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FIFTH SERIES.—VOL. VIII, NO. XXX.
LLANVEIGAN CHURCH, BRECONSHIRE.
BY THE REV. J. PRICE.
THIS church is situated on the south bank of the river Usk, about five miles below the town of Brecon, on an eminence commanding an extensive view of the Usk Valley. The church is dedicated to Meugan or Meigant Hen, a son of Gwyndaf Hen ap Emyr Llydaw, and Gwenonwy, the daughter of Meurig ap Tewdrig, King of Siluria. He flourished about 650 A.D.
The church consists of a nave and chancel in one continuous length, without chancel-arch; and a north aisle divided from the nave by an arcade; and a massive tower at the west end of the nave. The shell of the church has been restored.
The north aisle seemed to be the oldest portion of the church. Its north wall contained a thirteenth century window, and near it another corresponding to the former, except that a fourteenth century head had been added by some manifestly unskilful artist. It also contained a doorway of the same date as the oldest window. High up in the east wall of this aisle was a window of the early part of the fifteenth century. The first two arches of the arcade are supported by handsome pillars; the last two by plain mason-work pillars. For some purpose or other sand had been conveyed
5TH SER., VOL. VIII.
into the church, raising the level of the floor of the nave and north aisle some 20 inches above the original level. Why this was done it is hard to conjecture; possibly for the purpose of drying the church, or more probably for the purpose of sepulture, as in some portions of the church there were traces of two layers of bodies having been buried one above another.
Built into the wall of the western portion of the arcade were the mullions of a thirteenth century window corresponding exactly with that in the north wall. The nave and tower are of the fifteenth century; but the tower was clearly built subsequently to the nave.
When the tiles were stripped from the nave and north aisle, the wall of the tower thus laid bare showed clear traces of an older nave-roof at a lower level and a lower pitch. Moreover, the timbers of the roof of the north aisle showed unmistakable signs of having been shortened to suit the span of this portion of the church. What, then, is its probable history? If a novice may venture a conjecture, it is this; dismissing, of course, the question as to what the original wickerwork church was like. In the thirteenth century a stone church was erected here consisting of nave and a chancel extending somewhat to the eastward of the point where the north aisle joins the nave. In the early part of the fifteenth century the west wall of this nave was taken down, and the present handsome, massive tower built against it, a window being inserted between the south porch and the tower to correspond with the windows in the tower.
In the latter part of the fifteenth century the chancel was probably extended farther to the east; the small, plain, thirteenth century windows were removed and replaced by four square-headed, cinquefoil, cusped windows; and a magnificent rood-screen and loft were erected at the entrance to the former chancel, which is exactly half way between the tower-arch and the present east wall. At the same time a portion of the north wall was taken down, the present north aisle
(which is still known as "the Eglwys Newydd") was erected, the thirteenth century windows and doorway were put here, and the timbers of the nave-roof placed on it. These timbers have been manifestly shortened (the ends had perished), and the span of the aisle was regulated by their length.
When the windows in this north aisle were cleaned, and the stopping removed, two of them proved to be of a very composite character; that high up in the east wall consisting of portions of two, if not three, separate windows.
Portions of the stone steps leading to the rood-loft from the outside, are still visible in the south wall. The rood-loft was in position in 1813. One or two of the older inhabitants can recollect hearing of a gallery once extending across the nave. The traces of the rood-loft, viz., where the woodwork joined the walls of the nave on either side are distinctly visible. What became of it? Let us see.
In 1813-14 extensive alterations for the worse were made. The doorway leading to the rood-loft was taken out, and a high churchwarden-window, in a wooden frame, inserted instead; and near this window an unsightly deal pulpit, with reading-desk leading into it, was placed. In the north aisle, against the north wall, and facing the pulpit, but on the ground, a gallery was constructed precisely similar to the galleries seen in infant-schools in the present day. The arch leading into the tower was filled up with lath and plaster, excepting the doorway. On this was a plain door. The whole had been coated with whitewash. When the lath and plaster were removed, the doorway was found to consist of two solid pieces of oak, forming what had been the archway through the screen into the chancel. It is in an excellent state of preservation. Underneath the whitewash was discovered the white rose of York beautifully painted, the roses being placed about a foot apart, on each side of the archway, from top to bottom. Another row of roses
was painted on the woodwork of the screen, from the one side of the nave to the other. Carrying the lath and plaster were found other portions of the screen terribly mutilated. The mouldings were wonderfully sharp and clearly cut, and the colours on the mouldings as fresh as if only laid on a few years ago,-white, blue, church-red, and chocolate.
But this was not the only find. When the above mentioned gallery in the north aisle was removed, underneath was discovered a considerable portion of the remainder of the rood-loft. Here were found the huge oak beams, wonderfully moulded and chiselled, which had supported the loft. Originally each beam must have been 20 ft. long. They had been sawn into various lengths, and much mutilated. Here, too, were found many of the cross-pieces supporting the floor of the rood-loft, and extending transversely from the one beam to the other; all moulded and coloured. It is pitiable to think that so beautiful a work of art should have been destroyed as recently as 1813. The whole of the pieces may now be seen in the churchyard, as also the old oak fifteenth century choir-stalls and benches. Here also may be seen the shaft of the churchyard-cross. The pedestal and head are wanting.
And now comes the question: By whom was the thirteenth century church erected? It is impossible to say, but I would hazard the following conjecture. According to Theophilus Jones' History of Breconshire, the advowson of the living of Llanveigan, in early times, went with the lordship and Castle of Pencelli. The Castle is not much more than a quarter of a mile from the church. For some years there was a dispute respecting this property between Ralph Mortimer, lord of Melynedd, and William de Bros, lord of Brecknock. This quarrel was finally settled by Roger Mortimer, a son of Ralph Mortimer, marrying a daughter of William de Bros. Pencelli Castle and the advowson now went to this Ralph Mortimer, who was summoned to Parliament in the 1st of Edward I (1272), and also in the
28th year of the same reign, as lord of Pencelli or Penkelley. What more probable than that this Ralph Mortimer and his wife built or rebuilt the church? The style of architecture seems to correspond with this date.
But what shall we say for the extensive alterations and enlargements in the fifteenth century? Presuming that these alterations were made when the house of York was in the ascendant, we find that during the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V, and Richard III, the manor and Castle of Pencelli, as well as the advowson of the living of Llanveigan, was in the possession of Henry Duke of Buckingham, subsequently the powerful ally of Richard III, from whom he received “not only large grants of money, but also lucrative and honourable appointments." Is it too much to suppose that the church was enlarged by the Duke's orders, or at least with his co-operation? and that the screen so lavishly decorated with the white rose was placed in the church quite as much to the honour of his powerful patron as to the honour of God?
It could not well have been erected (I mean the screen) at any other period. During the reign of Edward IV, Buckingham lived in retirement in Brecon. His father and grandfather had died fighting for the house of Lancaster. Had it been erected in the reign of Henry VII we should have expected the white and the red rose exhibited alternately.
We may therefore conclude the church was enlarged about the beginning of the reign of Richard III.
The font is octagonal, but not regular, one or two of the sides being shorter than the others. The axemarks on it are very clear and distinct. Probably it is older than any portion of the church.