A Post-Reformation cross slab in the Vale of Glamorgan

I could have sworn I’d done a blog post somewhere on this one but I can’t find it. The whole subject of reuse of medieval and post-medieval tombstones has been doing the rounds on Twitter so here is this contribution (again).

The churches of the Vale of Glamorgan are full of interest (as well as reminders of past mistakes). Cross slabs hidden in fonts and staircases, garishly repainted effigy tombs, and any number of those enigmatic post-Reformation cross slabs that might commemorate Catholics but more probably exemplify the typical Welsh combination of traditionalism and loyalism.[1] One such stone, in Llanmaes (between Cowbridge and Llantwit Major), is a particularly good example of the continuity of this tradition and the extent to which it was embedded in local society. In the north of the chancel floor and overlaid by the communion rails, it is a large slab of local limestone with a plain cross on a three-step calvary base.


The style of the cross – very plain, with short thick arms and heavy plain shaft – is comparable with others in the area which can be dated to the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century. The inscription is crudely carved in a combination of Roman, Lombardic and uncial capitals and seems to be integral to the design: it starts on a panel above the head of the cross and continues on the base. It reads DNS (the N is actually an inverted V] ALEXANDER / PHELEP / RECTOR / H[UIU]S ECCLESIE [Huius is written H, inverted V with a line over it, S].



The stone has then been reappropriated by two of his successors in the rectory and inscribed + HERE : LIETH : THE : BODY : OF : Dr : MORGAN : JONE[S : A]ETAT : 58 / &: HERE : LIETH : THE : BODY : OF : MARIE : 1624 / JONES : THE : WIFE : OF : D : JONES / DECEASED : THE : 5 : OF : DECEMBER : AN : DN : [the year is concealed by the altar rail] / ANo : AETATIS : 64 : HEERE : LYETH : THE : B[ODY [: OF / MR : RICHARD : SWINGLEH[URS]T : MR / OF : ARTES : AND : RECTO[R OF] / LA[N]MASE : WHO : DECEAS[ED] : MAR / CH : THE : [the date is difficult to decipher but according to the parish records he died on 25 March 1668].

These inscriptions neatly encapsulate the experiences of the parish and its clergy in the political and religious upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. According to Augusta Rayer-Jenkins’s list of clergy in the old diocese of Llandaff, Alexander Philip was in Llanmaes by 1530, though she gives no reference for this.[2] He was certainly there by 1536, when he was named as one of the trustees of the Carne estate.[3] He was still there in 1563 when the aged bishop Anthony Kitchin sent in a report on his diocese to the Privy Council. Llanmaes is of course in Wales and 1530 was before the Acts of Union. Local people were probably just becoming aware of Henry VIII’s marital problems but with no way of predicting where they would lead. Alexander would have had to take the oaths of Supremacy and Succession, would have seen the great wall painting of St George and all the other decorations of his church painted out, the rood figures removed and the rood screen taken down to the bressumer beam, services in English rather than Latin – and would then have had to get the parish organised to put back as much as they could when Mary came to the throne, only to see it all undone again after 1558. While it is easy to criticise clergy who served under such conflicting instructions, we have to consider the alternatives. What good would it have done to leave and let their parish be taken over by someone more hard-line?

Alexander Philip was presumably dead by 1581 when his replacement was appointed so the slab must date from about then. Morgan Jones D. D. was rector of Llanmaes from 1608 to 1624 and treasurer of the diocese of Llandaff . He was followed in 1624 by Richard Swinglehurst, who was also his son-in-law. Swinglehurst seems to have been made of tougher stuff than Philip – or perhaps it was the Commissioners for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales who were more tough-minded than the gentle and pliable Bishop Kitchin. In 1650, Swinglehurst was deprived of his living for ‘delinquency’ (support for the royalist cause) and refusing to sign the ‘engagement’, a statement of loyalty to the Commonwealth. According to Francis Davies’s account, Swinglehurst

was sequestered and made a delinquent by Col. Jones and
his agents, and had the fifths of his living for one
year, but afterwards was obliged to take what the rulers
pleased, sometimes a small sum at their pleasure, some-
times nothing at all, for he was a rich man as the
commissioners told him, and did not want, and therefore
they thought fit to prevent the exuberancy of his
treasure, to cut him short of his fifths. And they were
as good as their words, for he had nothing out of his
good living for four years, but lived to enjoy it after
the Restoration.[4]


