On the benefits of a fresh pair of eyes

We had an epic field visit to Abergavenny, Partrishow and Cwm-iou with my Art & Death Special Subject group. Highlights were two more of those intriguing post-Reformation IHS cross slabs (more on these at http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/brecon-cathedral-history-beneath-your-feet/). One was spotted in Abergavenny by Gareth Kinnair – this is his photo

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The stone is tucked against the east end of the south choir stalls – Gareth says he found it by chance as we had been looking at the one on the north side and this one looked similar. I have been to Abergavenny more times than I care to count and I am still finding new things there. And next month they are going to do some work on the floor of the north chapel and lift some of the stones – watch this space!

The inscription is tantalising as well. Translated, it reads:

I know that my Redeemer liveth: Job 19, 2.
William Williams, firstborn son of Rice Williams, esquire, of Park Lettice, deceased, after that he had completed 70 years, not without the love of Christ, gently fell asleep in the Lord on the 9th day of November in the year 1633, and is buried here; to whom, with all the holy dead [or …with all the departed saints] may God grant the consummation in the last day by the merits of Jesus. Amen.

Nothing overtly Catholic – and the Biblical quotation and the reference to the merits of Christ are if anything Reformed – but is the line ‘cum sanct’ omnibus defunctis’ a reference to ‘the dead which die in the Lord’ or is it a carefully-worded hint of the cult of the saints? Park Lettice was a substantial estate in the parish of Llangatwg near Usk. The Williams family of Park Lettice do not seem ever to have been open recusants. Is this yet another example of the stubborn traditionalism of south-east Wales or is there something more to it?

The other stone – Gareth’s photo again

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is in Partrishow, another church I would have thought I knew very well. All we have here is the date, but it is a significant one: March 1688, when the Catholics were riding high. A Catholic, James II, was on the throne, and after fifteen years of marriage his wife was pregnant at last. Of course, it all went horribly wrong for the Catholics. The child was born in the summer, there was a rebellion, James and his family were forced to flee the country and eventually his daughter by his first marriage took the throne as the Protestant Queen Mary, with her husband William. Ironically, after this ‘Glorious Revolution’ things did get better for the Catholics. Among other things, tombstones with overtly Catholic inscriptions and imagery become more common from the beginning of the eighteenth century onwards. But in 1688 they are still pretty unusual, apart from this corner of Monmouthshire and Breconshire where they just keep turning up.

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