The Anglican Churches in the Monmouth Area

The Anglican Churches in the Monmouth Area

The Pool at Bethesda

Given by Rev Janet Bromley, Sunday 26th May 2019  St Thomas

 

The pool at Bethesda – not a particularly attractive place when I saw it in Jerusalem – attracted multitudes in Jesus’ day because the waters were famous for their curative powers.  The site that I visited was discovered in the 20thcentury and excavated – it may or may not be the actual pool mentioned in today’s gospel.  It is about 200feet wide and 315 feet long and consists of a twin basin (one side for men and one for women)  Herod had added five elaborate porticos surrounding its four sides and dividing the two basins. There were stairways in the corners, which allowed descent into the pool.

There the pilgrims and sick waited for the moment when an angel descended to disturb the waters – when that happened the first to enter the pool came to a new state of health – restored from whatever disease had stricken them.  This was what brought the crowds – waiting for what was presumably an intermittent spring, which caused the periodic bubbling of the water – or maybe it was Herod who had designed the first jacousi!

This is what the paralysed man was hoping for – a chance to be first in the pool – but someone else always beat him to it – and this had been going on for 38 years ….. not much hope then that he could ever be cured – made new……..

 

But is this telling us the truth about God’s healing power – is it intermittent – only there for those who can beat the queue? That is not the truth about the God that I have grown to love ………. for I believe in the constant presence of our powerful, loving and healing God – so what is really going on when Jesus comes to this man at the pool?

 

This pool where hundreds of men and women – sick in mind and body came to seek healing presents us with a pictorial image of our own lives and experience:  what happens is that the water not only cleanses those who come – leading them to a new healing and wholeness – but first of all it reveals to them truths about themselves which sometimes they find difficult to acknowledge – sometimes we find things that we don’t particularly like: ugliness, violence – deep seated anger – things in our past and our present which we have hidden deep down in our sub consciousness – and coming to the pool may reveal those things which we have suppressed so that we can harness them and integrate them into our new life ………. the man who came to the pool was not only afflicted by paralysis but also by self pity – I can’t help the way I am – I can’t jump in by myself – I need someone to help – the others are to blame that I have been here so long – they always push ahead of me …………..

Jesus helps the man to realise that the answer to his problem lay within himself – and Jesus is the constant presence and power of God in this healing – he was more powerful than the waters of the Bethesda pool.

 

Jesus asks the man: DO YOU WANT TO BE WHOLE? – he awakens in the man the desire and will to be alive – before the man had been seemingly impotent – unable to make a free decision – now he was empowered and strengthened so when Jesus commands the impossible

STAND UP TAKE UP YOUR BED AND WALK – the man does just that.

Jesus potent words have given new life to the man who had been spiritually and physically dead – he had been restored to new life and wholeness.

So what are the things which afflict our lives the deep down hidden thoughts – feelings – think for a moment of an adult disclosing child abuse and the anger – hurt – guilt and shame that they need to discover and deal with …. our need for wholeness may not be so dramatic – it could arise from broken relationships – past failures – even a feeling that God is no longer present in our lives…

The good news from this story today is that we don’t have to wait our turn – wait on the moment when God is present in the angel – in the troubled waters – because we can practise the presence of God each and every day of our lives – we can listen for Jesus asking us:

Do you want to be whole? Do you want to trust me?  Do you want to receive my Spirit?

We can ask for a vision of his constant presence in our lives and in the world – this is what Paul did when he went to find a place of prayer, outside the city gate – he was seeking somewhere to practise the presence of God – so that he could reveal that presence to those who came to listen – and when they came God’s power released in them the freedom to choose – to choose to follow and to become part of the story of salvation —  and that is what happened for Lydia – from that day she was included in the story and changed totally because of God’s power working through Paul.

 

A vision had led Paul to Macedonia and it was the vision of a man named John that we read about from the Book of Revelation:

A vision of the new Jerusalem – a place of encounter with God – a place where in worship and prayer we can consciously meet with God and sometimes catch a glimpse of his reality. Practising the presence of God here in our worship – in our private bible reading and prayer – and day by day in the people we meet and speak and work and play with and in the glory of his creation …God is constantly here with us – we just need to open our eyes and hearts and minds and surrender all those barriers which we sub consciously build up to hide away from him …

God wants us to want to be healed … and isn’t that the very first part of the healing process:  to want to forgive someone …to want to deal with our resentments, anger and shame…

 

The new Jerusalem restores the glory that was lost in the Garden of Eden and rebuilds a community centred on the presence of God; and God transforms our pain into joy and the world’s pain into the world’s joy just as he brought the man out of paralysis into new life.

John’s revelation is about the whole story of salvation from creation to eternity:  the story of the people of God –  and we are as much a part of that story as the paralysed man or any other character in the scriptures – and we are being called to take our place in that story…..

