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?


Brecon study weekend (1)

The Church Monuments Society study weekend in Breconshire was both informative and fun – as good study weekends should be. Heather James has kindly promised a full report for the CMS Newsletter: meanwhile here are some photos.

Lectures in the morning looked mainly at Welsh commemorative poetry. Here we are in the Cathedral deciphering one of the poems that Gwen Awbery talked about

(photo: Heather James)

The poem reads

Cofia DDyn wrth fyned heibio; Fel ty, di y finau fuo
Fel r’wyf fi tithau ddeui. Ystyr hyn mae marw wnadi

(This is the Welsh equivalent of
Remember man as you pass by
As you are so once was I
As I am so you will be
Remember Death will come to thee

but Gwen Awbery suggests that English and Welsh variants developed separately from the Latin original.)

And here we are discussing the absence of animals under the feet of post-Reformation effigies

(photo Heather James again)

Brecon has a magnificent collection of those idiosyncratic post-Reformation cross slabs: Paul Jones’s photos

Sunday was a bit more free-form: the main focus was the brightly-coloured wall memorials of the Brute family of masons at Llangattock, Partrishow and Cwm-iou

(Paul Jones’s photos again)

and this slightly different one at Llanthony.

Heather James’s photo: she wonders if the angel at the top, sounding the Last Trump, is a play on the name Trumper?

More on the Sunday field trip at .

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Cathedral …

Our long-awaited informal study day at Christ College Brecon and the Cathedral, with input from the Church Monuments Society, Welsh Stone Forum, National Museum of Wales, Brecon branches of NADFAS (the National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies) and U3A – getting all the ducks in a row on this one took some doing! A small group met at Christ College in the morning. The main purpose here was for Brian and Moira Gittos to look at the medieval incised effigy. They were very impressed by the quality of the carving – the flowing lines of the body and the drapery are very accomplished, the detailing of the hands is excellent, with the fingertips just overlapping, and there is beautiful detailing in the architectural surround. Puzzling that the face is just a simple outline, but Brian and Moira suggest that it was almost certainly designed to be painted. This would have picked up even more of the drapery as well as filling in the face and (crucially) adding an inscription. The technique would in fact have been quite similar to what we found in the wall paintings from Llandeilo Talybont, where outlines were incised into still-damp plaster to guide the later painting.

We also puzzled over the other medieval slabs drawn by Dineley.

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The filing cabinets have been moved since our last visit so it was easier to see the slabs (though I was too busy for photography – that will need another visit).

The top one is clearly this


and with strong lateral light we were able to establish that the second one is the one to the left in this  older photo – the scallop shells were faintly visible.


But the lettering on the third one is quite different from Dineley’s reading, and there is no damage on the surviving slab to compare with Dineley’s drawing. So we may have a fourth slab – and where is the one Dineley drew? On the other hand, we do know that he sometimes produced his drawings after the event, from notes: for example, he draws the alabaster effigy at Beaumaris with a mail coif when it actually has a full helmet.

And the lettering on the second slab is also different from the lettering in Dineley’s drawing – we are more confident about the identification of that one because the scallop shells are so distinctive.

There were some fragmentary slabs leaning against the incised effigy. We tutted and moved them away – then when we turned them over we found this


part of another medieval slab, broken and trimmed for use as paving but otherwise in good condition; and this


part of another of those intriguing post-medieval cross slabs with the IHS trigram; plus several fragments of a mid-18th century slab with the IHS trigram but no cross.


The incised effigy is sandstone and it is flaking and laminating. We tentatively suggested some conservation ideas – eg not brushing it down, not stacking things against it – and ended up promising to send details of professional conservators. Apparently funding should not be a problem. Those of us who are used to churches where they have to choose between conserving antiquities, mending the roof and funding the local food bank (not to mention the bats – DON’T TALK ABOUT THE BATS) found this quite a culture shock.

Eventually we tore ourselves away and went up to the Cathedral – lunch in the Pilgrim Cafe (excellent – hope the new team there will still be able to cater for vegans), met groups from the Stone forum, the Museum, NADFAS and U3A, into the Cathedral. We got off to a bad start – in spite of all our forward planning the medieval slabs at the back are still completely hidden by rostra and raked seating. And the ones by the north wall were under benches, heavy trolleys and flower stands. We squared up to the task of moving these and enthused the NADFAS and U3A group with the gorgeous floriated crosses and Lombardic script on the stones. To my horror we found a medieval slab I hadn’t spotted on earlier visits – here we are looking at it


and here it is in detail.


