St David And Llanthony
By Charles E S Fairey
In the mysterious Black Mountains
In the land of the Red Dragon
In the Nant Honddu vale,
Dewi Sant took root, while on his holy trail.
Here at Llanthony he built his cell
Where prayed and contemplated faith
With miracles he was known,
And teachings amongst pagan sown.
Once again he left to journey
To another hermitic site
And this place was forgotten and ruinous,
The Saint and his Dove now numinous.
A Norman knight while hunting
Lost his way in the woods and swamps
And came across this hermit’s ruin,
And devoted to atonement for sin.
Here William de Lacy rebuilt
The cell into dedicated chapel
Took to solitary prayer and learning,
Inspired by Dewi to believe and stop sinning.
Here now the little church stands
Next to a great abbey now ruined
With wild hills all around,
Leaving visitor’s imagination spellbound.
When one wonders how rugged and wild
This vale was when Dewi prayed
Even now another world our heart sees,
And ghostly monk worships upon his knees,
For all his flock across this land
Till Death’s clock runs out of sand,
For here is the Patron of Wales
And his helping hand never fails,
His teaching ringing out as he sings
“In life, do the little things.”
By Charles E S Fairey
Within the Vale of Ewyas
In the wild isolated remote mountains,
A tranquil solitary abbey
Stands in the valley in ruins.
The Black Canons’ desolate retreat
In the shadow of Bâl Mawr,
Its dark silhouette enveloping the priory,
Its breathless ruins and rising tower.
Ancient cairns on slopes about
Offa’s Dyke runs above these vales,
Where Black Canons prayed and preached
Latin whispers heard in night gales.
By day a place of windswept beauty
A place of reclusive relaxation,
By night a bleak wilderness
Of old brigands and rebellion.
The Black Mountains all around
Keeping the secret of Llanthony hidden,
A place to withdraw and retire
The Black Canons’ Welsh Eden.
The River Honddu silently flows,
Sheep, the ruins modern choirs,
The bare grazed hills dormant,
Though the desolate silence inspires.
Once sheltered from the world,
But so distant from anywhere, no defense
From the proud local Welsh,
When relations with English invaders were tense.
Still so secluded, journey long,
On the road meandering through,
While the mountains still watch,
Long since Black Canons withdrew.
But still on a moonless night
Latin whispers in the night gales,
Heard all around in tempestuous storms
The Canons come forth from the veils,
And their dark shadowy forms,
Walk the Vale, prayer and preach around
Yet by day, you seldom hear a sound.
St David's Church, Llanthony, has links with the sixth century and the days of the Celtic saints. After the departure of the Romans, in the 5th Century AD, the Romano British Celts held on to their Christianity when the Saxon invaders came, who were pagan, and pushed the Britons back into Wales and to the north. The early saints were often hermits who lived solitary lives of prayer and contemplation. St David is believed to have lived here in a cell. Such a saint usually attracted followers, and a type of monastic community was often formed, consisting of stone or timber cells clustered round a church, enclosed within a 'llan'.
Llanthony is a corruption of the Welsh Llan-ddewi-nant-honddu, meaning the Llan of St. David on the River Honddu.
The church stands on the site where the humble chapel of St. David had stood prior to the 13th century, when the present church and much of the priory date from.
Norman nobleman William de Lacy reputedly came upon the ruined chapel of St. David at Llanthony in 1100.
Llanthony Priory was one of the earliest houses of Augustinian canons to be founded in Britain, and is one of only a handful in Wales. It is chiefly famous today for its wild and beautiful setting, far up the Vale of Ewyas in the picturesque setting of the Black Mountains. It was the priory's remoteness in the Welsh hills which was its undoing, however, making it vulnerable to attack. Giraldus Cambrensis described it, in the late 12th century, as being 'fixed amongst a barbarous people'.
William de Lacy, a knight in the service of Hugh de Lacy, is said to have chosen the spot while out hunting, when he sheltered in a chapel there dedicated to St David. Very quickly a church was established, dedicated to John the Baptist, and it was reorganized as a priory in about 1118. Hugh de Lacy, who had assumed the patronage, endowed it with land, and it soon became famous, enjoyed royal patronage and received many visitors. There were 40 canons in residence, but in about 1135 the 'barbarous people' forced a retreat to Hereford and Gloucester. Of this first priory nothing remains. Peace and renewed endowment by the de Lacy family brought canons back from Gloucester and ushered in a great rebuilding phase. It is the remains of this phase that can be seen today.