 

There is a choice – not everybody includes themselves – it took the paralysed man 38 years – for Lydia it happened on that day when Paul spoke to the people in a place of prayer outside the city gate….

It happens for us every time we are invited to receive the bread and wine – for as we come  – we are saying yes Lord Jesus, I want to be a part of this story – I want to be healed and made whole again by your power………

 

So as you come this morning for communion – know this – that the bread in your hand and the wine that you sip is bringing you close to the healing power of God:  so now is the time to ask God to release you from all that separates you from his creation – from the love of neighbour and from his love………….

Now is the time to say: Yes Lord I want to be healed

And then in the bread and the wine KNOW the presence of God and know that it will never leave you at this moment and every day of your life until you stand before him face to face – lost in wonder – love and praise for all eternity.

Amen

 

 

 

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Given by Archdeacon Ambrose Mason, at St Thomas Overmonnow, 16th June 2019.

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is one of those aspects of our faith which is very difficult indeed to understand. Theologians have spent a huge amount of time on it. It seems to be like trying to work out the pattern of a Tapestry from the back – very difficult.

Three persons in one God. It isn’t something that is spelled out to us in Scripture. It took a long time to discern it through many scriptural writings. It took even longer to begin to grasp some of the reasons why it was important to us believers. I drive a car without having much idea of what is going on under the bonnet. Why do I need to know about the way God is in himself?

But this Sunday our Readings tell us quite a lot about God and we are given some insights into him as God-who-is-three-persons.

Perhaps the challenge of Trinity Sunday is not to be dismayed that we cannot understand fully, but to be reminded to trust, and to receive, and to rejoice again in the relationship of love which God holds out to us.

So let us look to be encouraged from each of our readings – and see again the picture that together they build up for us. I think you have them on the weekly sheet so do please have them in front of you as we go through.

 

First let us look into the reading from Proverbs. We are familiar with the concept of wisdom. Some of us have longed to have some of it for a long time. Too often it is elusive!! Even more of course, we long to see more of it in others – especially in these days of political, economic and social confusion.

The reading from Proverbs is almost unique in scripture in that it seems to make wisdom into a person. Wisdom has her own voice. Wisdom is a ‘she’ crying to ‘he’s’ – and to children. (Those of us men here who are married understand this.) But then the passage goes on to describe wisdom as, a first creation of God, and as part of God’s intention and ordering of creation ‘like a master worker’ – and then –  God delightedin her. She rejoicedin the inhabited world – and delightedin the generations of human beings.

So we have a picture of an eternal heavenly accompanier of God. But importantly, one who has a particular interest and delight in human kind – a glimpse of Earth from Heaven

Is this personification of wisdom perhaps a hint of Trinity?

 

Then Psalm 8 explores the relationship between Heaven and Earth from the other perspective. It is a well known Psalm. The Psalmist has a sense of astonishment that God (‘how majestic is your name in all the earth’) should concern himself at all with human beings. And yet – God isn’t just concerned, he has raised human kind into a highly elevated position with power and oversight. The one who is ‘Majestic in all the earth’ has chosen personally to engage with humankind. God’s relationship with human kind is not remote – it isn’t boss and employee. It’s about God trusting human kind with what he has created.

So far we have a glimpse of God in eternal relationship and God in relationship with human kind; wisdom rejoiced in the inhabited world – with human beings, and mankind realised what God has entrusted to him. Two pictures; earth from heaven and heaven from earth.

 

Now, in our Gospel we have a small portion of that very densely written part of John’s Gospel. Jesus’ teaches about his relationship with God the Father, the Spirit of Truth and also human kind.  It is vital to remember that all these 3 chapters, 15, 16 and 17, begin with that well known declaration of Jesus that he is the True Vine and we, his people, are the branches of that vine. This whole section is about the closeness relationships within the Godhead and of the closeness of our relationship with God and our absolute dependence on him.

In our short Gospel reading this morning Jesus promises that the work of the Spirit of Truth is to guide believers into all truth.

Jesus declares that Truth comes from the Father – it belongs to Jesus – and it will be shared with us by the Spirit. It is one of the clearest declarations of the Trinitarian life of God in Scripture. And it describes God the Trinity as being focussed on us.

We see a further outworking of that special relationship between God and humankind that we have glimpsed already. The Psalmist wondered at it and the writer of Proverbs declared that Wisdom rejoices in it Can you see the thread? God and us.

 

Our final passage is from Paul and is an extract from the beginning of a major section of his letter. Paul has already reminded his readers of the sure foundation of their relationship with God. In the reading we had he is just beginning to describe to his believing readers what their new life in Christ is going to be like.

Remember Wisdom’s enthusiasm for human kind in the Proverbs reading we had?

Remember the Psalmist’s wonder at the status of human beings before God?

Remember Jesus declaring that the whole Trinity of God works towards the strengthening and deepening of our relationship with him?

