Ewenny – Benedictine Priory

History

   The Ewenny priory was founded in 1141 by Maurice de Londres, who donated the nearby Norman church of St. Michael to the Benedictine abbey of Saint Peter in Gloucester. The priory church was built in the 12th century by Maurice’s father, William de Londres, one of the Norman knights from Glamorgan. Soon afterwards, the Ewenny settlement grew around the temple and priory, which population treated the priory church as a parish, only the chancel and transept were reserved for monks. The monastic foundation was fortified early enough to protect against Welsh armed raids. The fortifications were staffed by a permanent garrison, and at the beginning of the fourteenth century they were rebuilt and reinforced. Edward I used the man at arms from Ewenny in his attack on Wales in 1284, and Henry IV used Ewenny as a base to attack Coity Castle during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr in 1405.
   In 1284, Archbishop Pecham paid a visit to the monastery. The audit revealed poor management and poor financial condition in Ewenny. He ordered more stringent controls and entrust the functions of treasurer to three monks. He also admonished the monks for using food properly, that they did not consume. He stated that it should be given to the poor and not to family members or dogs. He reminded monks that they should not eat meat and should keep silence according to the rule as well as keep in mind their obligation to give alms to the poor.
   The valuation of the priory seven years later amounted to just over £ 56 of annual income, supplied mainly from appropriated churches (Ewenny, St Bride’s Major, Colwinston, Oystermouth, Pembrey, and St Ishmael). Still more difficult times came in the fourteenth century due to the onset of the plague and the end of the family of founders and patrons, the de Londres. At the beginning of the 15th century, the monastery’s property suffered considerable damages during the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr, probably because the prior helped organize a defense against the Welsh.

  
The convent was dissolved in 1536 and, in the same year, rented to Sir Edward Carne. In 1545, he bought monastic buildings along with its belongings and transformed them into a residence, although the temple still served as a parish church. At the end of the 17th century, the estate passed into the hands of the Turbervill family, and in the nineteenth century, the estate was taken over by Colonel Thomas Picton-Warlow and then his heirs. In 1803, the northern transept and side chapels of the church were destroyed.

Architecture

   The priory was surrounded by a defensive wall on a square plan of 173×118 meters and a length of about 550 meters, reinforced with four towers and two four-sided gatehouses, located on the north and south sides.
   The romanesque priory church in its final form during the late Middle Ages had the shape on the plan of the latin cross. It consisted of  three naves, a northern and southern transepts, a tower at the intersection of naves and a chancel with adjoining chapels. To the south side of the nave was a courtyard surrounded by cloisters and monastery buildings with all the rooms required by the order’s rule: a dormitory, a refectory, a chapter-house and an economic and utility buildings.

Current state

   Until now, the priory church survived, without the destroyed northern transept and the chapels that once surrounded the chancel. The remaining monastic buildings have not been preserved or have been drastically rebuilt, losing their original stylistic features. The most interesting element are the priory fortifications visible on the west side of the church, unique in Wales. A large section of the defensive wall and five towers and gatehouses have survived. The priory church is an excellent example of Norman romanesque architecture. Inside the magnificent chancel you can see a rood screen from the fourteenth / sixteenth century. Only the church is open to visitors, as the remaining buildings remain in private hands and are inhabited. Of course, you can view the monastery’s fortifications from the outside.

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bibliography:
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, Ewenny Priory Church.
Website wikipedia.org, Ewenny Priory.