A message from Father Nick 70

St Gregory the Great church, Rome

Two Benedictine buildings

For one of them we have two names. The church of St Gregory on the Coelian Hill in Rome is called after Pope St Gregory the Great (c 540-604), who originally dedicated his monastery to St Andrew (it is known both as St Andrew’s and St Gregory’s today). Gregory was the son of a Roman senator and served as ambassador to Constantinople. He was a man of enormous gifts, who yearned to follow the contemplative way of St Benedict. Nevertheless, in an age of “intense suffering” he accepted the office of bishop of Rome.

We have come across Gregory before with his determination to act as a “Servant of the servants of God” and his concern for the mission to England. He is an immensely likeable figure. Today his church and monastery have a characteristically 18th century appearance, but much of the original building remains concealed beneath. Even so, it is possible to see the remains of Gregory’s cell and a chair in which he sat – also a Madonna fresco before which he might have prayed. The cloister contains another reminder of the English mission, at a later stage and with a Welsh inflection…

The chair of St Gregory

The other Benedictine building, on the outskirts of Bridgend, is the remains of Ewenny Priory, established around 1141 by Maurice de Londres and powerfully Norman in its architecture. A charter of the time mentions Ewenny as belonging to Gloucester Abbey, which sent a dozen monks under a prior to begin the new priory. Never wealthy, this was a fortified building linked with a chain of castles (Edward I took soldiers from its permanent garrison for his assault on Wales in 1284). Later, it would be painted by Turner on his tour of South Wales.

Transept of Ewenny Priory by Turner

By then it was long changed. Sir Edward Carne (1495-1561) descended from the Princes of Gwent was a man of many accomplishments who served both as ambassador to the Holy See and commissioner for the suppression of the monasteries). Friendly with Thomas Cromwell, he was one of those entrusted with the matter of Henry VIII’s divorce. In 1545 he acquired Ewenny Priory as a residence for himself. And yet he was no Protestant.

The Carne family crest shows a pelican: a mediaeval image of self-sacrifice in which the mother bird plucks her breast to feed the chicks with her own blood: a symbol sometimes used of Christ in the Eucharist.

Carne passed the closing years of Henry’s reign as ambassador to the Netherlands, but on his return to Wales he became increasingly alienated from the government’s religious policy. He welcomed the accession of Queen Mary and was appointed, as her ambassador to the Holy See. It was he who presented the formal obedience of England to Pope Julius III.

When Elizabeth succeeded Mary, she recalled Carne to Britain but he refused to return. He stayed in rome and is buried in the church of St Gregory. A memorial tablet in the cloisters shows the Carne family pelican crest.

Nor has that image disappeared closer to home. If you visit Ewenny Priory today, a short drive along the river to Ogmore Castle will bring you to a place of refreshment – an inn built by the Carne family in the 18th century and rejoicing in a rather lovely name: The Pelican in her Piety.