The very first thing that Paul wants to affirm to his expectant believers is that they have Peace with God. Lets put ourselves in their place and hear what he says as to us. God is on OUR side now. There is no condemnation – no writing us off – we are not in the business of currying favour with God. We do not earn brownie points – build up a credit balance which might or might not be big enough to by us an annuity into Heaven.

None of that. We have Peace with God, declares Paul.

We can clear our minds of all doubt, all negative thoughts about our relationship with God, all uncertainty. Having entered into the life of faith, God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all on our side – all wanting us to be free from anything which would harm or distort our relationship with God.

 

Paul earths it all in human experience. He knows profoundly that life is not easy – it cannot be when we continue to be in a world where there are those who ridicule and dismiss, and where there are vested interests so opposed to the Gospel of Love.

So he can write confidently and hopefully that ‘suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character; character produces hope and hope won’t let us down because the Holy Spirit has already poured his love into us. He is saying that we have some experience now (a taster if you like) of the glory that will be fully ours when we enter completely into the life of the One who is Love – without anything in the way.

So, the message of this Trinity Sunday is this.

God is for us – he is the permanently safe place for us to be.

As branches of the vine we are indelibly linked into the very being of the God who is love. His life flows into us. Our readings today remind us that whatever the Trinity who is God is actually like in Himself – he has chosen to focus himself on us – to make us what he wants us to be.

Rejoice then, for our life of faith is unmovable and secure – not through anything we have done but because of God. Live! Rejoice! Share God’s love freely and actively – because that is the fruit of the vine – and it will survive everything else!

Be who you are in God’s life because that is what the God-who-is-three wants for you.

AMEN

 

 

You always have the poor with you

Sermon by Bishop Dominic Walker at St Mary’s, 7th April 2019

  1. You may not have heard of the Parish of St Blodwyn (because it’s not in this diocese) but it is a typical Anglican parish church managing to pay their parish share and to keep the church building water tight and in good repair. One of the parishioners, Miss Maisie Roberts died and in her Will she left her house to St Blodwyn’s PCC and thankfully she left it without any strings attached – there were no particular instructions or restrictions and the PCC met to discuss how they should spend the money.
  2. Mrs Myfannwy Jones, a member of the PCC and a friend of the late Miss Roberts argued that Miss Roberts so loved her house that they shouldn’t sell it but keep it in memory of her and put it on the rental market. She was shouted down by Huw Owen-Jones who quoted what Jesus had to say about people who store up treasure on earth and the Vicar quickly intervened to say that they would need to spend a lot of money on the house to be able to put it on the rental market and they didn’t have that kind of money, so the sensible thing would be to sell it.
  3. Twenty year old, Tammy Williams said she thought they should sell the house and give away all the money to help the homeless. Morgan Evans (who liked to quote scripture) spoke against that idea and said, You always have the poor with you. Then Andrew, the young curate (who thought he knew everything) took Morgan to task by telling him that because we always have the poor with us that was no excuse for not helping the poor.
  4. Then seeking to be helpful, Rowena, one of the churchwardens pointed out that in recent years they had put in a new heating and lighting system and now they could see the ancient roof so perhaps they could spend the money having the carved figures re-gilded. This proposal was shot down by those who thought that would be an extravagant waste of money and they should spend it on mission, but when pushed, none of them had any idea of how they might do that, so Rowenna defended her corner and said that re-gilding the bosses and woodwork with gold leaf would be to glorify God and she quoted how when Mary had anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume others complained about such extravagance but Jesus defended her and told them to leave her alone and he said, You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me.
  5. At that point Stanley, the treasurer proposed that they should agree to the sale of the house and when they had the money they could have a further discussion about how to spend it. The proposal was carried Nem Con. and they moved on to discussing if publishing the flower rota complied with the new data protection regulations.
  6. I tell you that story to show the difficulty of understanding the words of Jesus You always have the poor with you and how that text has often been misused either as an excuse for not helping the poor or else to justify extravagance. So let me give you three things to consider.
  7. Firstly, if we look at the bigger picture in the New Testament, Jesus’ bias towards the poor is self-evident and as we read in today’s Gospel even Jesus’ motley gang of disciples kept a common purse so that money could be given to the poor. The other gospels are even clearer about caring for the poor and outcast and the dangers of being rich – camels and needles come to mind.
  8. Secondly, the Greek is open to another possible translation. For the classical scholars among you sometimes the present indicative form of a verb matches the present imperative form as it does here exete, so instead of translating it as You always have the poor with you, could be translated as a command with Jesus saying Have (or keep) the poor with you always.
  9. We need of course to remember the context. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, used a very expensive ointment – it would have cost a year’s wages – and she used it to anoint Jesus. This ointment was used for coronations and burials and so we see it as acknowledging Jesus as a king and also preparing him for his death, so perhaps Jesus is saying, ‘What you are doing is appropriate here and now but in the future make sure you look after the poor’ Keep the poor among you always.
  10. And thirdly, Jesus’ comment about the poor always being with us hints at the Jewish practice of Jubilee with its roots in the Hebrew scriptures (Dueteronomy15:11) where we are also told that those in need will always be with us. To help alleviate their needs there was the practice of Jubilee. Every seven years all debts were cancelled and every 50 years there was a Year of Jubilee when land reforms and release from slavery kicked in, so the poor were released from the oppressive rules and systems that kept them in poverty.
  11. So in conclusion (as they say), The text You always have the poor with you should not be used as an excuse to do nothing to alleviate poverty or as an excuse to justify extravagant spending.
  12. What I think it is saying is that on the one hand You always have the poor with you is a plain fact of life and no religious or political system will totally eradicate it although that is not to say that we shouldn’t try – and on the other hand we have here and now a duty to care for the poor and to keep them with us.

