St Mary’s Priory ChurchForest of Dean
Upper Church Street
Monmouthshire NP16 5HU
 
 
Chepstow has several churches but the oldest and most interesting is St Mary’s Priory Church.
 
This massive building is all that remains of a Benedictine Priory founded between1067 and 1071 by William fitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford. The 3-storey nave was built at the same time as Chepstow Castle‘s Norman Keep.
 
The building does not present as one harmonious whole and it is very easy to distinguish its different architectural periods. Part of the Norman church remains, but it has been greatly modified over later centuries.
 
The long vaulted nave, massive piers, and heavily ornamented west entrance doorway with zigzag and lozenge patterns, date from the late 11th century. The rest of the church is a 19th century attempt to copy the original Norman style.
 
The church contains two fonts, one of Norman origin and the other from the 15th century, and a rare organ with early 17th century pipe work. The organ was originally built for Gloucester Cathedral, then moved to Brristol Cathedral in 1663 ending up at Chepstow possibly as early as 1685.
 
The tower has a ring of ten bells, eight of which date from 1735 and were made in Chepstow by William Evans; the two lightest bells were added in 1959 and were cast by the world’s largest bell foundry, John Taylor & Co. The original clock mechanism was also made locally in the 18th century, and kept time until replaced by an electric clock in 1965.
 
Memorials & Tombs
There are several interesting and colourful memorials within the church:
- Henry Somerset, 2nd Earl of Worcester (c. 1496 – 26 November 1549) has an impressive tomb. He was an English nobleman who married twice and inherited his title of Baron Herbert from his mother.
 
- Beneath the red carpet close to the West door is the tomb of Henry Marten, close friend of Oliver Cromwell, and signatory to Charles 1’s death warrant. Marten was imprisoned for many years, until his death in 1680, in Chepstow Castle in the tower that still bears his name. Take the time to study the poem on his memorial to see if you can work out the vertical message depicted by the first letters of each line of his epitaph.
 
- The most colourful and entertaining monument is to the Jacobean benefactor, Margaret Cleyton with her two husbands and twelve children. Margaret (nee Madocke) married Thomas Shipman who was Sheriff of Bristol in 1556. He probably came from a family of Bristol merchants. Thomas died in 1591. She then married Richard Cleyton c.1595, described as an Agent or dealer buying property and land in 1604. Richard died in July 1605. He left most of his estate, including the Gate House to Margaret with some charitable benefactions and bequests to friends and family. Margaret died in April 1627 when she was the largest property owner in Chepstow.
 
The Benedictine Priory
When standing outside in the car park it is worth remembering just how big the 11th century Priory was. Its lands stretched as far as the port wall and beneath your feet are the foundations of most of the priory buildings, including the choir part of the church, the cloister, chapter house, lodgings and kitchens. Remains of a large barn and well were also found during excavations in the 1970s.
 
Opening Times
St Mary’s is open daily for visitors and private prayer. Further information is available in the Church and from Chepstow Tourist Information Centre on   Tel:  01291 623772.
 
Services
St Mary’s is part of the Church in Wales Diocese of Monmouth and holds regular services. The Sunday services are at 08:00 and 10:00. A Taize Service is held at 18:30 on the second Sunday Of the month.
 
Contact & Further Information
Telephone +44 1291 620980    Revd. Chris Blanchard 
 
 
 
51.642332
2.670623