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The Gwent Local History Council was set up in 1954 to encourage public interest in local history, to bring together societies and persons interested in the study of local history, to arrange lectures and publish the results of historical research. Their twice yearly magazine "Gwent Local History" has made a valuable contribution to the store of historical knowledge. Here Caerleon Net, with the full agreement of the Gwent Local History Council, is making available many of the articles from this magazine relating to Caerleon.
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Gwent Local History No. 50, Spring 1981

Saint Cadoc's Church, Caerleon

by Eija Kennerley

A guide book to the church of St. Cadoc in Caerleon starts with the exposition that "a place of Christian worship has existed on the site of the present church for about eight hundred years." As the guide book probably was written during the 1960s, the stretch of eight hundred years therefore takes us back to the middle of the 12th century. The writer of the guide refers to the apparently Norman type of an arch at the west end of the church, as the only surviving feature of that period. The rest of the guide contains a lot of legendary material on which a proper historical study could not rely, in spite of the possibility that there may be grains of truth in it. Unfortunately, legendary material forms also the main part of J. Bradney's account of the church in his History of Monmouthshire.

The building itself does not give many indications of its age. The last rebuilding in 1867 seems to have been very thorough and removed almost all traces of the earlier nave and chancel, except some 15th or early 16th century arches on the north side of the nave. The tower is probably the only part left of the earlier church.

The usual assumption, following from the fact that the church bears the name of St. Cadoc, is. that a church must have existed on the site either in the saint's lifetime, the sixth century, or soon after that. The church is built partially on the Roman headquarters building, which fact strengthens the belief that there indeed is an unbroken Christian tradition here. Quite often important Roman buildings became Christian basilicas - so, why not here, too? However, there is so far no archaeological evidence that any Christian worship existed in Caerleon in the Roman period.

Professor E. G. Bowen states that Caerleon was outside the cluster of Cadoc-dedications and that this kind of single dedication had an association "with a Roman context." This makes him conclude that Cadoc or Cadog "or one of his immediate disciples made use of both the inland (northern) and the coastal (southern) Roman roads leading to the westward."

Canon E. T. Davies points out: "...although we speak of the dedication of our churches to particular saints, it is almost certain that, in the case of our old foundations, there was no formal dedication. These names should be thought of as commemorating certain persons who had once a connection, oftentimes fleeting, with these sites. They are, therefore, more in the nature of memorial churches than buildings formally dedicated to a saint."

There is no archaeological evidence of a Celtic or pre-Norman church at the site in Caerleon, if one does not take the finding of a fragment of a Celtic cross in the churchyard as such evidence. The fragment is too small to judge what size the cross may have been. Also, according to the National Museum of Wales, its design is of a "Scottish type", which makes it rather an oddity. The cross is of tenth century origin, from a time when there still was no stone church in existence in Caerleon but possibly a Celtic type of cluster of cells, or a wattle and daub type of church. Neither of these types of religious edifices had any chance of surviving through the centuries.

The Norman arch, now sunk into the wall of St. Cadoc's, may consist of Roman stones, as many other Caerleon walls do, which does not mean that the arch itself is Roman. It is important, however, because it connects us with the earliest stone church, it is thought to be part of the arcade of a 12th century south aisle. (1)

Although both Canon Davies and Professor Bowen seem to be quite certain that in Caerleon was an early cell of St. Cadoc's - whether founded by the saint or later - it is strange that the church apparently was not called by that name for quite some time. At least, it is difficult to say which church is meant by "St. Cadoc's," as there were and still are several of them in the county. In the Norwich Taxation (1254) the church of "Karliun" is not given any special name although its vicar Andreas is mentioned. In the Taxation of 1291, "Eccl. de Keylon" is not given any special name either.

Reasons for this strange namelessness can be many, one of them being the destruction of documents. The development of parishes, also, was slow in Wales and pluralism was usual, that is, the priest may hold several incumbencies at the same time and some of these were more important than others which were not even mentioned by name. The two taxations do not mention all churches, because some of them were too poor to be taxed.

