Church of St Thomas the Martyr
The Church of St Thomas the Martyr at Overmonnow, Monmouth, south east Wales, is located beside the medieval Monnow Bridge across the River Monnow. At least part of the building dates from around 1180, and it has a fine 12th-century Norman chancel arch, though the exterior was largely rebuilt in the early 19th century. It is one of 24 buildings on the Monmouth Heritage Trail and is a Grade II* listed building.
History and architecture
The building is constructed of Old Red Sandstone. Dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, it became a chapel-of-ease to St Mary's Priory Church as it did not have its own parish. It is listed in a papal edict by Pope Urban III in 1186. It is thought to have existed in 1170 althoughCharles Heath in 1800 reported evidence of earlier Saxon design in the shape of the architecture.
Both St Thomas' and the nearby Monnow Bridge were damaged by fire in the Battle of Monmouth in 1233, part of the series of uprisings againstHenry III by his barons. This required the church to be repaired using over a dozen oaks supplied by the Constable of St Briavels in Gloucestershire. The wood was delivered by royal command from the Forest of Dean the following year. In the year 1256 anchorites were living in St Thomas's.
John Gilbert, Bishop of Hereford found a leaking vestry roof that was being ignored by the parish in 1397. In 1610 the church was still small with a tower. It appears to have been badly neglected by the early 19th century; in 1829, Bishop Huntingford's inspection referred to it as "this dilapidated and forsaken church". His inspection also records the disproportionately small turret placed above the west gable when, in 1830, St Thomas's ceased to be a chapel of rest and it was given its own parish distinct from St Mary's. A major restoration and extension of the church was completed by the London architect Thomas Henry Wyatt, who added box pews with raised galleries. The oak galleries, on both sides above the nave, are still present today. The vestries were constructed in 1887–8.
The dog's tooth Norman chancel arch is still untouched and the piscina in the south wall, and two doorways on the opposite wall also appear to be original. The font on the south wall is decorated with crude images of faces, birds and a serpent in a Garden of Eden theme. At first sight it appears to be an unusually well preserved example of a 12th century font, and carries a label that uses the word "early", but is now thought by historians to be a 19th-century pastiche. A second plain font may date from the 15th century. Further work by the Welsh architect John Prichard was completed in 1875. The west turret was replaced by a bell arch. The east window dates from 1957, and the church was last restored in 1989-91. On the east side beside the road there is a garden of rest with a calvary cross. The church sits on land between the road and the river Monnow and a contemporary ceramic mosaic has been installed by Monmouth Town Council. The circular plinth is made of 40 tiles that illustrate and commemorate the Millennium showing over 2,000 years of local history.