Conwy – church of St Mary and All Saints

History

   The church of St. Mary and All Saints in Conwy was erected as a temple of Aberconwy Abbey, a Cistercian foundation from 1186-1197, formed on the initiative of Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd, Lord of Arfon. He was the husband of the daughter of Prince Lord Rhys, the founder of the Strata Florida Abbey, from which monks had just arrived to Aberconwy.
   In the 12th and 13th centuries the abbey church was the burial place of many Gwynedd princes, including Gruffydd ap Cynan, Llewelyn ap Maelgwyn, Llywelyn the Great (Llywelyn ab Iorwerth) and his sons. It became a parish church after the English conquest in 1283, when the abbey was moved to Maenan, 12 km south. The transfer was carried out by order of King Edward I, probably because of the close relationship of monks with the Welsh dynasty. There was no place for them in the new town of Conwy, the symbol of English domination over the Welsh.
   In the fourteenth century, due to the town’s development, the church was significantly expanded, and subsequent transformations took place also in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. As in most Welsh and English churches, a thorough renovation of the building was carried out in the nineteenth century.

Architecture

   In the fourteenth century, the church consisted of a nave, a shorter chancel of the same width as the central nave, ended with a straight wall, reinforced with buttresses from the east, a sacristy (or chapel) on the north side and a massive four-sided tower located at the western end of the church. It received the same width as the central nave of the church, most likely because it was erected using the lower parts of the wall of the older nave of the monastery church, pierced by a pointed, stepped entrance portal and a triad of narrow lancet windows above. In the fourteenth century, the southern arm of the transept was also added at the height of the last eastern bay of the nave, and perhaps the northern and southern porch.
   The central nave was four bays long. From the north and south, it was open with three arcades to shorter and lower aisles. The southern one was added in the mid-fourteenth century, and the dating of the northern one is uncertain. The dating of the room north of the tower, which still uses the wall of the monastery church from the 13th century to the west, is similarly uncertain. This room was used as a mortuary.
   In the fifteenth century, the tower was finally completed, crowned with a decorative battlement and equipped with a projection on the south-west side, housing a spiral staircase. A beautiful rood screen, preserved to this day, was also installed inside the church, separating the nave intended for the faithful from the presbytery part, accessible only to priests. In the 16th century, the roofs of the aisles were raised.

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bibliography:
Burton J., Stöber K., Abbeys and Priories of Medieval Wales, Chippenham 2015.
Salter M., Abbeys, priories and cathedrals od Wales, Wolverhampton 2012.
Salter M., The old parish churches of North Wales, Wolverhampton 1993.

Wooding J., Yates N., A Guide to the churches and chapels of Wales, Cardiff 2011.
Website coflein.gov.uk, St Mary and All Saints church Conwy, Formarly Aberconwy Abbey.