Beginning of the church of St. Mary in Kidwelly dates back to the early twelfth century, when bishop Roger of Salisbury funded a Benedictine priory in the settlement. At the time, the church served both the secular community of Kidwelly and the priory monks. It was a very small convent, probably made only by the prior and two monks, living in nearby monastery buildings.
In 1223, the church burnt down, perhaps as a result of the invasion of the Welsh prince Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. The reason for this could have been the close links of the Benedictine convent from Kidwelly with the Anglo-Normans and its subordination to the Sherborne Abbey. In the following years the church was rebuilt and enlarged at the end of the 13th and at the beginning of the 14th century. In 1284, Archbishop Pecham of Canterbury stayed there, controlling all Welsh monasteries. The list of charges against Ralph de Bemester, prior of Kidwelly, was so large that he was even dismissed and sent to Sherborne, though he reportedly returned a month later.
In the fourteenth century, only the prior lived at the church, and the income was low. In 1403, during Glyndŵr’s anti-English uprising, rebel troops besieged the nearby castle. It managed to defend, but the town and priory were devastated. In 1481 church suffered further damages as a result of a lightning strike in the tower. The high spire often attracted lightnings, as the strikes were recorded again in 1681, 1854 and 1884. In 1539, the priory, like most others in England, was dissolved and the church became the property of the Crown. Smaller renovations of the building were carried out in the eighteenth century, a thorough renovation was carried out in the nineteenth century.
The church consists of a rectangular, four-bay nave and a rather long, two-bay, rectangular chancel. The nave was originally longer, shortened after the fire of 1481. On its northern side, in the 14th century, a lofty three-floor tower was erected, reinforced with corner buttresses and topped with a high spire. Originally, it yet had a parapet with decorative battlement, removed in the nineteenth century. On the south-western side, the tower has a two-level annex containing a staircase.
From the fourteenth century also comes the southern and northern transepts, the southern porch (the earlier of the thirteenth century was destroyed) and the sacristy attached to the north wall of the chancel. The latter was originally a chapel in the form of a transept, connected by a diagonal passage (squint) in the thickness of the wall with the chancel.
Inside, the nave was originally separated from the chancel by a rood screen, equipped with an upper balcony, accessed by a spiral staircase embedded in the wall thickness at the joint of the southern arm of the transept and the chancel. Inside the latter, a Gothic piscina and a triple sedilia were placed in the southern wall. The church did not have stone vaults, it was covered with a wooden barrel ceiling and a timber open roof truss.
Burton J., Stöber K., Abbeys and Priories of Medieval Wales, Chippenham 2015.
Salter M., Abbeys, priories and cathedrals od Wales, Malvern 2012.
Salter M., The old parish churches of South-West Wales, Malvern 2003.
Wooding J., Yates N., A Guide to the churches and chapels of Wales, Cardiff 2011.
Website britishlistedbuildings.co.uk, Church of Saint Mary A Grade I Listed Building in Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire.
Website coflein.gov.uk, St Mary’s church (Priory Church), Kidwelly.