A Tour of Ewenny Priory Church: The Presbytery

Presbytery screen (2)The presbytery is entered through an oak screen, the upper half of which is 14th century, the lower early 16th century. There was a door in the centre, as indicated by the rebate, and this can be seen in Turner’s watercolour. The upright bars of the screen show the deep cuts worn in them by friction from the ropes used to tie up animals when the presbytery was used as a stable during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Presbytery 3 webThe presbytery is distinctive in 12th century architecture in having three bays and two different styles of vaulting to the ceiling, barrel-vaulting for the first two, and crossed-rib vaulting for the eastern-most over the altar. The cross-vaulting marks the sanctuary area, acting as a baldachino or canopy over the altar, and allows the insertion of windows to the north and south, providing extra light. It is likely that the design for the vaulting was modelled on the presbytery of St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester; William de Londres, the builder of Ewenny Priory Church, would have wished, as far as he could with limited resources, to reflect the Priory’s mother house.

 

The vaulting and lower ceiling provided excellent acoustics for the monks as they sung their offices within the presbytery. The floor is now paved with Victorian glazed earthenware tiles, replicas of the originals. Some bear the coat-of-arms of Gloucester Abbey, of William Parker, the last abbot of Gloucester, and of the Beauchamp, Berkerolle and Turbervill families, benefactors of the Priory.

Set in the north wall of the presbytery, alongside the door to the north transept chapel, is a round- headed niche which would have contained an aumbry, where the chalices and other sacred vessels for the Mass or Holy Communion would be kept. Also on the north wall is a hagioscope or squint, which would have provided a view of the high altar from the side chapel.

altarThe altar has been reconstructed using the original slab. Three of the five consecration crosses can be seen incised on the surface. On the south wall is a piscina with two drains for the cleansing of the sacred vessels used for the Mass.

 

 

 

Presbytery w-p 4 web

The most remarkable feature of the presbytery is the original wall-painting around the east windows. During the recording and conservation work undertaken in 2003-4, it was discovered that there were two painting programmes, the first dated to the 1140s, the second to the middle of the 13th century. The earlier painting is the only surviving Romanesque (12th century) wall-painting in Wales. It can be seen on the vaulting on the north side of the east wall, on the right side of the left window and to the left and right of the central window. The dating of the first scheme of wall-painting in the presbytery suggests that William de Londres’ church was richly decorated throughout by Maurice de Londres in preparation for the confirmation of the foundation of the Priory as a daughter house of Gloucester Abbey in 1141.

The later scheme can be particularly seen round the central window, with chevron decoration, and flowers on stalks infilling the masonry pattern. It was usual in the 13th century for the rather austere Norman buildings to be brightened up with elaborate wall decoration. This seems to have been particularly the case at Ewenny Priory Church to heighten the significance of the altar.

The stained glass  in the central window depicts St Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of the Priory Church. This window, and the others in the presbytery with patterned glass, were inserted between 1869 and 1885.

After the dissolution of the Priory in 1536, the presbytery was used as the family burial place for the Carnes and the Turbervills. A number of memorials to the families can be seen on the walls of the presbytery.