History of St Wonnow’s, Wonastow

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 hawk
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.

History of St Michael’s and All Angels, Mitchel Troy

The name Mitchel Troy is derived from the Welsh name Llanfihangel Troddi which means St Michael by the Trothy. The River Trothy rises in Glen Trothy, three miles east of Llanvihangel Crucorney, then wanders mostly south to pass a field north of the church before flowing into the Wye a mile below Troy House. On the opposite wall is a stained glass window and brass plate to the Revd. Everett, who supervised the restoration. The architect was John Pritchard, the Diocesan architect, who with his partner, JP Sneddon, restored Llandaff Cathedral. Outside at the base of the tower is a stone inscribed ‘Orate Peo Godfride et Johanne’ which is said to be a foundation stone. Members of the Beaufort family were officers of the church in the 19th century. Henry George Talbot was vicar 1825-67; he was the son of the Dean of Salisbury and was married to the daughter of the 5th Duke. He was succeeded by Boscawen Somerset, 1867-74.

INSIDE THE CHURCH

The elaborate font, decorated with netted fish and water lilies, was installed at the reconstruction and is to the left of the South door. To the right is the old Norman font which was found in the Rectory shrubbery some years ago.

There are some interesting stone corbels. On the south wall is an otter with a fish it has just caught. In the middle of the north wall are some flowers and to the right of the entrance to the organ chamber are some wheat and hops. On the outside of the organ chamber five decorations show: an owl, a daffodil, a hawk or kestrel, a flower and a nest of small birds being fed by their mother. Above the nave the corbels are alternately the Beaufort device (a portcullis) and the Cross of St George (at the time of the reconstruction the church belonged to the Church of England).

At the reconstruction an ancient stone altar was found buried at the end of the South aisle. It was in two pieces, of different stone. The five consecration crosses representing the five wounds of Christ were also of two different styles. The slab was remounted under the East window of the South aisle to serve as an altar for the Lady Chapel. Under it is a rather decayed old tombstone which was brought into the church in an attempt to preserve it. It was to Philip Stead, churchwarden in 1723; it read:

Life is unsartin
and death is shuer
sin is the wound
Christ is the cuer.

Also found was a stone which had been used as a piscina but when turned over was found to be the lid of a child’s coffin of early date. This has now been set in the wall of the South aisle.

At the end of the North aisle is a black marble slab incised with a reproduction of the Last Supper by Michaelangelo. It has been crudely mounted in an old communion table.

In 1876 on the choir stalls were erected carved figures of angels playing musical instruments, presumably taken from Psalm 150. Unfortunately these were stolen in March, 1995. They have now been replaced by finials depicting oak, ash, holly, ivy, hawthorn and bramble, carved by John Nethercott and Co. of Hereford and Presteigne.

In the tower are three ancient bells. They are inscribed:

1. G Tyler: H Williams: C Warden EE 1710
2. CACHMAI: Tyler: William: Tucker: Churchwarden 1656
3. Wm Robinson Rector: Phil Stead: Ch Warden EE WE 1723.

The second bell is interesting as it dates from the Commonwealth when the rector had been elected and the church was served by John Hardwicke whose tomb, inscribed ‘preacher of God’s word’ lay on the South side of the chancel.

STAINED GLASS

Opposite the entrance is a window to the Revd Everett. In balanced positions in the North and South aisle are windows to the two army Lieuts. Trower who died in the South African wars. Nearby is a brass plaque to Lt CJ Trower, RN who also died in South Africa.

At the West end of the Chancel are windows to the wife and daughter of the Revd Talbot.

The East Window represents the Ascension.

In the South wall is a window to the wife of the Revd. Sneyd, who gave the Lady Chapel in memory of his son.

At the West end is a window to General EH Somerset, of the Beaufort family, who died in 1886. Nearby are plaques to his son and daughter who died in 1866 and 1883.

OUTSIDE THE CHURCH

The lych gate is roofed in graded stone.

