Building » Abergavenny – Our Lady and St Michael

Abergavenny – Our Lady and St Michael

Pen-y-Pound, Abergavenny, NP7 5UD

Abergavenny remained an important Catholic centre during the penal years. The present church was built by the Benedictines in 1858-60 and is a finely-detailed Decorated Gothic design by Benjamin Bucknall, a convert to Catholicism who trained in the offices of Charles Hansom. Furnishings include an elaborate high altar designed by Edmund Kirby and carved by A. B. Wall of Cheltenham, a chantry dedicated to local martyrs and a fine east window by Hardman. The church and attached presbytery (also by Bucknall) make a powerful contribution to the townscape of the local conservation area.

Abergavenny was one of the old centres of Catholicism; the town’s medieval Benedictine Priory was dissolved in 1542 and is now the Church in Wales parish church. A strong Catholic presence continued in the area after the Reformation. The town was the birthplace of the martyr (St) David Lewis SJ (b. 1616) and his uncle the Ven. Augustine Baker OSB (b. 1575). The earliest post-Reformation Catholic chapel in the town was established in the seventeenth century in the high street home of Thomas Gunter, an attorney (now known as Gunter Mansion). Mass was celebrated there by (St) David Lewis as well as the martyrs Blessed Philip Powel OSB and (St) Philip Evans SJ. The chapel’s location had been forgotten until 1907 when the secret chamber was discovered in the attic, with a remarkable set of frescoes. The Gunter chapel was succeeded by a chapel built in Monk Street.

In 1687 following the succession of James II, the Franciscan Recollects established a house in in the town, one of nine new residences in Great Britain; it was located in Frogmore Street and belonged to one Peter Morgan. A chapel was constructed to the rear of the house in the early eighteenth century, enlarged in 1830 to house the growing influx of Irish Catholics; it served as the Catholic church for the town until 1860, when the church of Our Lady and St Michael was completed. The Franciscan Recollects left Abergavenny in 1857 and the mission was transferred by Bishop Brown of Newport and Menevia to the English Benedictine congregation.

The present church was built by Fr Wilfrid Price, the first Benedictine incumbent. The foundation stone was laid on 19 May 1858 and the building was solemnly opened and blessed by Bishop Brown on 15 May 1860. The architect was Benjamin Bucknall, who had trained in the office of Charles Hansom. When appointed he was aged just 25. The principal benefactors were Mrs Lydia Andrus who provided most of the funds and the total costs for the presbytery, and John Baker Gabb, KSG, Chamberlain to Pope Leo XIII, who paid for the high altar and reredos in memory of his father. The altar designed by Edmund Kirby and carved by A. B. Wall of Cheltenham was erected in 1883; it was unveiled on Rosary Sunday, 7 October. John Baker Gabb died in Rome in 1893 and was buried there but in June 1894 the chantry off the south aisle was built in his memory and is dedicated to the Welsh Martyrs. Following the Second Vatican Council the sanctuary was reordered, with a new forward altar added and the altar rails removed.


The church and many of its furnishings are fully described in the list entry (see below). The following points can also be added:

  • A forward facing altar has been added since the Second Vatican Council, incorporating re-used marble along with a newly-carved stone mensa and tracery base.
  • A brass memorial on the high altar is in memory of Simon and Lydia Andrus, benefactors of the church.
  • A framed painted plaster low-relief of the Crucifixion is located in the baptistery, it is believed to be by Margaret Agnes Rope.
  • A small stained glass panel depicting an angel with the Gospels and two keys has been applied to the glass porch screen above the entrance it is likely to be late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
  • A painting of St Michael located above the sacristy entrance is by Kenelm Digby, 1861.
  • Beside the sacristy entrance is a carved stone medieval holy water stoup fixed on a new stone plinth.
  • A stained glass window in the chantry depicts St Benedict and St Ignatius as well as the Ven. Augustine Baker and St David Lewis (‘Charles Baker’); it is dedicated to John Baker Gabb.
  • There is a carved marble bust and memorial to Gabb in the south chantry.
  • There is a collection of pre-Reformation vestments, a medieval chalice and a fourteenth century Pax housed in the church (not seen).

