Community ID
Alternate Names
St. Mary's
Medieval Location
(the lordship of) Cydewain; located a few miles from Newtown
Modern Location
Corporate Status
S. Mary the Virgin
Date Founded
1170-1190, though one source puts the foundation as late as 1236
Date Terminated
Religious Order
Benedictine/ Cistercian
Foundation Information

According to Madeleine Gray, the church of St. Mary's Llanllugan claims a Celtic foundation along with the neighbouring church of Llanwyddelan. Gwyddelan, alias Llorcan Wyddel, a disciple of St. Beuno and of Irish origin is regarded as the founder of both some time in the sixth century (Baring-Gould and Fisher 1911, 218-219, 378-380; Thomas 1908, 484-6). The two churches stood on an established thoroughfare, the Sarn Sws, of Roman origin, which linked the fort at Caersws to Chester. The community of nuns was established by Maredudd ap Rhobert probably between 1170-1190, according to Jane Cartwright. However, according to Gray, this charter refers to the 'holy nuns of Llanllugan' in a way that could be interpreted as implying that the community already existed. The charter may thus refer to the enforcement of Cistercian discipline on an already existing community. If the charter refers to a preexisting community, that community could have only had the most tenuous existence, since it was Maredudd's charter which gave the nuns their core estates in Llanllugan. Regardless, a Cistercian house was in existence at Llanllugan by the closing decade of the twelfth century. Llanllugan was placed under the jurisdiction of Strata Marcella. The present dedication to St. Mary the Virgin would be in harmony with the church's subsequent placement under Cistercian rule or influence.

Population Counts

The community was always small, as indicated by the surviving church. In 1377 there were only 4 nuns and an abbess. At the time of suppression there were only 3 nuns (Williams 1975, 158).

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

Llanllugan was placed under the jurisdiction of Strata Marcella.


Maredudd ap Rhobert, lord of Cydewain, granted the nunnery the whole vill of Llanllugan, Talhalun, and other lands circa 1216-17. The nunnery seems to have acquired its other lands from lords of Powys Wenwynwyn or their tenants. In the fifteenth century the convent had a wealthy and generous patron in Richard, Duke of York, father of the future Yorkist kings Edward IV and Richard III and a Garter knight. Richard is the likely patron for the stained glass of the community, which bears the date of 1453 and the inscription "Orate pro bono...qui fecit fabrica..." The wording seems to indicate that the donor (likely Richard) was still alive at the time of the glass's creation.

Relative Wealth

It was very small and poor; the community was only modestly endowed.


The grant of Maredudd bestowed on the abbey the whole vill of Llanllugan and Talhalun as well as other lands(Williams, 1975, 157). The nunnery held lands in Hudan Fawr, 8 holdings in Cownwy, and Cwm Baw, Fron-haulog and Hafod-selwr (Castell Caereinion) as well as 2 acres near Court Calmore, Montgomery. The account of the crown receiver, David ap Llewelyn ap John, for the first year after the dissolution of the house lists the tenents, rents and assets of the community. The community held tenants by lease and at will of [the vill of] Ehudan plus a water mill and fulling mill at Ehudan. It received rents of tenants at will and by deed in the vill of Llanllugan, in the lordship of Kodewe, which included tithes of wool, sheep, lambs and corn. The community also received rents from the tenants in the vill of Conway. It leased lands in Montgomery and received rent of diverse tithes from the rectory of Llanllugan. The rectory of Llanfair brought the community rent of tithes of corn and other profits. The nunnery also drew from the parish of Llanfair 140 bushels of oatmeal, valued at 7 pounds, according to the return in the Valor Ecclesiasticus. The income of the community was judged at 24 pounds, 4 shillings and 4 pence at dissolution. The community also had a grange at Ehudan near Castell Caereinion. In 1546 the property was "particularised" for a grant to Sir Arthur Darcy of the site of the abbey with 2 acres of meadow land, 1 clause of arable, the rectory of Llanllygan with its tithes, and 2 tenements with appurtenances for 4 pounds, 3 shillings and no pence.


The total temporalities made up about half the convent's income. The rest came from spiritualities, income from the two churches of Llanfair Caereinion and Llanllwchaiarn, given to the community in the thirteenth century by the bishops of St. Asaph (Williams 1975, 162-3). In 1535 the community's net income was about 21 or 22 pounds per annum.

