Church Monuments Society

St Michaels church Michaelston super Ely Fig 1

St Michael’s Church, Michaelston-Super-Ely

Month: May 2016
Type: Board / Plaque / Tablet  
Era: 17th Century

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St Michael's Church

More about this monument

St Michael’s church, Michaelston super Ely is an ancient structure originating in the 12th or 13th century but was altered substantially in the 1860s by David Vaughan and the interior was rearranged by F. R. Kempson in 1908. A full history of the church has been presented by Vile.1 The church has been de-consecrated and is currently in the process of being converted to a domestic dwelling.

On the east wall of the tiny vestry there is a wall monument comprising an inscribed slate plaque in a frame of Penarth alabaster with a shield apparently depicting “Gwrgan impaling Bassett” above and a winged angel below.

The inscription is in two parts:-
The lower section is in Latin and commemorates the death of John aged 107 on 12 February 1630 and his son Richard aged 77 on 21 April 1658.

The top section bears an inscription in Welsh in the form of an englyn, a traditional Welsh and Cornish short poem, the meaning of which was the subject of some dispute by erudite scholars in 1889.2 Jones noted that there was a consensus of opinion that it was in the Gwentian dialect, but that the translation was open to considerable variance. However, he states that whatever the translation yielded it was agreed “by all” that the poem held a hidden meaning, which he claimed to have uncovered. The translation of the poem that he most favoured was by Mr. Robert Watson, better known in his day as “Gomer Morganwg”, which went as follows:-

“Though grieved for the worried Patriot of our part
The point (disputed) was not virtue [?virtuous].
It is our Richard we [?they] here put [laid],
To be out of the tumult that was. Also his father John.”

“of our part” could be “in our view” and the second line could be “The point in dispute between was not virtuous”.

After much research, his elaborate explanation, which stretched to several pages, concludes that Richard, at the age of 77, was hastened to an early grave having been wrongfully dispossessed of his property by Cromwellian forces under the command of one Col. Philip Jones.

However, John Rees, Professor in Celtic at Oxford favoured the following translation:-

“To [our] grief for countrymen to pursue from our part,
No mystery between us [is] the mark:
Richard is – here we have put him-
To be without noise, [both] he and his father John.”

and concluded that there is no cryptic meaning hidden in the poem.

In 18973 the Rector of St Fagans, Rev. William David “found” the inscription and sent a copy to Owen Morgan alias “Morien”, the famous, though controversial, folklorist. Morien noted that the spelling of Richard was Risiart, which to him seemed to indicate a reference to the time of Richard II and that the dates on the tablet were a mistake and should have been 1430 and 1458 rather than 1630 and 1658 and offered the following translation:-

“In sorrowful memory of patriotic pursuers (of the foe).
On our side is Richard II now with God (by Rhyn).
The creirwry Oath (Nod) is a covenant between us and his spirit.
Here, in the sounds of peace, we have laid by the way (Fia – Via) the father of John.”

His interpretation was that John had been one of the warriors with Owain Glyndwr who had chased Henry IV’s army out of Wales after the battle of Stalling Down, near Cowbridge in 1403. A reason for this fanciful explanation being put forward at this particular time may have something to do with the discovery, only a few months earlier, of over 300 skeletons in a crypt at Llanblethian church near Cowbridge, which were believed to have been casualties of that bloody conflict.4

The memorial is a rare example of the use of Penarth alabaster in the 17th century and bears great similarity to one in St Bridget’s church in nearby St Brides super Ely, which commemorates the death of Captain William Jones (1658) and his sons William (1648 – the date of the Battle of St. Fagans) and Robert (1650) .5

1 W. B. Vile. A History and Description of the Parish Church of St Michael Michaelston super Ely. Revised edition 1981 (Glamorgan Archives P44 CW/6/1).
2 David Jones. On a Seventeenth Century Welsh Inscription at Michaelston super Ely Glamorganshire. Archaeologia Cambrensis Fifth Series Vol VI No. XXII July 1889 pp 198-213.
3 Evening Express 25 Feb 1897. Curious Inscription in a Welsh Church.
4 Evening Express 8 August 1896. Interesting Discoveries.
5 Michael Statham 2016. Penarth Alabaster. Awaiting publication on the website of the Welsh Stone Forum. Michael Statham 2016. In Search of Penarth Alabaster. Awaiting publication in The Ecclesiologist.

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