The life of Saint Cadoc or Cadog has come down to us in a legendary form. The historians agree however that he was a real person, the son of Gwynllyw, a Welsh prince, and of Gwladus, the daughter of Brychan of Talgarth. He lived a hermit's life, as befitted a Celtic monk, but later started missionary work, preaching in a large area in Wales and Brittany. E. G. Bowen has pointed out that the word saint in the Celtic areas really meant a hermit or monk, not necessarily a saintly one. So, we do not know any facts about Cadoc's character. He founded the monastery of Llancarfan in Glamorganshire, which became the centre of satellite houses or cells. It was usual in Wales of that period that founders of religious communities were sons of princeling or chieftain families and that this kind of foundation stayed in the hands of the same families for quite long periods, the leadership becoming hereditary.

"The family of Llancarfan", as J. Conway Davies calls it, exerted its influence in Glamorgan and Gwent in both religious and political matters. The members of the family had special relations with the chief Welsh lords of Glamorgan. One of these was Iorwerth ab Owen, lord of Caerleon, who married Angharad, daughter of bishop Uthryd of Llandaff (1140-48) who most probably belonged to the Llancarfan family. This relationship may have led to the founding of the Abbey of Caerleon and here we may also have the basic reason for the building of a memorial church to Cadog in Caerleon-even if a cell had existed already in the lifetime of the saint, six hundred years before.

Giraldus Cambrensis who travelled in the Caerleon area about forty years after the time of Bishop Uthryd, does not mention Caerleon Abbey nor St. Cadoc's church, and Geoffrey of Monmouth (before 1140) whose history we can accept in small doses, talks of the two churches of St. Julius and St. Aaron, but not of St. Cadoc's.

In the Book of Llandaff "the church of St. Cadoc" is mentioned among the churches in existence in the middle of the 12th century. It is most feasible that this particular church was one on the Roman road, on the site of the ancient Roman camp, and situated in the area of Iorwerth, who had "come into the family of Llancarfan" by marrying into it. (The present writer can not judge how much the theories of Conway Davies concerning the "LIancarfan family" can be relied upon. There are arguments for and against. (See e.g. Chr. Brooke in JHSChW). In any case there were then, and now, many churches of St. Cadoc in Gwent.)

The link of Caerleon church with the Chapter of Llandaff Cathedral was possibly formed at that early date. Reverend Green writes:

"Probably places on Roman roads … were natural centres of Church work from the earliest days."

A lot of rededications took place during the first years of the Norman period, when mediaeval religious orders arrived into this country. The general tendency was away from the Celtic, to a Norman - or actually Roman Catholic - new dedication to Virgin Mary or some other biblical personage or European saint. If the church of Caerleon, which indeed stands apart from the north-Gwent group of churches dedicated to St. Cadoc, received the dedication during the period of the Llancarfan family's influence in the area, the fact that they were Welsh makes a Celtic dedication - or commemoration - natural and understandable.

E T. Davies in his Ecclesiastical History of Monmouthshire asks:

"… who, if not the lords of the manor, could have built our parish churches?" Indeed, in those early times the ordinary villeins could only take part in churchbuilding in the form of carrying stones and timber. Any financing had to come from the lord, in Caerleon, it is possible that a later lord, e.g. Gilbert de Clare (d. 1295) could have had a hand in the financing of the building, but we can not imagine that his interest would have gone any further than that. Caerleon was only a small speck on the map of his estates, even though in his period Caerleon was a good source of income for him. In the years 1287-90 there was a battle royal between Edward I and Gilbert de Clare, concerning the holding of power in Llandaff Diocese. The king finally won in 1290 and Gilbert de Clare surrendered his rights, getting a grant from the king to the temporalities of the diocese. So, indeed, he had a certain interest in the church - in its property at least.

