863 the floor was placed over several tombs in the chancel. A plaque giving the names, dating from 1695 to 1804, is on the north wall.
Further restoration was made by Sir John and Lady Searle after they came from Dartmouth to live at Wonastow Court in the 1880s. In 1913 they presented a Rood Screen and an oak reredos.
The steep roof, supported by four pairs of unusual hammer beams, is centuries old. This was restored in 1977 mainly by parochial effort.
The church is basically an early English building of the 12th century with a western tower surmounted by a lantern and pryamadical roof.
The porch was added in the early 1900s, a present by Lady Searle.
As you enter the porch you will see a statue of the Madonna and Child, and looking up at her, a couple of angels with Rossetti faces. There is a holy water stoup near the main door. The font is embellished with traditional Norman cable moulding. The screen, which is of extreme beauty, is modern. In the windows is some black and yellow glass which is believed to be fragments of old windows.
The altar, which was given by Lady Adela Searle, and consecrated by Charles, Lord Bishop of Monmouth, in 1922, has consecration crosses on the slab and symbols of alpha, omega and the chi-ro monogram are in the front panels. It is in this altar that the relics of St Sebastian, St Hilary and St Agatha, which were brought from the city of Rome, were deposited by Fr George Lovibond, a former priest of St Wonnow’s.
The Reredos is modern and contains figures of the Virgin Mary, St Dubritius, St Peter and St Joseph. To the left of the altar is the Sacrament House with tabernacle and two adoring angels.
To the right of the altar is the canopied memorial to John and Christian Milborne, once owners of Wonastow Court. Although John died in 1637 and their figures have disappeared, their four sons and seven daughters can still be seen at prayer, wearing Stuart costume.
At the west end of the church is a Hatchment bearing 1 and 4, Argent, a cross moline sable pierce of the field (Milborne); 2 and 3 ermine, two bars gules, each charged with three mullets or pierced of the second. On an escutcheon of pretence: 1 and 4 sable, a chevron between three gauntlets or (Gunter); 2 and 3, Argent, a chevron gules between three bulls heads coupled sable (Bullen). Crest: a demi-lion rampant sable, holding a cross moline sable pierced argent.
This is the achievement of George Milborne Esq, who married Mary Gunter of Abergavenny. The Hatchment was restored in 1978 by Major-General LHO Pugh, DSO, CB CE, of Wonastow House.
In the vestry at the back of the church, above the Timber louvres of the Tower, hang two bells, one of 1769 and the other a ‘Ting Tang’ of 1778.
The records of the parish (births, marriages, deaths) date back to 1674.
Wonastow Parish has always been small both in area and numbers. In 1890 there were 127 parishioners, in 1990 there were 71. In the Parish there is also a small but well attended Methodist Chapel. Relationships between Church and Chapel are excellent with members attending both, particularly at festivals.