16 November 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
171, Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas, Beaumaris

The mediaeval Church of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas, the 14th century parish church in Beaumaris on the Island of Anglesey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This looks like a busy day, with a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Church of Ireland expected to last for most of the morning.

Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme on this prayer diary for the rest of this week is cathedrals and churches in Wales. As part of my reflections and this prayer diary this morning, my photographs today (16 November 2021) are of the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas, the 14th century parish church in Beaumaris.

Inside the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas in Beaumaris (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas, the parish church in Beaumaris on the Island of Anglesey, is a Grade I listed building, and was first built ca 1330 to serve the newly-founded town.

The parish church is in the heart of the mediaeval town, in a large churchyard with Church Street to the east and Steeple Lane to the west. It was built to serve the burgesses of the walled town soon after Beaumaris Castle was built.

Parts of the church were built at different times: the oldest parts are the nave and aisles, and the west tower, all of which date to the 14th century, while the chancel was rebuilt around 1500 in Perpendicular style. The west tower is of four stages, with a battlemented parapet. The upper section was remodelled in the early 19th century. The north vestry and south porch are probably 19th century. The exterior is mainly Perpendicular.

Inside the south porch, the stone tomb of Princess Joan of Wales (Princess Siwan) is much older than the church itself. Princess Joan was an illegitimate daughter of King John of England, and in the late 12th century, when she was still only 15 – some accounts say she was only 12 – she was married to Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, or Llywelyn the Great, then Prince of Wales.

At first it was a successful marriage, by all accounts. But in 1230 she was found in bed with a Norman knight, William de Braose. Llewelyn had William hanged, and Joan was exiled for a year at Garth Celyn. Llewelyn eventually forgave her, and Joan returned to court in 1231.

When she died in February 1237, Joan was buried at the Franciscan Friary that her husband had founded in Llanfaes, just north of Beaumaris and within sight of his palace at Abergwyngregyn.

However, when Llewelyn died three years later in 1240, he was not buried with Joan. Instead, he was buried at Aberconwy Abbey, to which he had retired during the last few years of his life.

At the Reformation and the dissolution of the monastic houses, the Friary at Llanfaes was suppressed in 1537. For years, Joan’s tomb was lost. Centuries later, it was found in Beaumaris, being used as a water trough for horses. It was rescued and moved into the parish church in Beaumaris.

The slab is elaborately decorated with a floriate design. Her hands are drawn together, palms outwards, in a position of prayer. At her feet is a wyvern, a mythical mediaeval heraldic bird of prey, twisting to bite its tail.

At the west end of the north aisle is the impressive alabaster altar tomb of William Bulkeley, who died in 1490, and his wife Elin, daughter of Gwilym ap Gruffydd of Penrhyn. The tomb is made of Midlands alabaster, probably from the area around Derby and Nottingham, and the alabaster figures of William and Elin are side-by-side. William is wearing a light helmet, and his feet are resting on an heraldic lion. Around its base, the tomb is decorated with figures representing bishops and saints, including Saint Christopher.

William Bulkeley was deputy constable of Beaumaris Castle and the ancestor of Archbishop Lancelot Bulkeley of Dublin and the Bulkeley family of Old Bawn House near Tallaght.

The church also has a unique collection of misericords dating from the late 15th and early 16th century, although eight are replacements made in 1902. These carved misericords decorate the undersides of the seats in the choir stalls. Many of the misericords carry a moral message, but others simply depict scenes from daily life.

The faces of the carvings are finely detailed and are the work of skilled craftsmen. It is likely the old misericords came from the friary at Llanfaes when it was dissolved. They include a bearded pope, a woman balancing two pints on her head, a woman in a crown with a wimple and a hood, a woman with a crown of roses on her head and another of two working women.

There is an amusing carving of a woman with a pair of tankards filled with ale balanced on her head. Perhaps she was a real person who brought drinks to the woodcarvers as they worked.

The East Window by Clayton and Bell … note the Crucified Christ has no beard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The church also has a large collection of interesting stained-glass windows.

The original East Window of mediaeval glass was destroyed by the Puritans during the Cromwellian era in the mid-17th century. The East Window, by Clayton and Bell, commemorates Richard Gerard Wellesley Williams-Bulkeley, killed in 1918 during World War I. An interesting detail in this Crucifixion scene is that Christ has no beard.

The window in the east wall of the south aisle, depicting the Adoration of the Christ Child by the Shepherds, with Saint David and Saint Nicholas on each side, is by Charles Eamer Kempe (1904).

The three-light window in the south wall of the chancel shows the Virgin and Child with Archangels and Magi. This window (1923) is the work Kempe’s pupil, John CN Bewsey. In the top portion of the window, the three panels show the Virgin Mary standing with the Christ Child close to her bosom, and the Archangel Gabriel and the Archangel Michael; the lower portion depicts the Virgin Mary sitting or enthroned, with the Christ Child on her lap and the Wise Men presenting their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (see Matthew 2: 11). Madonna.

Many of the other furnishings, including the font and pews, date from a major restoration carried out in 1902. Members of the Bulkeley family are commemorated in the chancel and the sanctuary, including the last Viscount Bulkeley, a generous benefactor of the church, who died in 1822.

The window depicting the Adoration of the Christ Child by the Shepherds, with Saint David and Saint Nicholas on each side, is by Charles Eamer Kempe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 19: 1-10 (NRSVA):

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

The three-light window showing the Virgin and Child with the Archangels and the Magi (1923) by John CN Bewsey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (16 November 2021, International Day of Tolerance) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for a more tolerant world, in which difference is celebrated and experience is valued.

The stone tomb of Princess Joan of Wales inside the south porch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The alabaster altar tomb of William and Elin Bulkeley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The misericords in Beaumaris date from the late 15th and early 16th century (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

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