The Chapter of the Cathedral Church as a body and each member of it individually held separate property. This arrangement lasted until the reign of Queen Victoria. Prebends of Llandaff were "furnished" to the Cathedral by four churches, of which Caerleon was one. According to Rev. Green, Caerleon also was one of those churches which became permanent benefices. These churches could keep only part of their revenue, whereas the largest part went to the Impropriator, that is, the Chapter. At least, this was the situation at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1535.

There seems to have been some confusion at times between Caerleon church and that of Christchurch which quite often is called either "Christchurch, Caerleon" or "in the Wode by Kaerlyoun". The name of Caerleon probably became fixed in this connection because part of Christchurch parish was in the lordship of Caerleon. This may be the reason why a vicar of Christchurch, Richard de St. Paul (1348), has strayed into J. Bradney's list of Caerleon vicars.

In the taxation of 1254 the value of Caerleon church was £6.13.4d whereas that of Christchurch was over £16. In 1291 it was £13.6s.8d. and Christchurch £26.13.4d. This most probably came from the income of church lands, offerings, tithes of hay etc., as Valor Ecclesiasticus shows.

The name, St. Cadoc's, appears for the first time as the name of the Caerleon church in the fifteenth century. Sir J. Bradney gives the text of a deed of 1415, where "parochia Sancti Cadoci" is mentioned, in his History of Monmouthshire, Christchurch. In the Extent of the lands of William Herbert, 1458-59, we read:

"The vicar of St. Cadoc's lately held one tenement situate within the town of Caerlleon on the street leading from the high cross of Caerlleon aforesaid towards the Church of St. Cadoc since of James Hobyn and for this he pays 4d. annually to the canons of Landff from the rents of assize of the same … a stable for the lord's horses situate on the western side of the churchyard of St. Cadoc's of Caerlleon aforesaid … 16d. annually to the procurator of the church of St. Cadoc from the rents of the same." (2)

According to Glanmore Williams, Welsh parish church life was fairly dismal during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. "For sermons, parishioners would have to depend on visitors who, if they came at all, came on great festivals or in Lent … Many of the higher clergy never came within sight of Welsh dioceses. Others who did would not have been able to preach in Welsh … More likely visitors were friars. There were about sixty of them in Wales at the time of the dissolution of the friaries, though, judging by their names, many would not have been able to preach in Welsh." This language question is important to remember as Welsh certainly was the language of the majority of the inhabitants of Caerleon in those centuries, even though the lowlands of Gwent were the most anglicised area in South Wales. The English language may have been spoken mainly by those in leading positions whereas "the folk" spoke Welsh. Until the Reformation, the main part of the Mass was in Latin which was another strange language to the Welsh.

During the first part of the 15th century the state of Caerleon church may indeed have been miserable because it had been destroyed in the Glyndwr rebellion, with a great part of the town. A new church was built at the end of 1400, the period of general church building and decorating all over Britain. Mr. Gwyn Thomas, when showing the church to the members of the Cambrian Archaeological Association in August 1970, told them that "in the late 15th century the south aisle was enlarged, the nave remodelled and a north aisle added, with typical West Country arcades, west windows and wagon roof … and the tower over the west end of the south aisle heightened."

Details of this church can be found in some documents, e.g. in the Will of Morgan ap David ap Thomas, of the year 1502:

"… his body to be buried in the chapel of the Holy Cross … in St. Cadoc … To the high altar of the said church of St. Cadoc, 12d. … in default to the priest to be paid in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin in the said church of St. Cadoc …" (3)

One of the three witnesses signed under the document, William Watkyn, Philippe ap Philippe ap Gwilim and John David, could be the priest.

