Archive for April, 2017

Our Faith through Art exhibition for May is a Quilt made by local school pupils as part of a programme let by Monmouthshire Decorative and Fine Arts Society (MDFAS). MDFAS hold their monthly meeting in the Priory Centre. The display opens on Friday, May 5th.

The quilt has been produced by pupils from five schools within Monmouthshire: King Henry VIII and Cantref Primary, Abergavenny; Osbaston CW School, Monmouth; Usk CW School and Caldicot Secondary. 130 pupils took part in 10 funded school-based, artist-led workshops, through the Young Arts Programme of Monmouthshire Decorative and Fine Arts Society to commemorate WW1.

MDFAS WW1 Quilt OneB

Ninety  pupils were of primary school age, in Year 6 (11 years old) and 40 pupils were of secondary age, in Year 9 (14 years old). A second quilt, produced at the same time, was sewn together in December 2015.

All the schools were given an introduction to First World War themes and the significant contribution that the 3rd Monmouthshire Regiment made to the War and their heavy losses at Ypres in 1915. The pupils are really proud of their achievements and see the quilts as their legacy to the next generation.

The 140 quilt squares (including panels) were made by the pupils within three weeks at the end of the Summer Term 2015. The panels were designed by the 7 artists involved; two artists worked intensively alongside teachers, teaching assistants and some parents due to the nature of the textile work and given that many pupils had not sewn before. This quilt consists of 70 squares of nine inches each (quilters traditionally work in inches).


Themes of the quilts were: WW1 poets, WW1 animals and their role in the war; these included carrier pigeons, war dogs, glow worms in jars used as a light on the battlefield, life in the trenches, ‘over the top’, WW1 nurses, the Abergavenny War Memorial and couture poppies with a couture designer.

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Abergavenny Anglican Churches Together will worship as one at 10.30am on Sunday April 30th at Holy Trinity Church in baker Street, so there will be no 11am Service at St Mary’s Priory that day.

The 8am Holy Eucharist & 6pm Evensong will happen as normal.


The Christian Aid Director for Wales will preach at the 10.30am Service.

Also at the service there will also be a collection for the East Africa Crisis Appeal, being run under the auspices of the Disasters Emergency Committee.

The first Christian Aid Sunday was on the Sunday after Victory in Europe Day in 1945. This year marks 60 years since the first Christian Aid Week in 1947.

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The move of the Jesse effigy to below the new  East Window of the Lewis Chapel has moved a stage further as a preferred design and designer for the Plinth on which the effigy will rest has been approved.


An artistic impression of how the Lewis Chapel east end will look


Joachim Tantau, who like the window designer Helen Whittaker, is an alumni of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, was chosen from a short list of three. Joachim has also taught on the Outreach Programme for The Prince’s School, including workshops  in the UK, Egypt, Spain and Azerbaijan.


Joachim (left) meets HRH The Prince of Wales

Canon Mark Soady commenting on the news said:

We are very fortunate to have acquired the services of this very talented young man. On the occasions I have met him to discuss the project I have sensed the enthusiasm he has for the project.

The design will now need to go forward as part of the Church’s Faculty procedure before work can begin.

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New Parish Officials were elected at the Annual Vestry Meeting and the first meeting of the new Parochial Church Council.

The Vicar has made the following appointments:

Parish Warden: Tim Pratt. Tim is Director of Music at St Mary’s and was awarded the Archbishop of Wales’ Award for Church Music some 3 years ago.

Asst Warden (St Mary’s): Robin Smith. Robin is currently Parish Treasurer

Asst Warden(Christchurch): Cllr Sheila Woodhouse.  Sheila is currently Mayoress of Abergavenny

The Vestry elected the following Wardens:

Parish Warden: Caroline Wollard. Caroline is a member of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales.

Asst Warden(St Mary’s): Mrs Sheila Davies. Sheila has previously served as Vicar’s Warden

The PCC subsequently  re-elecetd Mrs Eunice Marsh as Secretary and Robin Smith as Treasurer

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Preaching at Evensong on Easter Sunday, Canon Andrew Willie drew on his study of the Turin Shroud, and referred to another painting by Nigel Robert Pugh.

Canon Willie said:

We have had a beautifully reflective Lent, partly inspired by Nigel Robert Pugh’s Stations of the Cross and by the sermons and services based upon them. For the entombment, Nigel produced a glorious picture combining the claustrophobic darkness of the tomb with God-given light from the outside. The shadowy mourners within, are both embracing the moment in the presence of the dead Lord of Life and also waiting to leave and put the stone across: the divine economy itself seems in a state of pause.