It is difficult to find a connection between Alexander Philip and Morgan Jones, but Jones’s family remained in the rectory for a further generation. The next stone to the south commemorates Swinglehurst’s daughter Elizabeth, whose husband Thomas Wilkins succeeded Swinglehurst as rector, but her memorial has heraldry rather than a cross.


The traditional explanation that these cross slabs commemorate Catholics clearly does not work: there are other examples of crosses on the graves of clerical families. It is nevertheless tempting to assume that Swinglehurst’s Royalism implies that he was on the ‘Arminian’ wing of the Established Church. However, the vicar of the neighbouring parish of Llantwit Major, Stephen Slugge, chose a cross slab to commemorate his first wife, who died in 1626. Slugge held on to his parish through the Commonwealth and was described by Davies as ‘a trimmer and a favourite of the times’. There are no easy answers here. The persistent popularity of cross slabs in south-east Wales in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries owes something to the distinctive Welsh blend of traditionalism and loyalism, and possibly rather more to local fashion.

The church has plenty else of interest. A simple wheel cross, probably later 13th century, built into the chancel steps


another post-medieval cross slab, in two pieces



and the very faded remains of a wall painting of St George.


Also a final puzzle. We have three surviving wall paintings of St George in south Wales – at Llancarfan, Llangattock Lingoed and Llanmaes. All three churches are dedicated to St Cadoc. Coincidence – or connection?


[1] For a more detailed study of these stones see M. Gray, ‘Post-medieval cross slabs in south-east Wales’, The Antiquaries’ Journal 96 (2016).

[2] Cardiff Library MS 4.1224 f. 77.

[3] G. T. Clark, Cartae et alia munimenta quae ad dominium de Glamorgancia pertinenent vol 5 (Cardiff: William Lewis, 1910), pp. 1896-1901

[4] Philip Jenkins, ‘ “The Sufferings of the Clergy”: the church in Glamorgan during the Interregnum. Part 2: the account of Francis Davies’, Journal of Welsh Ecclesiastical History 4 (1987), 9-41.


More on Llanblethian

Update, 24.01.19.

The information that the poem ‘Wel dyma’r dyn a garwyd’ was written by William Williams Pantycelyn’s son came from Cadw’s listing report on Pantycelyn’s grave, http://cadwpublic-api.azurewebsites.net/reports/listedbuilding/FullReport?lang=en&id=10969 . I can’t find anything to support this in G. M. Roberts’s edition of Theomemphus in Gweithiau William Williams Pantycelyn vol. 1. The lovely people @CUSpecialColls found the first (1764) edition of Theomemphus for me and it has the poem in it – so I have no idea where Cadw got their information. I don’t know exactly when John Williams was born but his parents were married in 1748 so he would still have been in his teens in 1764. 

There is no photograph on the Cadw site but I did find one of the more modern stone which has copied and replaced  the original, at https://www.crichbaptist.org/articles/william-williams/. This does only have the third verse of Theomemphus’s epitaph (another thing I was worried about) but there is nothing to suggest that it was John Williams and not William himself who wrote it.

Time to ask Cadw, maybe?


The big excitement at Llanblethian was the crypt – see https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2019/01/02/the-llanblethian-crypt/. But we also had a look in the churchyard and Amy spotted some more Welsh poetry on three flat tombstones, to the south-east of the church. I’m really not good at deciphering damaged and worn stones with Welsh inscriptions but with the help of a bit of googling when we got home I identified two of them. Both are verses from the inscription on the grave of Theomemphus in the epic poem of that name by the great Welsh hymn-writer William Williams Pantycelyn. They only appear in later editions of the poem and are thought to be by his son, the Rev. John Williams, but here they are on two gravestones from 1794 and they do seem to have been planned as a pair.