There is a churchyard cross, probably of the 15th century, which is missing the cross and top. It is decorated with ball flowers which are repeated on the pulpit and reredos.

In the spring the churchyard is rich in flowers – snowdrops, primroses, crocus, wood anenomes, daffodils, cowslips, marguerites, red campions, sweet violets, herb robert, lilac, clover.

History of St Thomas the Martyr, Overmonnow

The Dedication is to Thomas a Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered in 1170. There are, or were formerly, a number of these dedications in the area, others being at Shirenewton, Wolvesnewton, Wyesham, Ganarew and (probably) Penrhos. Such dedications doubtless had a political background reflecting the attitude of the Church in the struggle with the King which had brought about St Thomas’s death.

The present church, or part of it, is known to have been in use in 1186 when it was mentioned in the Bull of Pope Urban III. Its original construction can therefore be dated as having taken place in all probability between 1170 and 1186. There may well have been an earlier structure on the site.

Charles Heath, writing in 1800, claimed to identify Saxon features in the arches and windows, but the evidence for this is uncertain.

Some fifty years after being built, in 1233, the church was damaged by fire (as was Monnow Bridge) in the course of the Battle of Monmouth, an action in the baronial uprising against Henry III. In the following year the King authorised the Constable of St Briavels to supply thirteen oaks from the Forest of Dean to repair the damage. In the year 1256 there is an unusual reference to the fact that anchorites were living in St Thomas’s.

For the next five hundred years, or more, information about the church is sparse.

In 1479 an Indulgence was granted by the Bishop of Hereford for the repair of the church, but in 1543 John Leland wrote (of the Monnow Gate) “beyond this gate is a suburb in the diocese of Llandaff where once stood the parish church of Saint Thomas, but now only a little chapel dedicated to the saint.”

At about this time the Monmouth Cap came into prominence. There is a widespread belief that manufacture of the famous cap was centred in Overmonnow which, as a result, became known as Cappers’ Town and Saint Thomas’s as Cappers’ Church. Mr Kissack however has pointed out (a) that nowhere in the known records is Overmonnow referred to as Cappers’ Town, nor is the term used in an contemporary accounts of Monmouth.

In 1611 John Speed published a map of Monmouth, believed to be reasonably accurate, which showed St Thomas’s Church with a square castellated tower at the Western end of a small building.

For the next two hundred years or more there is little information to be had. In the general decline in church-going during the period, Monmouth lost four of its mediaeval churches and Saint Thomas’s probably came close to suffering the same fate. A contemporary picture shows a scene of neglect and decay. The church was for many years a Chapel of Ease to Saint Mary’s Parish Church, and was used for services only on Tuesday.

In 1830 Saint Thomas’s again became a separate parish and major restoration of the church was undertaken by Thomas Henry Wyatt, a prolific architect whose uncle was agent to the Duke of Beaufort at Troy House. Wyatt installed new pews and galleries made from oak grown of the Beaufort estates. Wyatt rebuilt the West front in brick and added a turret. This turret, depicted in a print of c.1850 has been described as being “curiously slavonic”.

Further extensive restoration was carried out in 1874/5 by John Pritchard an architect who had been assistant to the famous Augustus Pugin. Wyatt’s turret was replaced and the West doorway reconstructed in stone.

The vestries were added in 1887/8. The present East window dates from 1957.

In 1989-91 an extensive restoration was carried out costing £72,000, under the direction of Jonathan Price, an architect of the firm of Hook Mason of Hereford. The heating system installed in 1966 had its oil-fired boiler replaced by a gas boiler.

History of St Mary’s Priory Church, Monmouth

A church has been on this site since 1101AD when it formed part of a Benedictine Priory founded by Withenoc – Lord of Monmouth c.1075 – c.1082. The mother church was located in St Florent just outside Saumur in France. After the disestablishment of the monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII, the church went into decay – Monmouth Priory was dissolved in 1536.

The church was later restored by the Georgians, under the guidance of Smith of Warwick in 1773 and further by the Victorians, under the architect George Edmund Street in 1882 at a cost of £6172.00. The spire rises to 60m. and is the work of Nathaniel Wilkinson of Worcester.

The oldest surviving part of the original church is the Norman respond set into the tower which itself is 14th century.

Today’s church is a Victorian remodelling of a Georgian church which cost just over £6000 – the original designs cost £22,000 which could not be raised.  The interior dates from 1882 and was designed to accommodate 1000 people.  Both chapels were later additions.  Many pews have now been removed and replaced by chairs..    The pipe organ to the left of the chancel was rebuilt in 1992 and further dated in 1997 by Nicholson and co.

The Lady Chapel

The Lady Chapel contains an ‘English Altar’ with four riddel posts each with an unusual brass base and wrought iron capital supporting a newly gilded angel. The screen features the remarkable ironwork and woodwork of Letheren and Martin. H.H.Martin made the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons and the pulpit of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The Lady Chapel contains the Reserved Sacrament and is used every day for morning and evening prayer.

