It was an inspired choice by its founders to set the parish church on a small hill overlooking the village and thereby bring its inhabitants under the special protection of St Bridget, fifth century saint from Kildare, to whom the building is dedicated.
She has three other churches under her patronage in South Wales, and was regarded in Ireland as second only to the Virgin Mary.
Even today, although modern buildings press about it on three sides, the church continues to hold a commanding position over the valley below.
St. Brides and the surrounding district are rich in history. The ancient track-way of Heol-y-Milwr (Soldier’s Way) was used by the Romans and later by the Normans to form a ready link with Ogmore Castle, built by William de Londres. The leading Welsh bard
of the day, (lorwerth Fynglwyd, 1500-1530) lived here and in 1815, Sir Thomas Picton, who was to die in the Battle of Waterloo, stayed with his brother-in-law, then Vicar of St. Brides, and took his last communion in the church before leaving to join Wellington in Belgium. This visit is commemorated by the grove of trees on the left hand side as one approaches the village from Bridgend.
The earliest reference occurs during the first half of the twelfth century, when it is recorded that ‘In the year 1141 Maurice de Londonia gave to the church of St. Peter of Gloucester, the church of St. Michael of Ewenny, the church of St. Bridget (St. Brides Major) with the chapel of Ugemore (Wick), de Lanfey Lampha the church of St. Michael of Colvestone (Colwinstone), with all the lands, meadows and all other things belonging
to them freely and willingly in free almoigne in order that it might become a convent of monks’. In the Primary Visitation of Bishop Ewer in 1763 we are told that there were one hundred and eighty six families living in the parishes of St. Brides Major and Wick, that there was an almshouse but no charity school and that five pounds a year were left to two poor persons of the Parish of St. Bride’s Major; the vicar himself resided at Ewenny,
two miles from his parish church, until he could conveniently repair the vicarage. In the returns the vicar also revealed that he employed no curate, that there were three hundred and eighty communicants and that a sermon was preached every other Sunday according to the local custom.
While there has been substantial restoration in the nave and the fifteenth century tower, the interior of the church possesses an attractive simplicity, which enhances its appearance and emphasizes its purpose. The earliest surviving part of the buildings is the chancel with its twelfth century arch.
SIR JOHN LE BOTILER
The incised sepulchral slab of Sir Johan le Botiler (Butler) of Dunraven (c.1285) was discovered in the churchyard in 1845 and now rests at the rear of the altar; a stone coffin to which the slab originally possibly belonged is positioned along the south wall of the sanctuary. The figure itself, one of the most interesting monuments in the church, is that of a knight standing cross-legged with the spurred feet resting on a wyvern (a winged
two-legged dragon). Sir John wears a hauberk (a long coat of mail, often sleeveless, chausses (mailcovering for the legs and feet) and a long sur-coat. On his head he has a plate skull cap with a fleur de lys in the centre between two covered cups to indicate the derivation of his name as ‘cup-bearer’ or butler’.
In the floor of the northeast corner of the Sanctuary lies a second incised sepulchral slab. The surface of this is mainly occupied by a large cross in whose upper spaces are crosses set within circles, and it is probable that this marks the burial place of an earlier priest of this church.
In the north wall is set a splendid square-headed Tudor window with four lights.
Beneath is a tomb-chest in relatively good condition, despite some mutilation.
The figures lying on the tomb represent John Butler (d. 1540) and his wife Jane Bassett of Beupre. He is bareheaded, wears armour and, unusually for the period, has his legs crossed. The hair and style suggest a date between 1480 and 1550. On the side of the tomb-chest can be seen ‘weevers’ (members of the family, usually children) kneeling in prayer, two sons and daughters.
On the floor in front is a stone slab on which is inscribed the same coat
of arms that is sited over the tomb, probably indicating the entrance to
Alongside is a monument to John Wyndham (d. 1697), Sergeant-at-Law, and his wife Jane, née Strode (d.1698). The two demi-figures, beautifully carved with a profusion of detail, face each other and above them may be seen the Wyndham arms, set between decorative swags.
In the churchyard stands a fine preaching cross, dating from the sixteenth century. It has suffered considerably from destruction by Cromwell’s men, and latterly from the weathering caused by time. Tradition has it that the wear on the steps was caused by pilgrims kneeling in prayer, and agricultural workers sharpening their sickles.