Penmon Priory

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A 10th century cross from the priory

Penmon Priory, also called St Seiriol's Monastery, stood on the Penmon Peninsula at the eastern corner of Anglesey until the dissolution of the monasteries. Its associated 12th-century church remains the parish church. Walls near the well next to the church may be part of the oldest remaining Christian building in Wales.

Middle Ages

The monastery was founded at some time in the Dark Ages; according to tradition it was founded in the sixth century by Seiriol, its first abbot. It had a wooden church building by the 10th century. This wooden building was destroyed in 971 and then rebuilt in the 12th century in stone, from 1120 to 1123.[1] The oldest parts of the church nowadays date to the year 1140.

The monastery survived the initial Norman invasion of Gwynedd, and the wars of resistance fought by the Princes of Gwynedd between 1081 and 1100.

Prince Llywelyn Fawr and his successors made the church wealthy with grants of land. The priory church was enlarged in the early 13th century, at the time of the Augustinian Rule. There are records for the election of Priors in the Calendar of Patent Rolls back to 1306, when one Iowerth the Prior is mentioned.[2] The dining hall was on the first floor, with a cellar below and dormitory above. In the 16th century, a kitchen and a warming house were added at the east of the building.[3][4] The eastern range of buildings has gone, but the southern one, containing the refectory with a dormitory above, still stands.

The priory was dissolved under Knig Henry VIII in 1536 and its lands confiscated to the Crown. The priory was in decline long before this though and had only the Prior and two other members at that time.[2]

Modern age

The priory church, St Seiriol's, survived dissolution.

St. Seiriol's Church, which was the centrepiece of the monastery, is now the parish church, belonging to the Church in Wales, part of a joint benefice with Beaumaris within the Diocese of Bangor.[2] The church was given a government grant of £20,570 in 2004[5] to repair the leadwork, the rainwater goods, repointing and limewashing of the tower roof and the superstructure of the building.[6] Another building in Penmon, the Priory House (which is set around the cloister court of the church), received £21,600 to repair the chimneys, the walls, the windows and the roof of the house.[6]

Penmon crosses

The two medieval crosses that once stood in front of the monastery (from the 10th century) are still in existence today, but are now inside the church.[7] One cross is larger but badly weathered (because it stood outside until 1977, in a deer park). It is almost complete except for about 12 inches between the top of the shaft and the head.[8] The other cross is smaller, not as weathered but has an arm of the cross cut off because it was used as a lintel for the refectory windows. It has a modern stone base unlike the other cross.[8]

St Seiriol's Well

As was often the case with Welsh churches from this period, the church was associated with a well. It was built by the monks of Penmon and was believed to have healing powers by some people visiting it.[9] It is probably one of the oldest buildings in Penmon. It has been said that the lower stone walls near the well were part of Seiriol's church in the 6th century; if so, this would make it the oldest remaining Christian building in Wales.[10] A small chamber surrounds the well.[11]

In modern times, water from the well has been used as a symbol of Anglesey by the island's representatives at the opening ceremonyof the International Island Games, firstly at the 10th games held in Guernsey in June 2003.[12]

Dovecot

The dovecot

The dovecote standing near the church was probably built in about 1600, in Elizabethan times, by Sir Richard Bulkeley for housing pigeons for their eggs and meat. It has a large domed roof with a cupola on top so birds could fly in and out.

200psThe interior of Penmon Priory Dovecot showing its central pillar

Inside the dovecot were 1,000 nesting boxes, with a pillar in the centre supporting a revolving ladder to provide access to the nesting boxes. The central pillar remains, but the ladder is now gone.[13]

Puffin Island

Main article: Puffin Island, Anglesey

St Seiriol established a cell and a community on Puffin Island[14] (in Welsh, Ynys Seiriol or Seiriol's Island) half a mile from the coast at the same time as he founded the monastery. There is a tower of a 12th-century church on Puffin Island still. There is a tradition that St Seiriol and perhaps Maelgwn Gwynedd (King of Gwynedd in the first half of the 6th century) were buried there.[15] The island once had large numbers of puffins and guillemots. However, rats reduced the bird population to 40 in the 1890s.

References

  1. Sheela Penmon.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Fairlamb, Rev. Neil (Rector of Beaumaris): "The Clergy of the Beaumaris Parishes" page 16. Unpublished pamphlet (available at the Church), 2007
  3. Penmon Priory
  4. Penmon Priory and Dovecote.
  5. BBC News website "Historic buildings get £300,000 boost"
  6. 6.0 6.1 Funding for historic buildings in Wales.
  7. A Penmon Cross.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Tolley, Chris (February 2003). "Penmon Priory, Anglesey". Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. https://web.archive.org/web/20080724043836/http://web.ukonline.co.uk/cj.tolley/ctm/ctm-penmon.htm. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  9. Saint Seiriol's Well, ukattraction.com
  10. Williams, John Lasarus. The Land of the Long Long Name. Llyfrau Lleiniong, 1999. ISBN 0-9525267-1-9
  11. St. Seiriol's Well, Cadw website page
  12. Greenwood, Dave (May 30, 2003). "Island athletes draw on divine inspiration". Daily Post. Archived from the original on 2012-02-05. http://web.archive.org/web/20120205064800/http://icnorthwales.icnetwork.co.uk/news/regionalnews/tm_method=full&objectid=13013046&siteid=50142-name_page.html. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  13. Penmon Priory and Dovecot
  14. St. Seiriol's Church.
  15. Puffin Island information.