 The High Altar and Reredos

 

The high altar is backed by a reredos in the form of a picture which features the ‘Adoration of the Magi’.  It was painted by Watney Wilson RA and dated 1888.  Very little is known about the artist.

The Rood
The Rood (Anglo-Saxon word for CROSS) dominates the entrance to the Chancel in the church. On the rood, Mary and John are shown at the foot of the cross. This is in accordance with what we are told in the Gospel according to St. John.  (John 19:25,26).

The rood was originally plain wood but was painted in the early 70’s to fit into the colour scheme of the church dictated by the rich but deep colours of the stained glass windows.

The rood screen used to separate the Chancel from the Nave but was partly removed and relocated towards the back of the church to form a Narthex.

The Windows

Most of the stained glass is from the studios of Charles Eamer Kempe, a notable Victorian stain glass artist whose glass is to be found in some of the finest cathedrals in Great Britain.

The windows carry his trademark of three wheatsheaves or one wheatsheaf.  The most notable window is located in the tower at the West end of the church.  It is called the ‘Four Rivers Window’ and has Baptism as it’s theme – the four rivers are named in the window as Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.  The reticulated tracery dates from c.1340 whilst the window is dated 1883.

The royal connection with Monmouth is further seen in the ‘Four Edwards Window’ on the South wall.  It features Edward VII who was a good friend of our local Lord Llangattock of the Hendre. The other three kings are Edward the Confessor, Edward I – the creator of Parliament and Edward the Black Prince.

The windows in the lady Chapel have as their subject The Passion. The window on the East wall depicts Christ on the Cross, flanked by St.Mary and St John. Tapestries hang behind each figure. Below the cross are seen the descent from the Cross, the Entombment and the Descent into Hell. One scene shows the devil crushed underneath the doors of Hell as Christ bursts in.

The window on the South wall features events preceding the Crucifixion. The top light shows Pilate presenting Christ to the Jews and Jesus with the sleeping disciples whilst the bottom lights show Christ carrying his cross and the soldiers mocking Jesus.

Boer War window at St Mary’s Church
Showing Henry V, the Medieval Monnow Bridge and Monmouth Borough Seal. 

Geoffrey’s Window

The Priory buildings are located across the green from the church and feature ‘Geoffrey’s Window’. This fine oriel window has the carved 15th century figures of a Knight, an Angel and a Miller supporting the bay.

Geoffrey of Monmouth is renowned for his book on the ‘History of the British Kings’ in which there are references to King Lear and the exploits of King Arthur.

The Icon

The word Icon is a Greek word meaning ‘image’. The icon that you see is that of ‘The mother of God of the Sign’. The Greek letters stand for ‘Mother of God’ -‘He who is’ – and ‘Jesus Christ’. The Church in Wales has an official Iconographer -The Revd. Brian Bessant who prayed through the painting of this Icon. One of the many prayers that can be said as you look upon this Icon is:

Lord God,
As I stand before this icon
Help me to understand that it is not so much I who is
Looking at you, rather, through this icon, Lord, it is
You who are looking at me.

Icons have new meanings to every onlooker. Perhaps Mary is saying: ‘ look! – take from me the very essence of my humanity and godliness – Jesus Christ.’
What do you think?

The Font

The Font of carved Portland stone and green Genoa marble was installed in the present position in 1982.

The Bells

There is a peal of eight bells which were recast by Abraham Rudhall in 1706 and renovated and rehung in 1982. A new oak and glass panelled screen fronts the new entrance to the tower and is the only memorial to the crew of H.M.S. Monmouth, which was lost with all 687 hands in 1914 off the coast of Chile.

The precise origins of the bells are unknown but prior to 1678 there were 5 bells. The sixth bell was cast on Jan.19th. 1678 by John Pennington, a local bell maker. At least two of the bells were removed and recast on the 23rd. June 1685 by Rudhall’s Bell Foundry in Gloucester. All the bells were rehung by Evan Evans of Chepstow in 1704 at a cost of £3.00. The existing ring of eight were recast in 1706 by Abraham Rudhall at a cost of £60. Oil for the new bells was 10 d a half pint in 1706.

In 1883 the bell frame was replaced at a cost of £200 by a new timber frame inscribed ‘George Day & Son, Church Bell Hangers, Eye, Suffolk, 1883’. All eight bells were overhauled in 1953 by Gillett & Johnson of Croydon. The bells fell silent in 1972 for repairs to the steeple which was seen to sway when the bells were rung. A new bell frame was installed in 1982 and the bells retuned by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry at a cost of £22,000. The bells are now pealed from a platform above the new entrance to the church.

