The first information about the church in Carmarthen comes from the beginning of the 12th century, when it was given to the Battle Abbey in England. This original church was significantly rebuilt and enlarged in the 13th and 14th centuries, and then in the 15th and early 16th centuries. During the dissolution of monasteries in the 16th century, the church became the property of the Crown. The Consistory Courts of the Chancellor of the Diocese of St Davids took place there, and bishop Robert Ferrar was also tried in it in 1555. Accused of heresy, he was then burnt on the market. In the 18th century, the church received a new sacristy, some interiors were also transformed and a decorative battlement on the tower was built. In 1816, the church was under the patronage of St David’s College in Lampeter until in the early 1900s it came under the bishops of St Davids. In the meantime, in the second half of the nineteenth century, it was thoroughly renovated.
Church of St. Peter in its oldest form was probably a simple, Romanesque aisleless building, erected on a rectangular plan, probably without an externally distinguished chancel. In the 13th century, this small temple was no longer sufficient for the growing town, so it was extended a bit on the eastern side, and a new, five-bay nave was added to the north, with a narrower, but quite elongated, three-bay chancel on the eastern side, and a four-sided tower on the west side measuring 6.7 x 5.7 meters.
In the Gothic period, first in the 14th century, a rectangular chapel was added at the eastern part of the northern wall of the newer nave (transept in Anglo-Saxon literature), and a porch was placed in front of the southern entrance to the church. Then, in the 15th century, the eastern part of the southern aisle (using fragments of the old church from the 12th century) was extended again, thanks to which it almost reached the eastern end of the 13th-century chancel. This eastern end was used as a chapel, while most of the south aisle was opened onto the nave with five pointed arcades based on polygonal pillars.
Ultimately, the church of St. Peter at the end of the Middle Ages, as a result of several construction works, achieved the form of a stately building with a rich architectural layout. In addition to the above changes, the walls of the nave and chancel were also raised to be level with the southern aisle. The internal length from the western part of the nave to the eastern end of the chancel reached 52 meters, making the church one of the longest sacral buildings in Wales. The width of both aisles was 15 meters.
The church that has survived to this day consists of walls erected from the 12th to the 15th century and several early modern annexes: a sacristy on the north side of the chancel with a small extension from the east, a small southern porch at the south-east chapel and a western extension at the northern chapel. Unfortunately, during the Victorian renovation, most of the windows were replaced (probably the only original, topped with a trefoil, preserved in the southern wall of the tower), and in the 18th century the battlement of the tower was renewed and the roofs, ceilings and roof truss were replaced. The most valuable medieval monument is the tombstone of Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his wife in the nave.
Salter M., The old parish churches of South-West Wales, Malvern 2003.
The Royal Commission on The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions in Wales and Monmouthshire. An Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire, V County of Carmarthen, London 1917.
Wooding J., Yates N., A Guide to the churches and chapels of Wales, Cardiff 2011.
Website coflein.gov.uk, St Peter’s church, Carmarthen.