St Illtud's Galilee Chapel, St Illtud's Church, Llantwit Major

Spring Lecture: History Recalled at St Illtud’s

In 1539, Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries broke the link between Llantwit Major and the Abbey at Tewkesbury, which had been given our living by Robert Fitzhamon, the Lord of Glamorgan.

History was probably made on February 3rd, 2011, when a packed church was lectured to by a Dominican monk, Dom Adrian Bellenger, the Abbot of Downside, near Bath, who spoke on “Light in a Dark Age – the Celtic Church in the Age of Illtud.”

He reminded us that Benedict and Illtud lived around the same time, a period of upheaval following the collapse of the Roman Empire and, in our case, the withdrawal of the Roman army from Britain, cutting us off from the church of Rome.  They saw the future in the same way, a communal life based upon prayer.  Christians found their faith in monasteries, built in remote places, part of a cosmopolitan community.

Celtic Christians worshipped in their own way, but as the Gospel spread through England following the mission of St. Augustine, initial distrust was transformed into mutual fellowship.  St. Illtud’s retained its importance certainly into the ninth century, indicated by  the royal memorial crosses, soon to be rehoused in a rebuilt Galilee Chapel, but its individuality ended with the coming of the Normans.

The second lecture was given by Dom Paul Stonham, the Abbot of Belmont, near Hereford, who spoke on “The Benedictines in Llantwit Major.”  Llantwit Major was a very small Benedictine outpost, with a grange supervised by never more than three monks.  The grange, a large farm, worked the land between the Ogney brook and St. Donats, its revenues and the tithes going to Tewkesbury.  On a History Society trip to the Abbey, we asked if we could have some of our money back, but this was not possible  because the records were lost.  A bit like governments.

There were nineteen Benedictine priories in Wales (not one was large enough to become an abbey).  The nearest to us is Ewenny, whose church survived the dissolution. Here, the abbey land was sold to Sir Edward Stradling of St. Donats, and a little later the roof of the Galilee fell in.    The dove cot and the gate house remind us of our Catholic past, a faith that was not practised here again until 1921.

Viv Kelly