The first recorded peal of five thousand and forty changes was mentioned in Pugh’s Hereford Journal on Wednesday 21st. December 1791. Local tradition has it that at least one of the bells was presented to the church by Henry V who took issue with having bells rung as he left Calais.

 

The Sermon on the Plain

The Sermon on the Plain Luke 6:17-26
Bishop Dominic Walker, St Thomas’ 17th February, 2019

1. Forty years ago a film came out called The Life of Brian. It was of course Monty Python’s parody of the life of Jesus and many Christians condemned it and attempted to have it banned and no self-respecting Christian would have gone to see it – but if they had, they would have seen a wonderful sketch where a group of political activists called the Jewish Liberation Front were having an argument about what the Romans had ever done for them.

2. The scene went something like this: One man asked ‘But what have the Romans ever done for us? And someone suggested sanitation and another fresh water aqueducts. ‘But apart from that’ someone asked, ‘What have the Romans ever done for us? Others suggested education, medicine, public order, irrigation, roads and peace. But the original questioner persisted with ‘But apart from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, fresh water and public baths what have the Romans ever done for us? It is of course, the cry of the poor and the oppressed that political leaders never do anything for them and although The Life of Brian is a parody, there may well have been many in Israel in the time of Jesus who felt that no-one ever did anything for them.

3. There would have been those who were looking for a great warrior king who would raise up an army to defeat the Roman occupiers. Others were looking for a Messiah who would usher in an age of holiness but the ordinary folk – those who were poor, or sick or on the margins would not have expected their lot to be changed so they must have been astonished to hear the teachings of Jesus that turned the values of the world upside down. Not only that – but he had credibility because they had seen him heal the sick and seen him drawing the crowds.
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4. Today’s Gospel is a summery of this world turned upside down and the words are familiar because they echo the teaching from the Sermon on the Mount with a series of Blessing (Beatitudes) and Woes. Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God, Blessed are you who are hungry now for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh and Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude, revile and defame you. Rejoice for great is your reward in heaven. And then there are the Woes – Woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation, woe to you who are fed for you will be hungry, woe to you who are laughing now for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you.

5. So what are we to make of all that because we don’t believe that there is anything virtuous in being poor, hungry, or to be mourning or persecuted – and what about those of us who are not poor and even rich by some standards and who are well fed and enjoy a good laugh? Well, it would be very easy to misinterpret this teaching.

6. You may understand it as saying that in the next world the tables will be turned so the poor will be rich and the rich will be poor. The hungry will be fed and those who are fed will be hungry. If you had a Mercedes in this life you will have a bicycle in the next; if you visit food banks in this life, you will dine in gourmet restaurants in the next. Indeed, some religions teach something like that, so they believe that how and when you are reincarnated will depend on what kind of life you have lived here. If you are rich and mean in this life you will come back to earth poor and despised and so you are punished or rewarded in the next life according to how you lived this life. There is in that something of a double whammy because if you are poor or disabled it is punishment for the way you lived your previous life and now you have to beg, and people give alms to beggars because next time round they fear that it could happen to them. But of course Christians do not believe in reincarnation.

7. The key I believe to understanding today’s gospel is to recognise that the poor, the hungry and those who mourn and those who are persecuted are often close to God because they have nowhere else to turn in their need. We sometimes hear desperate people on the news saying that they can only turn to God for help whereas the rich, the well fed and the satisfied often feel that they have no need for God – life is just fine and they never give God a thought – but Jesus is saying that the state of blessedness is to know your need for God and that by crying out to him we shall be fed, looked after and comforted.

8. Now it would be very easy for us just to sit back and say well we shall always have the poor with us and if they are blessed we don’t need to help them but of course the point is that we are called as Christians to work with God to be a blessing to others – as St Teresa of Avila famously said God has no hands but our hands, no feet but our feet and ours are the hands with which he blesses the world and our eyes are the eyes with which he looks with compassion upon the world – and elsewhere Jesus teaches us that when we visit the sick, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger and visit those in prison we are doing it not only for him – but to him as well – because he dwells in the hearts of those who in their need cry out to him. Our task is to recognise Christ in them and to bless them, not out of fear that we could end up like them, but out of love. Amen.

Stilling of the Storm

Stilling of the Storm (Luke 8:22-25)

Bishop Dominic Walker, St Mary’s Monmouth 24.02.19

1. Every time I have visited the Holy Land I have seen new places – or familiar places but in a new way. Until last December, I had never seen the Sea of Galilee as anything but sunny and calm surrounded by beautiful mountains. Last time however, I saw it with the wind blowing, the rain pouring down and the waves looking angry. I had to remember that in spite of its name the Sea of Galilee is a lake and known for its sudden violent storms. Cold air rushes down from the surrounding mountains, hitting the warm air above the lake and as a result storms erupt. Those who came with me will remember that we sailed in a boat on the lake one day but a day later we had to battle the wind and the rain to get to the lakeside where we found a shelter to celebrate an outdoor Eucharist and where we remembered today’s gospel account.