Similar details are found in the grant given to "the King's councillor William Herbert, K. G., master of the Horse and President of the Council in Wales", in 1550:

"Grant to the said William … the messuages, burgages and lands in Karlion, Saynt Cadock, Llangatucke, Llanhenocke and Christchurche, Monmouthshire, given to a priest celebrating in the service called Our Ladyes Service within the church of St. Cadock in the parish of Karlion; the messuages, burgages, and lands in Karlion, Llanvregha, Tredenock, Colder, Christchurch and Llangatuck, Monmouthshire given to a priest celebrating in the service called "the Roodes Service" in the said church of St. Cadock … the garden in Karlion in tenure of William ap Jevan, clerk, and the yearly rent of 12d. from a messuage, in Karlyon in tenure of Alice Dyo given to perpetual prayer for the dead in the church of Karlion to be made by the priest from the pulpit…" (4)

In the above document is also a reference to 18d., the rent money taken for the repair of the church, and 3d. for the support of a priest.

In the Valor Ecclesiasticus, a chantry in the northern part of the church is mentioned, In the Certificate of Colleges, Chantries etc., given when the chantries were dissolved in 1548, we find that there were two chantries, one "called our lady ch(antry) whereunto there doth apperteyne lande and ten'te of the yearly value of £4.14.4." and one "other called the Roode whereunto there doth apperteyne lande and tente". The latter value is not given. (5)

In a grant of the year 1563 we read that William Morgan and John Moris received lands "in Saynte Caddock, Langatok and Llanvreghva … late of the service of Our Ladye in the church called Saynte Cadock in the parish of Karlion aforesaid." (6)

From the 17th century there is not much information, except that given in the account of the Duke of Beaufort's Progress in 1684. Thomas Dineley who made the notes during the journey also made a tiny drawing of the church of which we can see that the windows were certainly different from the present ones. Hardly anything else can be deduced from the drawing. However, in the same work is a drawing of a memorial inside the church, to Thomas Morgan, son of the Sheriff Thomas Morgan who lived at Penrhos. This means that there probably were other memorials, perhaps even tombs, although none of them have survived. There also is some information in different sources, about some vicars in the 17th century.

The 18th century is generally considered lax in religious matters, in Britain as well as elsewhere in Europe. It could be that it was no worse than the centuries previous or after. Actually, the eighteenth century saw the beginnings of many religious movements: Baptists, Methodists, Moravians etc., all signs of estrangement from the established church. It is true that in the church pluralism was still usual but it is difficult to say whether the vicars of Caerleon were any worse than most others, in any century. We simply do not know enough about them. There is more documentation from the 18th century than from the previous centuries, both in the Registers and in visitation records, but no information about the vicars individually.

The most complete record of a Bishop's Visitation is from the year 1763; in connection with it the vicar, Dent Davies, filled in a questionnaire which gives a fairly good picture of his work:

I. Families: In the town of Caerleon 126 families. 1 Roman Catholic, 4 Anabaptist. In the par. of Llangattock iuxta Caerleon 36 families, of which 2 Anabaptist. No Dissenters of any other Denomination. One licensed meeting house in the parish, frequented once a month. Mr. Miles Harris of Ponty Pool and Mr. Evan David of Bassaleg teach there alternatively.

II. There is a Charity school in this town endow'd for 20 Boys and 10 girls and due care taken to instruct them in the principles of the Xian religion are taught in the Catechism of the Church as by Law.

III. Almshouse: There is, but no inhabitants therein as yet, nor do I know how or to whom the Money is bestowed, but I hear it is duly distributed every year. The Rev. Mr. Richard Vaughan Norman is Manager thereof. No Lands left for the repair of the Church or any other pious uses.

IV. I resided upon my Vicarage of Chepstow while my health permitted me, but now live in this town, being very weak and infirm.

V. (- a residing Curate?) I have, his name is Thomas Evans, and believe he is duly qualified, lives at the Free School I-louse, and I allow him 30 £ a year salary for serving this church and Llanhennock.