However, for portrayal of the tomb made empty by the resurrection, we have to look elsewhere. Nigel in fact did a charcoal drawing for the book, The Turin Shroud and the Mystery of Faith and this is exhibited here this evening. It is the only one of Nigel’s images placed neither in the realm of the Spirit nor in the Jerusalem of Jesus’s own day. Indeed, it seems to be located in the present but at the east end of a traditional Church building. An altar, roughly the dimensions of a resting place for Our Lord’s body, has a large white cloth dumped upon it. This is rather like the untidy setting aside of the grave clothes as depicted in St John’s Gospel, Chapter 20. The altar cloth is like a Shroud. What makes it a statement centred on the resurrection, only, is the fact that the Cross is nowhere to be seen. The drawing reminds us that without the Resurrection and the vacated Shroud, the altar where the live Christ’s presence is celebrated in bread and wine would never have existed. Indeed neither would the Church nor the Gospel. As far as the world is concerned, Jesus would just have been another “forgotten criminal”. Without the first Easter which the drawing celebrates, we would certainly not be celebrating Christmas, Pentecost, or any Christian Festival; neither would we be singing hymns, nor listening to readings in Church.

What do the lessons read this evening have to say to us? The first was from the Song of Solomon, the second from St John’s Gospel. The Song of Songs is one of two books originally attributed to Solomon. The other is the Wisdom of Solomon in the Greek version of the Old Testament. Some feel that the Song of Songs should not be in the Bible at all. They see it only as a highly romantic love poem. But in the Jewish-Christian tradition, there are several great mystic poets who express their love for God in highly sensual terms; I am thinking especially of two from the renaissance, the Spaniard, St. John of the Cross and John Donne, Dean of St Paul’s. Both came to love the Risen Christ with an ardour for God similar to that expressed in the Song of Solomon.

Mary Magdalene too had a deep love for Jesus as expressed in the second lesson. She went to his tomb, before dawn, saw that the stone had been removed and came completely to the wrong conclusion, that the authorities had removed the body. Her panic leads to Peter and Johns’ rushing to the tomb; to her failure to recognise Jesus when confronted by him and to her actually thinking him to be a gardener. This story shows how completely unexpected for her the resurrection of Jesus was.

Some commentators state that Jesus only appeared to his followers, and this leads them to speculate that in thinking about him, he became “alive” for them, without actually rising from the dead. Such an approach ignores the way Mary and so many other disciples were completely surprised by Our Lord’s resurrection; it ignores the conversion of St Paul, persecutor of the infant Church, [and certainly not a disciple of our Lord] through the appearance to him of the Risen Christ on the Damascus Road; and the fact that even in our own day, there are tales of people changed by His risen presence. Thus Anthony Bloom, very much a sceptical teenager in nineteen thirties Paris, was eventually ordained and became a valued writer on prayer and leader of the Russian Orthodox in Britain and Hugh Montefiore, a lad from one of our country’s most important Jewish families, finished up as a valued Bishop of Birmingham and respected New Testament scholar. I have heard a similar tale concerning a Priest in this Diocese. It came from the actual presence of the Risen Lord, sat next to him in the cinema, towards the end of a matinee showing of The Silent Witness. This was the first of the films about the Turin Shroud, a shroud which purports to be that in which Jesus’ body was buried. The Lord asked him to return to Church. This he did and eventually entered full-time ministry.

Belief in the authenticity of the Shroud’s claims was seriously undermined in 1988, when small off-cuts from a corner were sent for carbon-dating. Although the results dated it to between 1260 and 1390 and so made it a medieval forgery, this conclusion has been questioned for all sorts of reasons. These are to be found in books on the subject, my own included.* Here are four of them. Firstly special research protocols were disregarded, calling the work into question. Secondly, recent experiments have dated the shroud far earlier, with unsatisfactorily wide parameters, but with a mean roughly coinciding with the time when Jesus walked the earth. Thirdly, the Shroud exhibits both bloodstains and blood group which are the same as those on the Orviedo cloth, a facial cloth thought to be St John’s “napkin rolled up by itself.” This cloth has been continuously present in Spain since the seventh century.   Fourthly, the Shroud shows evidence of Crucifixion, unknown to a medieval painter, but rediscovered in our own day. This especially concerns the nails, inordinately long and painfully penetrating not the palm of the hand as in medieval and renaissance art, but the base of the thumb and thence deep into the wrist; also, one very long nail for the feet, driven through ankles tied together. The bleeding from the nail-holes portrayed in Nigel’s Stations is exactly as it was and as on the Shroud. The Shroud certainly witnesses to the Cross and by the Grace of God to the Resurrection.