List description

Reference Number: 2467
Building Number: 10  
Grade: II*  
Date of Designation: 01/11/1974  
Date of Amendment: 10/11/2005  
Name of Property: Church of Our Lady and St Michael R C, including attached Presbytery (No. 10)  
Address: 10 Pen-y-pound  
Unitary Authority: Monmouthshire  
Community: Abergavenny  
Town: Abergavenny  
Locality: Abergavenny  
Easting: 329682  
Northing: 214648  
Street Side: W  
Location: On the west side of Pen-y-pound and one of the varied group of historic buildings on the main north-eastern access to Abergavenny.  

History: Church and presbytery built in 1858-60 and designed by J B Bucknall. The Roman Catholic faith continued in Abergavenny after the Reformation and survived the years of persecution during the C16 and C17 (see No. 39 Cross Street). The first church was built in 1690 and enlarged in 1740, this partially survives still in Frogmore Street. It was replaced by the present one in 1858. This makes the Catholic ministry of Abergavenny the third longest established one in Wales.  

Exterior: Built of local, coursed, squared, purple sandstone rubble with Bath stone quoins and dressings, natural slate roofs with stone chimneys. Comprising church and attached domestic range at right angles, the church in a C14 Decorated Gothic style and the domestic range a C15/C16 late Gothic style, The church to the right (north) has nave, north and south aisles with lean-to roofs and chancel. The east gable faces the road and forms the right hand part of the main elevation. Plinth and stepped buttresses, very large east window in the Decorated manner, 6-lights with an elaborately traceried head, steeply coped gable. The north and south elevations of the chancel are of two bays with further stepped buttresses and 2-light windows. The nave is taller and has six bays separated by strip buttresses to the clerestorey and stepped ones to the aisle. Two-light windows with cusped heads and reticulated tracery above in east walls of aisles. Smaller 2-light windows in north aisle and Decorated ones with cusped lights and quatrefoils in clerestorey. Very steeply pitched roof and coped gables. West end has a 5-light Decorated window over a shafted doorway. To the left the domestic range of the Presbytery. One storey and attic with projecting two storey cross-wing to the left, 1 + 3 bays. Tudor style mullioned windows, and Tudor central door with 4-light transom window over. Late Tudor style hall window on right, 4-lights with king mullion. Three-light mullion-and-transom window to left with small single light window above it. One central steeply gabled half dormer with 2-light window. Steeply pitched roof with stacks behind the ridge. The gabled wing to the left has a 2-light basement window with a 4-light mullion-and-transom window with king mullion above and a 3-light above that. Trefoil in gable above. Photographs show that the one major alteration to this elevation has been the removal of a large chimney stack from the right hand return wall of the projecting wing. Rear elevation not inspected.  

Interior: The church is lofty and well-proportioned with a 6-bay nave. The arcades have slim quatrefoil columns with sharply pointed arches, uncarved blocks for heads and also at the foot of the trusses at clerestorey level. Scissor truss roof with close set secondary rafters and two tiers of purlins; lean-to aisle roofs. The inner west porch was added in the late C20. Elaborate wide and tall stone Decorated style reredos of 1883 designed by Edmund Kirby of Liverpool and carved by A B Wall of Cheltenham. The fine east window has glass by Hardman. Chantry chapel added to the south aisle in 1894 to the memory of the local C17 martyrs and richly decorated with paintings, sculpture and glass, and includes panelling from the demolished Coldbrook House. The furniture of the church is all Victorian. The church also has an exceptionally fine collection of medieval and later vestments. The interior and planning of the Presbytery is little altered with joinery, staircase, fireplaces and plasterwork typical of the period and building type.  

Reason for designation: Included in a higher grade for its exceptional interest as a finely designed and finished Roman Catholic church and presbytery by one of the most notable Victorian architects in Wales; the buildings have retained their character and have group value with the other listed buildings in Pen-y-pound.  

Heritage Details

Architect: J. B. Bucknall

Original Date: 1860

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*