Caldey – St Mary’s priory (Old Priory)

History

   The origins of the Christian temple on the island of Caldey probably date back to the 6th century AD. It could be founded by a certain Pyro, after which the island was named Ynys Pyr in the Celtic language. In 1113, the island was granted to the Norman knight Robert Fitz Martin, whose mother Geva founded in the twelfth century, the Old Priory, being a branch of the St. Dogmaels Abbey. It was a very small monastery, consisting initially of one monk, four in the fifteenth century and six at the beginning of the sixteenth century. During the Reformation, the monastery was dissoluted and the buildings rebuilt. A few centuries later, it served as a farm and a parish church. Around 1800, it became an economic building for the new home of Thomas Kynaston, the owner of the island since 1798. Renovation of the monastery buildings began in 1897. In 1906, the convent was re-founded as an Anglican Benedictine house.

Architecture

   The priory was built of limestone and sandstone around a small courtyard. On the south side there was the church of St. Illtyd, consisting of the nave, chancel (the oldest part of the site) and the tower. Residential buildings were on the north side, gatehouse on the west side. West range served guest accommodation over the vaulted entry and a ground floor chamber. Two-story range with a kitchen and dormitory above and defensive tower (prior’s accommodation) were on the eastern side. North range, now demolished, may have held also a refectory.
   
Built on a square plan, the church tower is 9 meters high. From the west side, there is a pointed entry portal, above which there is a 14th-century large window with a tracery. Its upper part is mounted on corbels, has a short battlement and is topped with a stone spire with a height of 5.4 meters, tilted to the west by almost one meter. The nave of the church is rectangular, elongated, with two pairs of small windows on the south side and similar on the north side. From the east it ends with a narrower and smaller rectangular chancel. The nave is topped with a timber collar-truss roof, while the chancel has a barrel vault.
   
The fortified priory tower was built on a square plan with a smaller latrine turret on the north east side. The whole is crowned with a battlement, set on prominent corbels. The ground floor and basement are topped with a stone vault, the floors have timber ceilings. There is no staircase now but there probably was one at the south west corner.

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bibliography:
Wooding J., Yates N., A Guide to the churches and chapels of Wales, Cardiff 2011.
Website britishlistedbuildings.co.uk, Caldey Priory, including church and monastery remains.
Website coflein.gov.uk, Caldey Priory, St Mary’s Priory, Caldey Island.