St Mary’s Church, Haverfordwest

button_lang_welshSt Mary’s Church, Haverfordwest

haverfordwest_st_marys_churchThis church, listed Grade 1, has some of the best-preserved medieval décor in Wales. The oldest parts probably date from the 12th century. Early medieval features include the north aisle, the south porch and several windows.

The Victorians rebuilt many old churches according to their own tastes, but lack of funding thwarted their plans for major changes to the large tower here. The tower’s earlier spire had been taken down in 1802 to avoid the risk of collapse. The tower contains 10 bells.

An effigy in the church is thought to depict a 14th-century pilgrim. A pilgrimage route to St Davids passed nearby.

Extensive written records of the church survive, including a 1630 order that fines would be levied on any adult who missed divine service. Seating rules from c.1636 include a stipulation that “maidens and such as are unmarried” must not kneel in the seats “on pain of punishment”, so that the pews wouldn’t be too crowded for the “better sort of women” to kneel.

The church organ may be the oldest in Wales which is regularly played. It was installed in 1737 and upgraded in later centuries.

The church’s First World War memorial was donated by Lady Phillips of Picton Castle, who lost two nephews in the war.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Gerald of Wales visited Haverfordwest in 1188 during their journey around Wales to recruit for the third crusade. Gerald preached, in Latin and French, following the Archbishop’s open-air sermon. The crowd included soldiers. Gerald wrote that, despite not understanding Latin or French, some were so moved they hurried forwards to enlist.

One young man had been sent by his blind mother to fetch her something, such as a thread, belonging to the Archbishop. There was too much of a throng for him to get near enough. Instead he took home the turf on which the primate had stood. Gerald wrote that the mother regained her sight after pressing the turf to her face while praying.

He also noted that King Henry I had populated Haverfordwest with wool crafters from Flanders (in Belgium). There was animosity between them and indigenous people, which Gerald linked to local rulers’ maltreatment of the Welsh.

About the place-name:

Haverfordwest (‘western goat ford’) is on the banks of Cleddau Wen. The elements are Old English hæfer ‘goat’ and ford ‘ford’. Haverfordia (c. 1191) is the earliest recorded form of the name. To avoid confusion between Haverford and Hereford, ‘West’ was added during the 15th century. The contracted form Hareford is still heard locally.

The Welsh form Hwlffordd (Hawlffordd 14 cent., Hwlffordd 15 cent.) evolved from early English forms: -r- changed to -l- (as in maenor > maenol ‘manor’ and -d changed to -dd (Old English ford becoming ffordd ‘road’ in Welsh).

With thanks to Prof Dai Thorne, of the Welsh Place-Name Society

Postcode: SA61 2DA    View Location Map

Church website – for service times, detailed history and more

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