By God’s Grace? An alternative title for the Shroud is, “The image not made with hands.”  Some in defiance of this title have worked hard in showing how it might have been created by Leonardo da Vinci, for example, despite the fact that an exposition of it took place a few years before he was born. More telling is an explanation from physics showing that the image could have been created by a burst of extremely strong ultra-violet light, though without destructive heat, a combination of which mankind is currently incapable. One reason why this cannot be dismissed is the ongoing experience of archaeologists at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This Church, claiming to house the slab on which our Lord’s body was placed, is undergoing complete restoration. Here, according to the Catholic Press in the small tomb chamber, a radiation problem has played havoc with some of the machinery employed, destroying some instruments and neutralising others. St Paul, who had seen Jesus on the way to Damascus, speaks of the dead who are in Christ as having a spiritual body, a fair description of the Jesus he had met and of the Jesus transfigured in the company of Peter, James and John.[Matt 17 1-8, Mk 9 2-8, Luke 928-36]. By the Grace of God.

The resurrection and the coming of God’s kingdom linked to it are not having the impact which they should in a society nowadays secularised and experiencing a moral confusion which infects the Church itself. T.S Eliot in 1939 lectured on the Idea of a Christian Society, one which did not exclude adherents of other religions. It was not a society of devout Christians only, but one in which the natural end of man, virtue and well-being in community, is acknowledged for all, and the supernatural end – beatitude – for those who have the eyes to see it. Eliot’s vision needs to become our own in our church, our country and in the world and the beatitude, the sense of blessing, needs to be with us as we walk with Jesus into Glory.

In St Paul’s Cathedral, London, there is a monument transferred from the ruined original building after the Great Fire of London. It is to Dr John Donne, Dean from 1623-31, poet and preacher. The monument, a good likeness, shows him wrapped in a Shroud, and a contemporary engraving of it has an accompanying inscription desiring Jesus be the Shroud of his Soul. At Easter, 1619, it seemed James I was dying – in fact, he lived another six years: but the situation merited a special sermon before the Lords, preached by Donne. He finished with the words I quote now: Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of his Saints, by which they are dead and buried, and risen again in Christ Jesus; precious is that death by which we apply that precious blood to ourselves, and grow strong enough to answer David’s question [in the psalms] What is man? With Christ’s answer, I am the man, in whom whosoever abides, shall never see death.

The Lord is Risen. He is risen indeed and has prepared for us a place in Life Everlasting. Alleluia, Amen.


* Canon Willie’s Book The Turin Shroud and the mystery of Faith can be purchased at the Tithe Barn

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Deacon Sarah Gillard-Faulkner has accepted a full time post with Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, she will therefore be relocating to England –  and leaving us.
Fr Mark congratulating  her on her new role said, “ Sarah’s calling has been discerned at this stage  to minister among the prisoners of our land,  so we are grateful to God that he has let her spend the last years helping us develop the Holywell Community. She has lead our children’s work in particular and our outreach work in general.”

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May at the Priory

The Faith through Art Exhibition this month is a work compiled by local School children under the auspices of Monmouthshire Decorative and Fine Art Society to mark the Centenary of World War I.


This theme continues on Saturday May 6th when we will host a Service of Remembrance at 3pm for the Monmouthshire Regiment. The 3 Battalion of the Regiment was based in Abergavenny. May 8th 1915 is the day they encountered great losses at the Battle of of Frezenberg Ridge.


The Former Bishop of Monmouth, Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS celebrates twenty years in Episcopal Orders this month , to mark this occasion he will lead our worship on Ascension Day ( May 25th). The Eucharist at 6.30pm will be held in the Garden of the Holywell Community House.