VI. (Do you perform Divine Service at any Church besides your own?) Chepstow.

VII. (How often Service?) Every Sunday and Holy Day in the year, twice every Lords Day with a sermon in the Morning.

VIII. (How often Holy Sacrament?) Four times, at the three great Feast (sic!) and at Michaelmas.

IX. (How many communicants?) Never less than twenty and seldom more than forty.

X. (When are Children Cathechised?) In Lent time. Servants and apprentices cannot be prevailed with to submit to that duty.

XI. (- any Chapels?) Llanhennock of late years has been annexed to Llangattock being a Nomination of the Chapter of Landaff, less than two Post Miles distant and served by my Curate aforesaid. No ruins of Chappels in town or Parish. (7)

After reading this report one can not help commenting that Dent Davies could have been a little more knowledgeable about the Alms-house and the poor generally, even though he was "very weak and infirm". Also, he only "believes" that his curate was qualified, a man who had been curate for four years already, in 1763. Perhaps we should be charitable - Dent Davies had only five years left to live and perhaps he was very ill indeed.

From the early 19th century we have another questionnaire, filled in by the incumbent, John Thomas, on the 17th of January 1815. Among information similar to that of Dent Davies, he tells his bishop that he resided at the Free School, although the vicarage existed.

Of the population of Caerleon John Thomas says: "I do not for the present recollect and would refer to the return (illegible)". He comes to the conclusion there may be "one thousand souls." Next to this, there is written in another handwriting: "667 Caerleon, 169 Llangattock."

John Thomas thought the church was "capable of containing a thousand persons" and confessed that his living exceeded £150 per annum. (8)

During his tour in South Wales in 1803 the Reverend John Evans wrote in one of his Letters: "The poverty of the church stands forward as a distinguishing cause (i.e. for sects and dissension). The livings are chiefly vicarages and, owing to the unjust rapacity of the 8th Henry, are so small, as to render pluralities necessary to procure incumbency. The inconsiderable sums which can be allowed to assistants, or stipendiary curates, occasions a greater plurality in curacies than in livings: nor is it unfrequent for a clergyman to have four or five different churches to serve on the same day. How the solemn service of our liturgy must, from necessity, be performed, may be better conceived than expressed: especially when it is recollected, that several miles are to be rode or walked over during the same period. This extraordinary labour, and so ill rewarded, deters men of education, of talent, and piety from engaging in the service. Others, therefore, from among the lowest of the people, and destitute of education (at least such as is necessary to understand divinity, and properly explain it to others) are necessarily admitted into holy orders; many of whom, by the lowness of their manners, too often throw obstacles in the way of truth, and degrade their ministry. Is it a matter of surprise then, if the people, finding their pastors as illiterate as themselves, should be inclined to follow others with more pretensions to piety and at least equal claims to human learning?"

Indeed, one hopes that the poor clergymen of South Wales never set their eyes on those lines describing their lowly state so mercilessly. Still, Reverend Evans must have known the subject.

As to the looks of Caerleon church in the eighteenth century. we find in the Churchwardens' Accounts that whitewash was used, probably for the outside as well as inside. Evans and Britton tell us that "whimsical customs prevailed in Monmouthshire, of whitewashing churches" and "though in some cases it has not an unpleasing effect, yet in others it takes off from that memorable aspect so impressively assumed by weather-beaten stone. Usually the body of the church is whitened, and occasionally the tower also. In some instances the battlements and parrapet are whitewashed."

Although Charles Williams's legacy was available, the church began to benefit only more than a hundred years afterwards - at least that is the impression one gets. As we noticed from Dent Davies's report, he does not mention the existence of the money for church repairs. About 1822-23 new pews were installed at the expense of the Charity. Stoves, at the price of £30 and chandeliers were ordered, new pulpit cushion provided, etc. (9)

In the middle of the 19th century Caerleon began to rebuild the church which apparently was in rather a bad condition. From 1853 we have a Report of the Dean and Chapter, Llandaff, on the condition of the chancel of the church. Part of it is as follows:

"… the Chancel … we find it to be the most dilapidated and even dangerous state. The Southern Wall in particular considerably overhangs its base and is only sustained by iron ties through it and the northern wall. We fear that the works requisite to be done to put this chancel into a state of decent repair would amount to nearly as much as rebuilding the whole."

