Church of St. Woolos in Newport was erected in the 11th century on the site of a chapel from around the 5th-6th century. According to tradition, prince Gwynllyw (whose name was later distorted to Woolos) built his penitential cell on Stow Hill, and when he died at the beginning of the sixth century, a timber church was built near his grave, which became a place of pilgrimage. When this church was burnt down, it was rebuilt in Anglo-Saxon times as a stone structure, which was then thoroughly rebuilt around 1080 at the initiative of the Norman conquerors of Wales.
In 1405, the church of St. Woolos was destroyed during the Welsh uprising of Owain Glyndŵr. During the repair of the destructions, the temple was considerably expanded. In the years 1818-1819, the building was restored, and in 1853, the medieval porch was demolished and a new one was erected. Also the presbytery was rebuilt at that time. In 1913, the architect William Davies built the sacristy, while in 1960-1962 the presbytery was pulled down and rebuilt.
The Romanesque church consisted of a rectangular, five-bay nave, accessible from the west through a magnificent stepped portal with a semicircular archivolt, decorated with various types of billet patterns. On the sides of the portal, there was one column on the sides, crowned with capitals decorated with figures and birds hidden among floral motifs. Inside the nave, the semi-circular arcades profiled with two orders, were based on two rows of massive, round pillars with capitals decorated with scalloped motifs. On the eastern side, the church ended with a presbytery of unknown shape, while from the west it had to be preceded by the St. Mary’s Chapel.
At the beginning of the 13th century, the St. Mary’s Chapel was rebuilt and its walls were raised. Then, in the 15th century, a four-sided tower (called Jasper’s Tower) was built in front of its western facade. It was strengthened by high, stepped buttresses in the corners and the north-eastern polygonal turret with a staircase. In its ground floor there was a new entrance portal to the church, and the upper storeys were separated by two cornices. Also in the 15th century a two-story southern porch was added, and the northern and southern aisles were widened, both reinforced from the outside with buttresses and illuminated with four-light windows.
The church today has an unusual layout, as it is a conglomerate of elements from many different eras. The oldest, Romanesque are the lower parts of the nave walls with the former west facade with a magnificent entrance portal. Most of the St. Mary’s Chapel comes from the 13th century, while the west tower and aisles have late Gothic forms. The eastern part of the church ends with the presbytery, the present form of which is the result of the nineteenth-century rebuilding. Also, all the aisles and chancel windows were transformed during the Victorian period and in the early 20th century.
Inside the church of St. Woolos, the 15th-century piscina and the late-medieval roof truss in the central nave and aisles are worth attention. The church’s greatest treasure, however, is the aforementioned Romanesque portal from the 11th century, separating the nave from the chapel of St. Mary. It is composed of Roman columns and capitals from nearby Caerleon.
Salter M., Abbeys, priories and cathedrals od Wales, Malvern 2012.
Website newportcathedral.org.uk, History.
Website wikipedia.org, Newport Cathedral.