The priory together with the church of St. Nicholas was founded in 1098 by Arnulf de Montgomery, the youngest son of Roger de Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury, as a monastery owned by the Séez Abbey in Normandy. Arnulf was one of the Norman conquerors of Wales who founded his seat and built a castle in Pembroke. He chose the abbey in Séez, because there were ancestral estates there, and the monks favored the actions of him and his family.
Arnulf descendants held patronage over the priory of St. Nicholas until the fourteenth century. It developed to the times of the English – French Hundred Years War, when foreign monasteries in England were sequestered and finally closed in 1414. It was then administered by the royal administrator until he gave the church and monastery to the abbey in St Albans in 1443.
After 1532, when all the monasteries were dissolved due to the Reformation, the church of St. Nicholas was transformed into a parish church, and the rest of the buildings fell into disrepair. Over time, the chancel of the church declined and transformed also into ruin, apparently too big for a parish temple. In the years 1879-1885 a thorough renovation of the monument was carried out.
The medieval priory church consisted of a long, 13th-century nave, the entrance to which led from the south through a 15th-century vaulted porch. The church originally had two transept arms, of which the southern one was rebuilt in the 15th century into the base of a lofty, four-sided tower. It was topped with a parapet mounted on corbels and a battlement, and from the south-west side it was equipped with a turret with a staircase. The eastern side of the church was closed with a 14th-century chancel and a north-eastern chapel parallel to it. Interestingly, it was not added directly to the chancel wall, but with a gap of about one meter, through which the passage was led. The whole church was very long (about 50 meters), and also relatively narrow.
The nave of the church was originally illuminated by small Romanesque windows, transformed in the later medieval period, when it was decided to thicken the walls from the inside in order to establish a barrel vault. In the Middle Ages, the nave and the presbytery were probably separated by a rood screen, separating the western part intended for the faithful and the eastern part, accessible only to monks and priests.
The monastery buildings were located on the northern side of the church, but it is not known exactly what their layout was. At a slightly greater distance, on the north-west side, there were farm buildings, including a barn with two large, pointed entrances and, perhaps, the prior’s residential building. About 140 meters to the south-east of the church was the guest house (Old Hall), which housed two floors: a ribbed vaulted room on the ground floor and two rooms upstairs.
The priory church is in relatively good condition, but unfortunately it did not avoid early modern transformations. As a result, the southern wall of the chancel was rebuilt, the northern arm of the transept was removed, and the sacristy was added. In the south tower, a large window and an entrance portal were pierced in the 19th century. Also the remaining south windows in the nave and chancel were transformed in the Victorian era. The northern wall of the nave is today reinforced with large buttresses, but earlier, probably, there were unpreserved monastery buildings on that side. Two original windows from the 12th / 13th century are visible in this wall. Of the remaining priory buildings, the barn on the north-west side of the church and the rebuilt guest house in the south-east have survived.
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.
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, VII County of Pembroke, London 1925.
Website britishlistedbuildings.co.uk, Priory Church of Saint Nicholas A Grade I Listed Building in Pembroke, Pembrokeshire.