Full Report for Listed Buildings
Summary Description of a Listed Buildings
Date of Designation
Date of Amendment
Name of Property
Church of St Mary
Key building in the group of historic buildings close to the main commercial centre of Abergavenny.
Religious, Ritual and Funerary
The Church of St. Mary is the church of the Benedictine priory founded in Abergavenny before 1100 by Hamelin de Ballon, Lord of Abergavenny and first builder of Abergavenny Castle (qv). The townspeople were using the nave and north aisle for worship by the C14, although St. John's remained the parish church (qv Masonic Lodge, St. John's Street) until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. St. Mary's then became the church of the town and St. Johns was converted to be the King Henry VIII Grammar School.
Nothing of the Norman church appears to survive today and the present building, including most of the tower, seems to date mainly from the period between the end of the C13 and the end of the C14. It may well be that there were major repairs after damage done by the Owain Glyndwr rebellion in 1404 but C19 rebuilding and restoration has altered the church too much to be certain of this. The first major restoration was in 1828-9 when the medieval arcade between the nave and north aisle was removed to create a square preaching space with galleries in the style of the time. This work was undertaken by William Whittington, a surveyor. In 1874 George Gilbert Scott produced a report with recommendations for repairs to the fabric and a proposed restoration to return the church to a medieval appearance. Not all his recommendations were adhered to in the restorations that followed, first by Thomas Nicholson of Hereford in 1881-2 when the nave and north aisle were reformed and the west porch was added; and then in 1896 when E A Johnson replaced many of the windows and restored the choir, chancel and chapels. Since that date, the only major changes have been the east window of 1922 and the north transept north window of 1954, while the tower was restored in 1911 and 1950. Internally there has been a major restoration of the very important collection of monuments undertaken 1994-8 by Michael Eastham.
The church is built mostly of red sandstone rubble but the Victorian work is both more neatly squared and more varied in colour. There are also dressings in white limestone, particularly the tower quoins, which may be part of the Johnson repairs of 1896 (see History), and the whole is roofed in natural slate, except for lead on the tower and west porch. The plan is nave with north aisle of almost equal size, with a 3-bay porch/narthex across, crossing tower, north transept, south transept attached to the Church Rooms, choir, chancel and side chapels giving an east front of three different sized gables.
The west front has a central entrance into a 3-bay porch which gives access to the nave on the right and the north aisle on the left. The porch dates from 1881-2 as does the whole appearance of the west front with the large windows and gables. The porch has a central pointed arch of C14 type with a triple moulded opening and an ogee arched hoodmould with high relief finial like a tomb niche. This entrance is flanked by buttresses which rise to pinnacles which themselves flank a gable over the arch. Beyond the buttresses are 3-light Perpendicular style windows with cusped heads and quatrefoils over. There are diagonal corner buttresses, and pointed arch doorways on the returns, a frieze of quatrefoils runs right around the parapet. Behind the porch the gable ends are supported by stepped buttresses at the corners and in the centre. Each gable has a tall 4-light Perpendicular style window with elaborately traceried head and dripmould over. Each steeply pitched gable has a quatrefoil sunk within a roundel, copings and apex cross.
The north aisle wall is apparently medieval with four large evenly spaced 3-light windows which are probably Victorian restorations at least in part and certainly the limestone dressings (see south wall). The east gable also has an apex cross but is otherwise obscured by the projecting north transept into which it opens internally. This gable has a large 5-light Perpendicular style window which dates only from 1954. The gable roof above is seen to be lower than the crease of a previous roof revealed against the north face of the tower; slit windows on the left return. Next comes the north wall of the choir chapel which has a plain doorway flanked by a 3-light Decorated window with trefoils in the tracery on the left and a smaller 2-light one, now largely hidden to the right.
The east wall of this chapel was not seen, but a 5-light Perpendicular style window was noted from inside.
The east gable of the chancel has a large 5-light Perpendicular style window dating from 1922 with a corbel table above. The east gable of the Herbert Chapel has a large 4-light Perpendicular style window.
The south wall of the Herbert Chapel was not seen, but from inside two 3-light and one 4-light window were noted.
The east wall of the south transept was only partly seen but appeared largely featureless. The south transept, though in part medieval fabric, joins directly to the modern Church Rooms built in 1999 and designed by Morgan and Horowskyi. The west wall has a 3-light C20 window.
The south wall of the nave has three 3-light windows as on the north wall but they lack limestone quoins. The fourth and most westerly one is missing and the walling becomes progressively more Victorian in character as it approaches the west end of the church.
The crossing tower is square with a stair turret attached to the north-west corner. Long-and-short quoins and the window dressings are in white limestone; there are drip courses below and above the bell-stage. Trefoil headed lancets to three faces, an additional one above the lower south transept roof, none on the north face. The bell-stage has a 2-light Decorated opening with trefoil tracery to each face. Castellated parapet.
The interior of the main part of the church is very much the result of the 1881-2 restoration by Thomas Nicholson (see History) which recreated the arcade between nave and north aisle and both of the roofs. The eastern part of the church was restored in 1896 by E A Johnson. The 5-bay arcade is of slim compound Perpendicular style quatrefoil piers of white limestone. The crossing arches and those from the chancel into the side chapels are C14, however, and Decorated. The chancel vault is plaster and was 'new' in 1836.
Important furnishings include the monastic choir stalls from the time of Prior Wynchester (1493-1516) although these were apparently made up from different sources at that time. These were restored by Hugh Harrison in 1998. The font is a Norman bowl, reset in 1897. The C15 Jesse figure is carved in oak with great skill and is an extreme rarity. The WWI Memorial is by W D Caroe. The surviving pews and other joinery are from 1881. The Herbert Chapel is floored with medieval ledger slabs.
The church contains a remarkable collection of medieval and later funerary monuments, particularly in the Herbert Chapel. Those in the main church include Lord Hastings (died 1325), a carved and coloured wooden knight; Eva de Broase a mid C13 sandstone figure and Dr. David Lewis (died 1584), which is signed John Gildon.
The Herbert Chapel contains seven important monuments dating from the early C14 to the mid C17, which were restored in the 1990s (see History) when they were also returned to their medieval arrangement.
Sir Lawrence Hastings (died 1348); Sir William de Hastings (died 1348) (Were both killed at the Battle of Poitiers?); Sir William (died 1446) and Lady Gwladys (died 1454) ap Thomas; Sir Richard (died 1469) and Lady Margaret Herbert; Richard Herbert of Ewyas (died 1510); Andrew Powell (died 1631) and wife; William Baker (died 1648) and wife. This is as fine and varied a group of monuments as can be seen anywhere.
Reason for designation
Included and highly graded for its outstanding interest as a medieval and Victorian church with a nationally important collection of monuments. It is also part of a strong group of historic buildings.
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