St. Mary's Church
Once there were seven medieval churches in Monmouth: the largest, the parish church of St. Mary's has foundations dating from Norman times. In 1732 it was partially ruined and underwent major rebuilding, retaining the original tower but redesigning the spire. By 1880 it was considered too small and was demolished, apart from the tower and spire, and rebuilt to new plans.
There has been a church on this site since 1101 AD when it formed a part of a Benedictine Priory founded by Gwethenoc (Lord of Monmouth c1705 - c1082). It was served by monks from the parent abbey of St. Florent at Saumur - France. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, during of King Henry VIII, the church fell into decay.
Monmouth Priory was dissolved in 1536 - and was later restored by the Georgians, under the guidance of Smith of Warwick in 1732 and further by the Victorians under the architect George Edmund Street in 1882 at the cost of £6,172.00. The oldest surviving part of the original church is the Norman respond set into the tower which itself is 14th century. A new oak and glass panelled screen fronts the new entrance in the tower and is the only memorial to H.M.S. Monmouth, which was lost with all 678 hands during the First World War in 1914, off the coast of Chile. A leaflet in the church gives a full account of the battle.
The Lady Chapel
The Lady Chapel contains an 'English Alter' with four riddle posts each with an unusual brass base and wrought iron capital supporting a newly gilded angel. The screen features the remarkable ironwork and woodwork of Letheren and Martin. H. H. Martin made the Speakers Chair in the House of Commons and the pulpit of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Those that survive from the monastic church are now relocated on the wall on the back of the church. The majority of the tiles are 15th century with some from the 14th century. The tiles were made by Malvern tilers in a kiln recently discovered in Monk Street, the first of its kind in Wales. Similar patterns are to be found at Tintern Abbey at the Clarendon Palace. One of the best examples is located in the British Museum.
Amongst the tiles you will find a tile featuring a swan enchained, the badge of Mary de Bohun, Mother of King Henry V and the tile with a shield and five martlets, The arms of Westminster Abbey.
The High Altar and Reredos
The reredos is a picture 'Adoration of the Magi' by Watney Wilson and dated 1888. Tradition has named the three Kings as Casper, Melchior and Belthasar, who are considered representatives of the three races of mankind.
Find time to look at the Christ child and read the following words - Mary appears to be on the point of handling her baby over into our hands - as Christians, we think she might be saying to us, "would you like to hold God?" What do you think?
Most of the stain glass is from the studio of Charles Eamer Kempe; patronized by royalty, his glass is to be found in some of the finest cathedrals in the country. If you look carefully at the flags in the glass you will find his trademark of either three wheatsheaves or a single wheatsheaf.
Perhaps the most remarkable example of Charles Kempe's work is 'The Four Rivers Window' in the tower and dated 1883; set in reticulated tracery dating from c.1340, it has Baptism as its theme. The names of the four rivers flowing from the Garden of Eden are Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.
The Royal connection with Monmouth is further seen in 'The Four Edwards Window' on the South wall, Edward VII being a friend of our local Lord Llangattock of the Hendre. The other three are Edward the Confessor, Edward I - creator of Parliament and Edward the Black Prince.
The Bells & Spire
There is now a peal of eight bells in the belfry, all of which were recast by Abraham Rudhall in 1706. The present bells were renovated and rehung in 1982 by Whitechapel of London. The first recorded peal of 5040 changes was in 1791. Local tradition suggests that Henry V presented the bells of Calais to the church.
There is evidence in Monmouth of a bell foundry behind the town library from which at least one bell was cast by John Pennington. A leaflet on the bells contains their detailed history. The spire rises to 60 metres and is the work of Nathaniel Wilkinson of Worcester. All roads in Monmouth are focused on it - a silent witness to the glory of God within the town of Monmouth.
The Rood (Anglo - Saxon word for a cross) dominates the entrance to the chancel in the church. On the rood, Mary and John are shown at the foot of the cross. This is in accordance with what we are told with in the Gospel according to St. John. (John 19:25, 26).