Bishop Dominic Walker OGS

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On Palm Sunday Evening The Bishop of Ebbsfleet closed our series of Lenten Sermon’s based on the Stations of the Cross designed Nigel Robert Pugh. He spoke about  Station 12 :Death on the Cross  & Station 13: Descent.IMG_2772.JPG

After saying how good it was to be back in the Church in Wales he said:

The artist who is being gracious enough to have his work scrutinized over this sermons series, Nigel Robert Pugh, quotes Satre in the catalogue saying that ‘the job of an artist is always to deepen the mystery’, and in his own introductory words he says that he hopes precisely what this set of canvases will do – ‘deepen the mystery’. So (despite having only this evening seen the whole set for the first time) I feel some obligation to let that be the basic prescription for these reflections.

We’ve been given two of the Stations for our thoughts this evening:  the Death of Christ on the Cross, and Christ’s Descent from the Cross.  They are the twelfth and thirteenth of the fourteen stations in their traditional arrangement fixed by Pope Clement XII the early 1730s.

All the gospels refer to Christ’s death on the cross: Matthew and Mark records the vinegar-filled sponge and a final cry but no words;  Luke records Jesus consigning his spirit to the Lord before expiring.  But it is from John – who always has something unusual to say – that we hear the Lord’s famous parting words, ‘It is finished’, words which are at the heart of the mystery we’re hoping for insight into this evening.  All the Gospels also tell us about Joseph of Arimathea – ‘noble Joseph’ the Orthodox tradition calls him, because of his courage in asking Pilate for the dead body of Jesus[1] – and about the body being lowered from the cross, wrapped and put hastily in Joseph’s new-cut grave because of the restrictions around the festival.  (The Entombment of Christ is the 14th and last of the traditional stations.)  All the gospels mention the women at the foot of the cross, but only John mentions Nicodemus. It’s into this heartrending sequence of very human interactions that devotional and artistic imagination has fitted other very familiar images of pity which surely delayed the eventual final burial:  the Virgin Mother’s embrace and lamentation of her dead child (the so-called Pieta), the anointing and wrapping of Christ’s body, and the procession bearing it to the Tomb.

We’re familiar with the image of the crucifixion:  the Saviour’s uplifted, stretched, shattered, immovable body.  We’re less familiar with the the so-called deposition: the lowering of that body back into the possession of the little community of those who loved the crucified Jesus – his Mother, Mary Magdelene and St John, consoled by the rather detached dedication of Joseph and Nicodemus.  The theme became a regular one for painters of the middle ages and afterwards.

Conventionally the emotional register of that image is a sort of calm after pain, a drained and shared quietness.  Despite the enormity of the foregrounded fact of callously murdered body, the trauma of the scene is often softened by tiny inflections of reassuring human shock and fuss and grief-laden emotions in free-fall.

To a painter the subject posed not only a technical but also a theological challenge. Technically, there were structural matters to get right – managing the various stretched limbs, arched backs, slung weights and precarious ladders that hung off and around the proud and mysterious vertical of the Cross itself, reluctant to emptied of its precious burden.

But the theological challenge is no less serious:  how will the particular image communicate to us the potential that is concealed in this body, these wounds, these relationships, even as it is being gently embraced, tidied up and anointed for burial; even as the beloved face disappears for ever inside Joseph’s clean linen cloth. Paradoxically even in death Christ himself often appears to be the most vibrant presence in the image.

When I first saw Robert’s Deposition I had two thoughts.  The first was an artistic reminiscence:  the line of Christ’s body is an almost perfect echo of the line and weight of Rubens second and less well known painting of the scene (which is now in Lille[2]).  And second was a theological identification:  this image is the Christ of St John’s Gospel – the son of man whom the Father reveals divine glory.  Each of these began to fill out this rather spare image.

We expect a image Christ’s death on the cross to be an image of isolation and the anonymity of meaningless pain.  But not so a Deposition, which is classically full of Christ’s most sympathetic followers.  Yet, even though we have in Robert’s image a hint of Joseph of Arimathea, taking control of Jesus’s lifeless body, we have neither the women or the beloved disciple waiting under the falling arched body as in Rubens’ masterpiece.  We ourselves have to do the work:  facing the dereliction of the dead saviour on our own.  In a sense then, it’s an apparently ‘Protestant’ approach to a theme traditionally more visible in Catholic devotional art.  But it is also possible to understand it as a clearing and freeing of the space around the Cross, which can be so easily overlaid with the community’s interpretations and reactions.

Yet, although there is not by pair after pair of loving hands reaching out to reclaim the lifeless body, nor a great winding sheet being unfurled to receive his weight, the figure of Jesus nonetheless has a certain weightlessness about it, as when bodies are submerged in deep water, dropping passively, limply loosing shape and control against the resistance of the water itself.