The report suggests that the east wall had to be taken down several feet. The roof timbers were "covered within by an unsightly segmental ceiling, which must be destroyed by the works done to the Walls, so that in fact an entire new Roof is required…" The inspectors thought that the church was an important one, therefore e.g.: "The present fittings also are of an incongruous and unsightly character … The altarpiece being of classic design, the altar table having classic columns as legs; the altar rails do not extend across the Chancel as they should do…" They said they could possibly do the repairs - we would call it rebuilding - for £190. (10)

It took some time before the actual rebuilding started. In the Monmouthshire Merlin, 2 February 1867, is a small notice: "On Saturday last two accidents at Caerleon church to workmen."

During the restoration work the Antiquarian Association had their Annual General Meeting where Mr. Lee gave his report on the progress of work: "The restoration of the church at Caerleon has disclosed some portions of round arched architecture, much earlier than the rest of the building; and the museum has been enriched by a fresh inscription, presented by the Vicar, and found by him when pulling down an old house near the churchyard … expected that the ecclesiastical remains would have afforded examples of the earliest styles of architecture, and probably the transition to that of later date. It is, however, singular that till lately this has not been the case. The style of the church was always considered to belong to that called perpendicular, indicating no great antiquity - the only variety being some very debased windows, which hardly deserved to be ranked with what the late Dean Coneybeare called pump-room architecture. - The late restoration, or rather that which is now in progress, has revealed some portions of the encient edifice … the site of the modern church was occupied by a building of far greater antiquity … On one side a painted Greek cross was found, which has been partially preserved, but the colours which at first were very marked, have faded away to a great extent, though they are still visible. The drawing now exhibited was very correct, when the cross was first found the colours were quite as bright."

This incomplete and tantalising account by Lee shows that something indeed was found but without modern methods of preservation was for ever lost, Also, it shows that Caerleon church had never been able to boast of beauty, and no wonder, as the church had always had to pay most of its revenue to the greedy Cathedral. Few Welsh churches are decorative or specially beautiful, they are mostly functional; this is the case almost everywhere in Gwent.


1. The Report of the 117th meeting of the Cambrian Archeological Association, in Archeologia Cambrensis 1971.

2. GwRO/MAN/B/77/000l.

3. GwRO/260/5500.

4. Cal. of Patent Rolls, Edw. VI, iii.

5. Newport Library, a photocopy.

6. Cal. of Patent Rolls, Eliz. I.

7. NLW/LL/QA/2.

8. NLW/Parochial Returns 1814-16.

9. Reports of the Commissioners appointed in pursuance of various acts of Parliament, to enquire concerning Charities in England & Wales and Monmouthshire, 1819-37.

10. GwRO/260/886.

Other Printed Sources

E. G. Bowen: Settlements of the Celtic Saints.

G. H. Holmes: Estates of the Higher Nobility in Fourteenth Century England. See also "Gwent Local History", No. 45, p. 17.

E. T. Davies: The Ecclesiastical History of Monmouthshire.

J. Conway Davies: The Episcopal Acts.

Rev. C. A. Green: Notes on Churches in the Diocese of Llandaff.

Rev. J. Evans: Letters written during a Tour through South Wales, in the year 1803 and at other times.

J. Evans and J. Britton: The Beauties of England and Wales. Vol. XI (1809).

Archeologia Cambrensis.

Glamore Williams: The Welsh Church from the Conquest to the Reformation.


The writer wants to express her gratitude to the staff of the Gwent Record Office and Canon E. T. Davies.


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