The beginnings of the church of St. Mary in Haverfordwest dates back to the 12th century, when a nearby castle was built. The rapid development of the settlement and the temple was associated, among others, with its location on the pilgrimage route to the cathedral in St Davids. It is known that in 1188 Geraldus Cambrensis, a Welsh monk, chronicler and linguist, accompanied the Bishop of Canterbury on his journey through Wales to seek support for the Third Crusade to the Holy Land. Then in the church of St. Mary, or very close to it, would gather a large crowd to hear the bishop’s speech.
In 1220, the building was damaged by the army of Llewelyn the Great, but it was rebuilt and significantly enlarged by a second aisle and porch. During this period, the church of St. Mary, along with the other two temples in Haverfordwest, was donated to the Augustine Priory formed around 1200. Their close relationship lasted throughout the Middle Ages until the convent was dissolved in the first half of the 16th century. During the Tudor period, the church was rebuilt and enlarged, as a town hall was operating in its vicinity, and the city council met in a chamber above the northern porch. Fairs were also held at the church courtyard and marked flourished. In the 17th century, the church’s great significance for the townspeople resulted in numerous tombstones and memorials founded by the town patriciate in the temple.
The first recorded early modern repairs to the church had to be carried out after the destruction of 1797, when the French troops carried out a landing in Fishguard. Further renovations of the building began at the beginning of the nineteenth century: in 1807 and 1832 the roofs and the top of the tower were repaired, and in 1844 the windows were restored. Unfortunately, in 1863 the city council chamber was demolished over the northern porch and a new north vestibule was built. Subsequent renovations of the entire church lasted for most of the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
The church from the 13th century consisted of a long rectangular nave orientated towards the sides of the world and a slightly narrower chancel, ended on the eastern side with a straight wall. During the construction of its walls, elements of an earlier, 12th-century temple could be used. On the southern side, the entrance to the nave was preceded by a porch, while on the northern side there was probably already a second, short aisle.
In the 15th century, a quadrilateral tower was added to the north-west side of the nave, topped with a parapet on protruding corbels and a lead – wooden spire. At that time, the northern aisle was also enlarged, which was connected to the chapel on the north-east side, forming a whole. Whereas the six-bay main nave and chancel at the end of the 15th century were raised and equipped with a second, higher row of windows and a parapet ended with a decorative battlement under which drainage gargoyles were placed. The new windows of the nave and chancel were equipped with late-Gothic traceries (largely replaced and restored in the 19th century), with the lower level of the southern windows of the chancel distinguished by an unusual, still thirteenth-century tracery, somewhat similar to the windows of the refectory of the Tintern Abbey. The western facade of the nave was pierced with a triad of narrow lancet windows from the 13th century. The entrance to the church from the north, like the south one, was preceded by a porch, raised in the 16th century by the chamber of the city council.
The interior of the elevated nave and chancel at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries was crowned with a ceiling set on stone, carved corbels. Its wooden ribs in the main nave carry panels divided into four quarters with angel-like carved timber bosses at the intersections. Below the main nave was separated from the northern aisle by 13th-century ogival arcades with rich profiling and shafts finished with magnificent carved capitals, mainly depicting floral motifs and human heads. Among the capitals is the representation of a monkey playing harp, a man with a toothache, a lamb biting the head of a snake and a winged beast. The arcade of the chancel arch was also distinguished in a similar way. The ground floor of the tower in the 15th century was crowned with a complex rib vault with a central bell opening.
Salter M., The old parish churches of South-West Wales, Wolverhampton 2003.
Website britishlistedbuildings.co.uk, Church of Saint Mary A Grade I Listed Building in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire.
Website britainexpress.com, Haverfordwest, St Mary’s Church.
Website coflein.gov.uk, St Marys church, Haverfordwest.