That in turn evokes the journey downward, into darkness, that has fascinated the Christian imagination since the earliest centuries – Christ descending into a netherworld of stranded souls,[3] descending not only from the cross but into hell.  This draws on the whole historic association of the death and resurrection of Jesus with a descent into watery chaos.  ‘From the deep waters of death you brought your people to new birth by raising your Son to life in triumph.’  Those deep waters are where we meet Christ in baptism, and rise with him to new life in the resurrection.

With these thoughts in mind, I want us to look again at our two paintings of the dead Christ alongside one another, and to try to look through the eyes of St John.  First we see Jesus isolated, stretched, lifted up in death against the darkness as night gathers in.  Second we see Jesus accompanied, flexible, descending against a brightness of unexpected glory.  What links the two is the moment that has just passed – Jesus’s final testimony which appears only in John’s account.

There, Jesus’ last words are: ‘It is finished!’ (19.30).  In the Greek text, this word (tetelestai) points back six chapters to the beginning of John’s Passion narrative: to the episode of the washing of the feet, which John introduces by commenting that ‘Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world, and go to the Father.  He had always loved his own who were in the world. Now he loved them right through to the end (telos).’ (13.1).  This ‘end’ is his ‘hour’, this is his ‘glory’, this is his ‘kingdom’.  It’s a kingdom that crucifixion does not delay;  indeed, crucifixion is the way this king rules.  This ‘end’, this ultimate measure of love, is now achieved, accomplished, finished – tetelestai – in the Passover of death.  Jesus has truly gone right through to the end, to the very limit.  In death he accomplishes the utter fullness of love – he has given himself unconditionally.

In other words John makes explicit what all the Gospels assume:  that is, far from being a defeat the cross is in fact the hour of the victory of God.  Jesus has conquered now, because in every previous moment he has given himself in unreserved love, dedication and obedience to God and to the needs of the world.  The outcome of the last struggle on Good Friday is, you might say, a foregone conclusion.  For all the injustice and violence and pain that surrounded his final days, something was already entrenched in the quality and character of Jesus’ life that told us what the result will be.  (He himself said as much time and again.)  His acceptance that the Cross was part of his destiny enabled him to turn his own submissive suffering at the mercy of others, into something which allowed God’s own action to flood into the world.  Tetelestai:  ‘it has been finished’.  Here, in the gap between these two canvasses, is the great long-awaited apocalyptic moment.  Here the powers of this world are forever subverted.  A new age has begun.  Christ’s kingdom is born, a new regime is inaugurated, a new way of life is created for those who worship and follow Jesus.

And therefore—paradoxically—it is not at all finished!  He goes beyond that limit in unimaginable ways.  Christ’s descent from the cross, into the underworld, is the opening movement on a new journey, where the glory of love’s now indestructible accomplishment, and the release of his Spirit into the hearts of those who believe in him, makes possible not only salvation but a new creation in him to whom be ascribed all glory and dominion now and for ever-more. Amen.



[1] See Mk 15.43.  The Orthodox troparion runs:  ‘The noble Joseph, taking down thy most pure Body from the Tree, / wrapped it in clean linen and sweet spices and laid it in a new tomb. / But on the third day thou didst rise, O Lord, granting the world great mercy.’
[2] http://www.pba-lille.fr/en/Collections/Highlights/16th-20th-century-Paintings/The-Descent-from-the-Cross

See 1 Pet 3.19-20 which speaks of Jesus preaching to ‘the imprisoned spirits’, and Eph 4.9 which states that Christ ‘descended into the lower parts of the earth’

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Easter Services

Easter Eve (April 15th)

8pm Paschal Vigil


Easter Day (April 16th)

8am Holy Eucharist

9.30am All Age Eucharist

11am Sung Eucharist

6pm Evensong & Sermon

Easter Monday & Tuesday

8.30am Holy Eucharist

Monastic Hours are said privately during Easter Week

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Vernon Lewis RIP

It is with regret that we announce the passing of Vernon Lewis, who has served as our Surveyor of the Fabric for a number of years. Vernon has been suffering from Cancer for a few years.


Vernon “mucking-in’ as he always did

A Memorial Service will be held for him at the Priory Church at 2pm on April 20th.

Responding to the news of his passing, the Vicar, Canon Mark Soady said :

“In Vernon we not only had a great servant of the church, but a true gentleman. He will be sorely missed by us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with Maureen at this time”.

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