I was misled by the style of the cross head but the script and language are clearly medieval. I need to go back and puzzle over the name: the second part of the inscription, ALME : MERCI : AMEN, is clear enough. But a new stone is going to play hob with my numbering sequence.

But then we had to put the benches and trolleys back. Like the bats in smaller and quieter churches, it’s an insoluble problem. All that stuff has to go somewhere, and the cathedral is short of storage space: the Close is tiny and all the buildings are being used to capacity. But we did wish they didn’t put such heavy stuff on the stones!

There’s also a conflict of interest in the Havard chapel, and here it’s a more specific conflict over memorialization. The chapel has lovely mellow oak panelling with plaques commemorating the South Wales Borderers (the 24th Regiment of Foot) and the Monmouthshire Regiment. But the panelling is built over a couple of medieval cross slabs and partly obscures that very interesting 1569 monument to Lewis Havard (more on that at ). The oak pews with their memorial plaques to individual soldiers are lovely – but they are very heavy and sit on top of the seventeenth-century ledger stones. What to do?

Here’s the Havard memorial with the panelling in place


and here it is with panelling removed.


But look again at the drawing in Theophilus Jones


one of the NADFAS group has spotted that they are different. The design of the cross head isn’t quite right; the three bulls on the top right shield on the stone is replaced by three stars and one bulls head in the drawing; and the stag in the lower left shield isn’t quite the same as what is in the drawing either. So are we looking at two different carvings? On the other hand the inscription is exactly the same in the drawing and the carving. It could be that like Thomas Dineley the artist was relying on notes and memory and simply got it wrong. More puzzles to brood over.

At least we may be making a start on recording the stones. The members of the NADFAS group were initially daunted by the task but they were reassured that planning memorials on the floor is really no different from planning wall monuments: you need a good plan of the layout and a number for each monument and away you go. There may be differences to be ironed out between the Ledgerstones Survey template and the NADFAS template, but that surely can’t be an insuperable barrier. NADFAS will do the Havard chapel and we will hope that that will inspire others to take up the task. Brian and Moira Gittos from the Church Monuments Society have said that the post-medieval floor slabs at Brecon are the best collection they have seen – and as they have seen most things that means they are almost certainly the best in the UK. Spreading understanding of their meaning and importance is going to be the best way of conserving them.

Brecon Cathedral again (and again)

Brecon is the cathedral that just keeps giving, at least for the student of church monuments. Last time we were there, we spotted an oddity between the pews and the north wall of the Havard chapel (the one north of the chancel).  It looked like a late sixteenth-century slab with lots of heraldry but the inscription (barely legible between the pews) was in Latin and part of it read ‘cuius anime …’, presumably to be followed by ‘deus propicietur’. May God have mercy on his soul – not something you’d expect on a post-Reformation monument.

Brecon was not of course a cathedral until the twentieth century. The church had been part of the priory of St John and was converted to parish use at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The monuments were pretty comprehensively moved around when George Gilbert Scott restored the building in the 1860s and 1870s, and we couldn’t be sure that this tomb slab was anywhere like its original location, but it was still interesting.

So we went back for another go. The Cathedral’s maintenance staff were absolutely star, moving immensely heavy oak pews and even removing a section of panelling so that I could read as much as possible. Here it is


Unfortunately, the section under the panelling was very badly worn and I could only make out a few letters.


They included a capital G – Games, possibly, one of the wealthy local families? But moving the pew made the other part of the inscription fairly clear. Whoever it was died in October 1569, and the inscription clearly continued as I thought, ‘cuius anime propicietur deus’ then round the corner ‘amen’. Then we could see the beginning, something like ‘Hic sepultus …’, ‘here lies buried’ (and sepultus rather than sepulta making it clear it was a man). The Cathedral guide, Richard Camp, suggested it might be the tomb of a Havard – we were after all in the Havard chapel and one of the shields on the monument was the three bulls’ heads of the Havards – but I wasn’t convinced.

While we were doing this, we also spotted two more small crosses, one of them very battered.



Dear old George Gilbert Scott had tucked them away under a radiator. Not the best conservation practice.

And finally there was this one


now forming a sort of draining-board to the piscina in the St Lawrence chapel.  Was it ever a cross – was it a cross reused as a roof tile – or was it a roof tile roughly incised with the base of a cross?

At home I found Theophilus Jones’s History of Brecon on the site. And there in the plate facing page 73 of vol 2 was the cross slab we had been looking at.


And Richard Camp was right, it was a Havard, Lewis Havard. The G I had seen was the G of Generosus.

