St Peter’s Church, Carmarthen
Carmarthen is one of the oldest towns in Britain, a continuation of the Roman Moridunum, and St Peter’s church remains the earliest extant building in the region that is still used for its original purpose. The exact date of foundation is unknown, but it appears to have existed from at least the early twelfth century, with today’s structure still containing elements from the thirteenth century. The prominent tower is a fifteenth century addition, while the south aisle was constructed during the Tudor period. It is this aisle which holds an acute connection to the Tudor dynasty as the resting place of Sir Rhys ap Thomas; his alabaster tomb was placed here in 1538 after the Dissolution of the Monasteries disrupted his original resting place at the nearby Greyfriars monastery.
Greatly rewarded by his distant kinsman King Henry VII in gratitude for his unyielding allegiance during the reign of the first Tudor monarch, Sir Rhys governed South Wales with a kingly assurance, which he maintained until his death in 1525. He was interred in Greyfriars, close to the king’s own father Edmund Tudor, but both tombs were removed during the Dissolution. Sir Rhys’s tomb occupies a position which is significantly less exposed than Edmund’s; it is placed in a quiet corner with two sides lamentably positioned next to a wall, which denies the visitor the opportunity to circumvent the mighty monument. The effigy is heavily weathered despite its attempted restoration by a later descendant, although the three ravens that were prominent in his coat of arms are still identifiable. The tomb bears the inscription: ‘Here lies the remains of Sir Rhys ap Thomas K. G. who fought at Bosworth Field’. Interest in Sir Rhys has certainly increased recently because of his possible role in the death of King Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485, and there are hopes that this could result in his tomb receiving a higher degree of decorum than it has been accorded over the last century.
St Peter’s also maintains two other Tudor-era connections, which enhances the church’s status as a credible sixteenth-century location. Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, is believed to have been buried in an unmarked grave under the chancel in 1576. Devereux had been a loyal courtier of Queen Elizabeth I, and controversially and often violently served her interests in Ireland where he had been appointed Earl Marshal. His son was Robert Devereux, who later gained notoriety as a keen favourite of the queen before his execution for treason in 1601. In 1555, the church also played a role in the trial of Robert Ferrar, Bishop of St David’s, a devout Protestant who was condemned as a heretic at St Peter’s and sentenced to death by burning. This gruesome act was carried out in Carmarthen marketplace, where a plaque today commemorates the event, a consequence of the persecution of Protestants under the reign of Queen Mary Tudor. A nineteenth-century marble plaque can also be viewed in the consistory court; it states that the bishop was burnt for ‘adhering to the protestant religion’, a reminder that the turmoil of England’s religious strife was equally felt in the heart of Wales.
Editor’s Note: In corresponding with Nathen Amin and Nicola Giles from Amberley Publishing, I learned that St. Peter’s Church is at great risk of closure. Nathan informed me, “St Peter’s Church, much like many churches nationwide, has had a hard time of late and has recently found itself in a dire financial situation.
It has been reported that the church needs to find £50,000 to stay open next year and church leaders have said it is becoming a struggle to remain open. Falling church attendance combined with increasing costs maintaining an historic, Grade-II listed building are the chief causes. Vandalism and Anti-Social Behaviour have also been a financial burden on the church.
The church are attempting to stave off closure and have plans to create a permanent public exhibiton in honour of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, who’s tomb lies inside the beleagured church.”
The news article highlighting this can be found here – http://www.carmarthenjournal.co.uk/Carmarthen-church-needs-50k-stay-open/story-20964809-detail/story.html
Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire and has long had an interest in Welsh history and the Welsh origins of the Tudors. This passion has guided him all over Wales to visit a wide variety of historic sites, which he has photographed and researched for this book. He has a degree in Business and Journalism. He grew up in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire and now lives in York. For more information about Nathen, visit his website at RANDOM OBSERVATIONS FROM A RESTLESS MIND.
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