Early Documents

[1]A foundation charter.
[2]A charter recording a grant made by Maredudd ap Rhobert, lord of Cydewain, circa 1209-1220, probably 1216-17.
[3]A charter, a grant by Bishop Hugh of S. Asaph in 1239 of portions of the church of Llanfair Caereinion.

Art & Artifacts

This community possessed some of the iconographically richest, most important Cistercian stained glass. The central image of the original scheme is a depiction of the crucifixion, which depicts a scatter of bones at the base of the cross, including a crude, pre-Vesalian skull (still extant). The primitive representation of the skull in this depiction (and others) of the crucifixion seems to date the window artistically to the fifteenth century. The glass also depicts a jawbone of an ass which would have stood originally in close association with the figure of the crucified Jesus; this image would have provided a subtle reference to the resurrection and triumph of life and love (see Gray). The figure of Jesus is shown at the moment of death, naked but for a waistcloth, hands clenched, wearing the crown of throns. There are now no accompanying figures, but in the original arrangement the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist would have been depicted. A figure of John does survive, now placed incorrectly in one of the small upper lights. The apostle is shown as a beardless young man, holding the palm given him by the Virgin Mary to carry before her coffin at her funeral and bearing a chalice from which a serpent or snake emerges (Gray). Two angels also exist, beautifully delineated. The final complete figure of the scheme is perhaps the best known: the kneeling nun. The Llanllugan nun is a very important figure, painstakingly painted in great detail, her mantle and habit very carefully and skilfully delineated (despite the fact that Mostyn Lewis commented that she had a big nose!). She is shown kneeling and in an attitude of prayer, but she is not the donor of the glass. The most likely explanation is that it is a depiction of the convent superior in office at the time that the glass was put in place; representations of the donors, Richard and Cecily of York may have existed but are now not extant (Gray). A fragment of the representation of John the Baptist also exists. A beam now built into the chimney-stack at a nearby house, Gwernfydau, is also believed to have belonged to the convent. The beam is carved from left to right with two quatrefoils with foliated terminations to their cuspings; a dove; a stag chased by a hound; a double-headed 'dragonesque beast'; and a crucifix. At the end of the beam there are indications of an inscription (Gray).

Architecture & Archaeology

A little archaeological evidence survives for this site. This community also contains some of the best surviving medieval Cistercian stained glass; it is in perhaps one of the most important collections of Cistercian glass now extant. The community probably possessed glazed windows in the chapter room, refectory, and the superior's chamber, as well as in the church (Marks, 1988, 211). The remaining portions of the medieval stained glass bear the date of 1453. According to Gray, it is unlikely that there was ever a fully developed claustral complex. The community may have possessed only a single range adjacent to the north side of the church, where an early blocked doorway and wall-footings would indicate some ancilliary structure. The nuns' buildings could easily underlie the present farm and would be difficult to distinguish from a substantial farm complex, perhaps supporting the conclusions of Gilchrist in Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women. It is also possible that this house had a north cloister.

State Of Medieval Structure

What remains of the medieval stained glass possessed by this community is now all gathered together in the east window of the parish church, above the altar.

Manuscript Sources

[1]Public Record Office, Ministers' Account, No. 5,257.
[2]Public Record Office, Particulars for Grants, No. 349.
[3]Glamorgan Archives CL Deeds I/3250
[4]Shropshire Record Office 3651/MO VII
[5]National Library of Wales, Peniarth MS 231.69.

Miscellaneous Information

Although Knowles and Hadcock state the community was a priory, Cartwright and Williams state that it was actually an abbey, despite its small size and poor endowment. It was the only religious establishment for women in North Wales. Evidence about the community exists from chronicles, legal proceedings and literary sources, and the records of Valor ecclesiasticus temp. Henr. VIII. Auctoritate regia institutus. and the Dissolution.

Admin. Notes

BCIS= Benedictine/ Cistercian

WRL Project; Dr. Madeleine Gray
Contributors Notes

Glamorgan Archives CL Deeds 1/3250 contains a charter recording a grant made by Maredudd ap Rhobert, lord of Cydewain. This charter is the only extant example relating to Llanllugan nunnery. The Mostyn Owned deeds, Shropshire Record Office 3651/MO VII include deeds relating to Llanllugan and the district dating to the century following the Dissolution. In 1188 Enoch, abbot of Ystrad Marchell, reportedly eloped with a nun from the Cistercian house of Llansanffraid-yn-Elfael (probably Llanllugan).

Date Started
Date Finished