The first is on a rather overgrown stone that is overlaid by another stone above it.


It commemorates William Rhys of Tyr … in the parish of Coity who died on 25 Feb. 1794. He has the first verse from Theomemphus:


Wel dyma’r dyn a garwyd, a ganwyd yn y gwa’d,
Deng miliwn lawn o feiau faddeuwyd iddo’n rhad;
Ei dynnu wnawd o’r danllwyth, ac yntau yn myn’d i lawr,
Fe gadwyd hwn o uffern, mae e’n y nef yn awr.

(Well, here is the man who was loved, who was cleansed in blood,
Ten million sins were freely forgiven to him;
To keep him from the blazing fire and from going below,
He was kept from Hell, he is now in Heaven)

(I have corrected my translations with the aid of Eifion Evans’s Pursued by God, which is a verse translation of part of Williams’s poem, but I have tried to give a more literal reading. I’m also grateful to my Welsh teacher for checking my conclusions.)

The second tombstone, to the south of the first,


commemorates Catherine, wife of Jonathan Masey (elsewhere Meazey) of Llanblethian and daughter of John Thomas of Wernfawr in Ystradowen. She died on 29 September 1794, aged 32.


Her grave has the second verse of the Theomemphus poem:


Fi ga fy nghorph i fynu, fel fy Anwylyd cu,
Heb nwydau drwg byth mwyach i’m blino fel y bu;
Does dyn wyr is yr wybr, ddedwydded yw fy lle,
Ac nis gall dyn ddych’mygu dim am bleserau’r ne’.

(My body will be raised, like my dear Beloved,
With no more evil desires to weary me as I was;
No man beneath the heavens can know, blessed is my place,
And no man can imagine anything about the pleasures of Heaven.)


(for the whole thing see https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=Ju4-AAAAYAAJ&hl=en_GB&pg=GBS.PP1 )

I can’t find out any more about William Rhys (might go back with a trowel and clear a bit more of the earth from the tombstone and see if I can get the name of his farm). Catherine and Jonathan appear on online family trees at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Meazey-1   and https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Thomas-12911. Both came from Ystradowen but seem to have moved to Llanblethian by the time they married. She was his second wife and he married a third wife in 1797. This was not heartless: he was farming, he had a young family, he needed a business partner to run the house, the dairy etc and look after the next generation. Her tombstone also commemorates two of her grandchildren, Richard and Catherine, children of her son William Meazey and his wife Jane. Llanblethian was not a strongly Welsh-speaking area in the late 18th century. Ystradowen is a little to the north, but still in the Vale of Glamorgan, traditionally an anglicised area.

Theomemphus was first published in 1764. It was very popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and went through several reprints. The third verse of the poem from Theomemphus’s grave  was used on William Williams’s own tomb at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn.He died in 1791 so the poem would have had some publicity then and it seems to have been well known in south-west Wales. Part of it was reworked in a later hymn, but not as far as I can see the first verse. So this is  a bit like those lines from Canwyll y Cymru  at Sully (https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/canwyll-y-cymry/) , a bit of serious Welsh poetry with a fascinating back story in what you would think was a very Anglicised area.

There was a third very worn stone with fragments of Welsh visible but I couldn’t make much of it though it’s probably on Gwen Awbery’s database. It doesn’t seem to be the third verse of the Theomemphus poem. It might be worth going back after dark and trying with a raking light.


The Llanblethian crypt

The church at Llanblethian in the Vale of Glamorgan is the old parish church for the borough of Cowbridge. In the Middle Ages the parish included as chapelries the modern parishes of Llansannor and Welsh St Donats as well as Llanquian, now just a farm off the roundabout east of Cowbridge. It looks feasibly like the minster church of a small Welsh commote. As such it has a good collection of medieval tombstones – I counted ten, plus the little one that was once built into the piscina but is now missing, and a savagely mutilated effigy that was built into the 15th century tower.

