Church of St. John was built on the initiative of Bernard de Neufmarché, a Norman knight who conquered the Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog in 1093. According to tradition he gave the temple to one of his supporters, Roger, a monk from the Battle Abbey, who founded a monastery near it. It is more likely, however, that Bernard founded the monastery himself, modeling on William the Conqueror and his monument of victory at Hastings Battle, which was the Battle Abbey. The monastery at Brecon would strengthen Bernard’s position as conqueror of Wales.
The first prior in Brecon was Walter, a monk from the Battle Abbey. Bernard de Neufmarché also gave the monastery land, rights and tithing from the area, a mill on the Usk River and two more mills on Honddu. After his death, patronage passed on to the Hereford earls, contributing to the further development of the temple. The church was rebuilt and expanded in the gothic style around 1215, during the reign of king John. The next works on enlarging the buildings were carried out at the end of the 13th and 14th centuries. The roofs, timber ceilings and the top of the temple tower were erected in the sixteenth century.
In the Middle Ages, the church was famous, because it had an impressive, gilded rood screen, separating the nave from the chancel, which was the object of pilgrimage and worship, until it was destroyed during the Reformation. In 1538, the Benedictine abbey was dissolved, the prior was released, and the monastery church became a parish church. Some of the surrounding buildings were adapted for secular use, while others, such as cloisters, were demolished.
In the nineteenth century, the church was in bad condition and only the nave was in use. Minor repairs were carried out in 1836, but a major renovation of the church began only in the 1860s. The tower was strengthened in 1914 due to the occurrence of cracks. It gained the rank of the cathedral until 1923.
In its mature, late medieval form, the church reached the shape of a basilica on a cruciform plan with two transepts and a massive tower at the intersection of the naves. The chancel, transepts and the tower come from the beginning of the thirteenth century. The three-nave, decorated gothic style structure was erected a little later, at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 14th century, the Havard Chapel was added to the northern wall of the chancel. In the Middle Ages, the church had more chapels, which were located in the lateral aisles, separated from the nave. To this day, the only preserved of them is the Keyns Chapel, originally the shoemakers’ guild chapel.
There are no precise descriptions of the construction of the gilded rood screen, separating the nave from the chancel. About its scale and dimensions, the preserved traces of the gate at the end of the nave, above the pulpit and on the opposite wall, give only the view. The gate gave access to the upper part of the rood screen. Also the stone corbels used to support screen’s structure are visible.
Among the original equipment a beautiful, carved stone font from the 12th century and the largest stone in Wales, hollow to store the oil needed to ignite the fire, has preserved.
Burton J., Stöber K., Abbeys and Priories of Medieval Wales, Chippenham 2015.
Wooding J., Yates N., A Guide to the churches and chapels of Wales, Cardiff 2011.
Website britishlistedbuildings.co.uk, Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist. A Grade I Listed Building in Brecon, Powys.
Website wikipedia.org, Brecon Cathedral.