But all was not lost because while looking for it I found a description of another tomb dated 1564 with the same rather old-fashioned wording. It commemorated Edward Games of Newton, a member of another wealthy local family. That one has since been lost, but it does start to look like something of a local fashion.  This is where it gets dangerous to think of these inscriptions as ‘Catholic’. The Games and Havard family certainly had Catholic connections, though in the case of the Games the accusations may have had more to do with local politics. But there was a difference between being accused of reading Catholic poetry and being a full-on recusant.  In any case, both families were clearly part of the local establishment and, whatever their religious tendencies, qualified for burial in the parish church.

With Rachel Duthie’s help we had also spotted this


at the base of the north rood loft stairs. With the eye of faith you can see that this too is the shaft of a cross – and it’s probably medieval simply because there is no evidence of writing.

There was no time to do more that day but we were back the next day to look at some carvings in Brecon College. So Rachel Duthie promised to arrange access to some of the other staircases. Stairs are often a good place to look for fragments of medieval tomb carving because the slabs of stone are perfect for steps. The tower steps at Conwy in north Wales are virtually all medieval tomb carvings (see Gresham for details, plus at least one more spotted by the Gittos) and there are at least two at Llanilltud Fawr.

Christ’s College, Brecon is now a public school but it’s on the site of the Dominican friary of St Nicholas, which was in the suburbs of the medieval borough of Brecon. We went there partly to see some tomb carvings which Thomas Dineley sketched in 1684 when we accompanied the Duke of Beaufort on a tour of Wales. There was another purpose too. I’m working with Ian Fell of Llancarfan on a booklet explaining the medieval wall painting of Death and the Gallant which has recently been discovered in the parish church at Llancarfan. We have been collecting other medieval depictions of Death, in Wales and elsewhere. Some of the choir stalls at Christ’s College came from the friary, and one has a wonderfully crude carving of Death under the misericord seat.

So Ian brought his powerful lighting and we both had a go. Here is Death, with a face like a Hallowe’en pumpkin


– and he is actually kneeling.


This may have been because the carver couldn’t fit the feet into the misericord support. However, it’s always worth remembering that Death in the medieval morality plays is actually one of the good characters – he (or sometimes she) is God’s messenger, taking you not to the Devil but to judgement.

Then we went to look at the tomb carvings.  The college archivist kindly gave up much of her morning to accompanying us and showing us around. This is Dineley’s sketch of the tombs.


We found one of those without too much difficulty – here it is


And the one with the very plain cross is here, behind a very heavy and totally immobile chest of drawers


you can make out the words AMEN + HIC at the top, but the cross has been completely worn away.

We weren’t sure about the third. There is another slab, very worn and almost completely illegible:


The letters at the bottom are a bit clearer and don’t correspond to Dineley’s drawing.


But I do know that a lot of the drawings in Dineley’s journal were done from notes. His drawing of the Bulkeley tomb in Beaumaris has a totally inaccurate depiction of armour and clothing and may get the heraldry wrong as well. So it is quite possible that Dineley didn’t show the lettering exactly as it appeared.

The wear on the stone is rather more problematic.  It’s hard to see how the cross and scallop shells that Dineley drew (and presumably saw) have been so completely obliterated, and how the lettering has virtually disappeared. An angle grinder would do it, but they didn’t have angle grinders in the eighteenth century. However, when we looked round the college chapel, we saw some seventeenth-century ledger stones that had been similarly worn almost flat. A college chapel does get a very heavy footfall, more than the average parish church: the pupils could be trooping in several times a day for various purposes, scuffing their feet and generally kicking around. On balance I think the third stone is the one Dineley drew – at least, I hope it is, because (a) if it isn’t, I don’t know where the other one is and (b) I can’t decipher what survives!

The chapel vestry has some other stones as well. Most are fragments of seventeenth and eighteenth century memorials. There’s this cross slab


to a member of the Awbery family, and this very faint incised stone


with a couple in late sixteenth-century dress.

And to our great excitement this


– no inscription but from the detail of the head and hands with the contrast as high as it will go I think it’s mid fourteenth century.

And we had an excellent lunch in the College canteen. Boarding school food is definitely a lot better than it was in my day – no gristle or watery cabbage in sight, and they catered for a vegan without turning a hair.

So on to the Cathedral, where one of the minor canons had kindly offered to take us up the tower. This was exciting and a bit scary (I have poor balance and no head for heights) and there were no tomb slabs in the steps or the vaulting, but the glimpses of the Cathedral at ceiling level and the view across Brecon to the Beacons were stunning. And while the minor canon was looking for the tower key we spotted this


in the steps up to the organ loft.

All in all a very productive day – now all I have to do is make sense of my notes, write it up and not get too involved with the post-medieval discoveries.