Life at Ewenny Priory

The Annals of Margam Abbey state that the new Priory was to have a complement of twelve monks and a prior; they would have come from the mother house at Gloucester. Gloucester Abbey became a Benedictine monastery in 1017, and a new Abbey Church was built by 1100. Some of the architectural details of Ewenny Priory Church reflect those at Gloucester. As Benedictines, the monks at Ewenny followed the rule of life drawn up by the Italian monk Benedict in the 6th century. The Rule of St Benedict required poverty, chastity and obedience to the abbot and the Rule. The primary task was the ‘opus Dei’, the Work of God, a routine of eight fixed periods of worship in church. The first, Matins, was at midnight, Lauds at daybreak, Prime at 6.00pm, Terce at 9.00am, Sext at mid-day, None at 3.00pm, Vespers at 6.00pm and Compline at 9.00pm. These ‘Offices’ were centred on the chanting of the Psalms, readings from the Scriptures and prayers. Mass would have been celebrated at the High Altar following Terce, with great ceremonial for festival days.

medieval plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conjectural Plan of Ewenny Priory in Medieval times

The monks would have lived in a dormitory on the south side of the church, entering for worship through a staircase and doorway in the corner of the south transept. The monastic buildings, including the chapter house where the monks met to discuss business, the cloisters, refectory, guest house and infirmary, would have been where the present mansion stands. The monks would be assigned tasks within the Priory, such as maintaining the fabric, copying the books for worship, and cultivating the grounds; they would provide hospitality for the traveller, and help for the poor, aged and sick. The Priory was given land by the de Londres and Turbervill families, established granges or farms at Monknash, Wick and Corntown, had fishing and fuel rights, and built cells at Wick and Llangeinor for monks to spend time on their own.

The nave of the Priory Church provided for the parishioners of the parish, while the presbytery and transepts were reserved for the monks. The two parts were separated by a wall, the pulpitum screen. The pulpitum screen is so called because it would have provided the support for a platform or pulpit for the reading of the Gospel in the Mass to the congregation in the monastic end, not the nave. For the parish church, the screen served as a reredos to the altar.

It is possible that in medieval times the space between the pulpitum screen and the arch was in-filled with timber, on which would have been painted a picture of the ‘Doom’ or Last Judgement. It was the custom in monastic churches to have a separate rood-screen supporting a carving of the Crucifixion westward of the pulpitum screen. At Ewenny Priory Church, two small niches are cut into nave pillar to the left of the present organ; these could have supported a light wooden rood-screen with the crucifixion scene above. If this was the case, the worshipper in the nave would have seen the Cross silhouetted before the painting of the Last Judgement, thus illustrating the medieval prayer “Set thy cross and thy passion between thy judgement and our souls, now and at the hour of our death.”

 

Effectively Ewenny was two churches in one, with the priest celebrating Mass for the parishioners on Sundays entering the nave from the monastic end through the door in the wall.