Some of the stones are difficult to spot, so when I went there with the Cardiff Archaeological Society I challenged them to find them all. They did it, and even found an extra, reused as a lintel in the crypt.


The visible part of the stone measures 55 x 40 cm maximum, but it is clearly built into the wall with a full length of at least 90 cm. Here is a view of the window


The crypt at Llanblethian has all sorts of stories attached to it.


When the church was ‘restored’ in 1896 the crypt was found to be full of skeletons, together with some coffin lids, presumably those now placed in the tower and porch. Local tradition says that the skeletons were those of soldiers killed at the battle of Stalling Down in 1405. It seems more likely, though, that this was the parish charnel house, and that it held skulls and bones found in the course of grave-digging: these are the bone-holes through which they would have been shovelled.


The bones were reburied in a common grave in the churchyard, and it seems unlikely that it will ever be possible to re-excavate and examine them.

As well as the communal crypt, the church had a separate stone-lined shaft which contained a skeleton and a small low-grade pewter chalice. This was presumably the grave of a much-respected parish priest, with the chalice as his emblem of office.


Covering the shaft, though, was a reused tomb stone commemorating a woman, Eme…t wife of Walter Torig.


The carving on the stone was late 13th century in style and the priest’s grave was probably fourteenth century, so the stone must have been reused quite soon after it was laid in its original position. Medieval people were quite relaxed about reusing tomb carvings – they crop up as door and window lintels and they made particularly good steps.

The detailed study of what was found in the church in 1895 is in Archaeologia Cambrensis for 1898, available online at https://journals.library.wales/view/2919943/3011708/16#?xywh=-1218%2C-1313%2C4256%2C3507 .

Brecon (again)

A trip to Brecon always seems to produce something new, especially with my sharp-eyed cousin Amy. To be fair, these are a bit niche – but is this


a medieval cross slab? From the floriated base


and the lack of any visible inscription it could well be. There’s a bit of one fleur-de-lis finial on the head.


Not totally convinced by this one –


the inscription could be hidden.

This beauty is clearly post-medieval


and a chilling reminder.

This in the north transept


could be medieval from the simplicity of the stepped base.

The cathedral cat led us to some fine 20th century tombs outside.


And finally – Amy spotted this


as the lintel of a niche in the west wall.

But oh dear, oh dear, oh dear –


what can we do to stop them piling seats, flower-arranging clutter and buckets on the stones?

Friends of Friendly Churches

To my way of thinking, a Friendly Church is one that is open on a gloomy Sunday in the depths of December. So with some optimism my sharp-eyed French cousin and I set off to look at a clutch of FFC churches just east of Usk. We got to Gwernesney and the door was firmly shut. Asked at Church Farm … asked at the next house … cute dogs, no idea about keys. Then Amy gave the door a good thump and it opened. O we of little faith.

And it was worth the wait. A typical Friends’ church, unassuming and full of interest.

Quite a lot of the rood screen left, with some lovely post-medieval stencilling and decoration.




with fragments of poetry

(can’t make out the inscription on this one)

and a clutch of rectors and their families in the chancel.


Then we tracked back to Llangyfiw.

This has the skeleton of its rood screen including the support beam.

Typical Welsh construction, very boxy, with joists rather than vaulting under the huge loft. But the great excitement here was this another of those post-Reformation cross slabs.

It has a date 1595, the IHS trigram at the heart of the cross and the scrolled base characteristic of north Gwent cross slabs of the period.

But the head is rather awkwardly done,

the lower part not carved in, and with an unusual frilled semicircular border with projecting fleurs-de-lis. Could this be the work of an apprentice who had gone on to establish his own workshop?

And finally to Llangwm, the jewel in the crown of the Friends’ churches in south-east Wales. It’s best known for its rood screen

but there is a lot else as well – green men, lovely tiles in the chancel. And outside Amy spotted this.

Just a groove made by the gate, or the remains of another tombstone?

Oh, and the King’s Head in Usk managed a vegan meal in spite of being all booked up with people for Sunday lunch. A good day.