2. There is a wonderful painting by the Dutch master Rembrandt entitled A Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Sadly, it was stolen in 1990 from an art gallery in Boston, Mass. and as far as I know it is still missing although I am not sure that it is the kind of painting you would want on your living room wall. It depicts a dark, frightening scene of a life and death situation with high waves pushing one end of the small fishing boat into the air at a sharp angle, with water pouring into the boat, black clouds overhead and a broken sail and men clinging on to the edge of the boat for their lives.

3. But what is significant about this painting is that there are fourteen men in the boat. Rembrandt had painted an extra disciple and many believe that the extra disciple is a self-portrait, so why had he painted himself into the scene? Perhaps, it was to show that this story is not just an account from history but a reminder that every disciple needs faith to survive the storms of life.

4. The boat has often been used as a symbol of the church in which there are no passengers because all are crew. The ark in the story of Noah was the vessel that saved the people from drowning. In John’s gospel there is an account of the miraculous draught of fishes where we are told they caught 153 fish and the net did not break and 153 is believed to be the number of known species of fish at that time thus symbolising the missionary task of the church where the whole world is to be drawn into the boat. The Church and those within it have always faced stormy waters but it has not sunk.

5. Thinking of ourselves and the gospel reading – if we had been in the boat would we have reacted any differently? In Mark’s account (which may well be the original account) the disciples ask Jesus, ‘Teacher , do you not care that we are perishing?’ They were clearly in fear of their lives so no wonder they were scared. Would Jesus have chastised us for our lack of faith? You can’t simply summon up more faith by trying harder to believe – especially if you are in a state of panic. Faith is not the same as wishful thinking! Faith is something that is gradually built up through our experiences of life and through our relationship with God. We all face storms in life and may cry out for Christ’s help even asking him if he doesn’t care about us. The problem is that our faith will always be imperfect but Jesus will respond to our cries and strengthen us to enable the seed of faith to grow even stronger.

6. There is another lesson in the account of the stilling of the storm and that is that Jesus is asleep in the boat because no doubt he was tired. Mark’s account even says that he was asleep in the back on a cushion – a very human scene. But we believe that Jesus was not only fully human but also fully divine. In those days, people believed that evil forces of nature could only be overcome by divine powers so by stilling the wind and the waves, Jesus also demonstrates his divine nature.

7. The gospel writers make it clear that Jesus was a human being but they also recognised that he was much more than that because he gives us access to the Father and so in the year 451 the Council of Chalcedon declared Jesus to be of two natures – human and divine or as he says in the fourth Gospel Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

8. Holding this balance of being both human and divine has always been a challenge for Christians because Jesus is our friend and brother but he is also our God and Saviour. The good news is that as our friend and brother he is in the boat with us though the storms and rough seas of life – even if sometimes we think he is asleep – and as our God and Saviour he is also the one who rescues us from perishing and brings us safely to our eternal home. Amen.

April in St Michael’s Church

Lent 2019

Our Lent Course, entitled ‘Daring to See God now’ written by Bishop Nick Baines at Swallow Barn will continue on Tuesdays 2nd and 9th April 2.30-4.00pm. Please come even you have missed one or two sessions – everyone is welcome.

Our Agape Meal will be on Wednesday 17th April of Holy Week at Swallow Barn 7.00pm that is open to everyone. If you don’t know what an Agape is, this is your opportunity to find out!

Development Update

Thank to everyone who came to our Open Coffee morning on 9th March. Your support and ideas were great and gives us the courage to proceed with looking for funds and gaining permission to make alterations to the church. People made many suggestions of fundraising ideas so watch this space for details …..

We’re very pleased to report that we have permission from the Diocese to repair the Lych Gate subject to conformation by the Chancellor. Alas more information is needed before we can go ahead with repairs to the walls in the redundant boiler house.

Dates for your diary:

St Michael’s Church yard clear up morning 10-12 Saturday 27th April … and all 4th Saturdays in the month until the autumn. Please help us to keep our churchyard beautiful.

PCC meeting April 4th 7.30pm in church

This meeting is open to anyone who is interested in the church

Please come.

The Forest Flue Choir

Sunday 28th April 2.30pm in St Michael’s Church in aid of Helwel Trust that supports small enterprises in rural kwaZulu/Natal. See April magazine article and/or www.helweltrust.co.uk

The choir is directed by Fiona Crawley and they will be playing on 5 different sizes of flute, from the smallest in the flute family to one of the largest in the world!

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Garden Open Afternoon at High Glannau

Sunday 12th May 2.00 – 6.00 pm

Once again Helena & Hillary Gerrish are kindly allowing us to provide teas in aid of St Michael’s church. Please come and enjoy their beautiful garden and support St Michael’s church.