St Mary, Penmark, Glamorganshire

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Feature Sets (4)


The church, one of the largest in the Vale of Glamorgan, stands in the small village of Penmark. It consists of a nave and separate chancel, embattled west tower and south porch. Inside, the transitional chancel arch is pointed with chevron ornament on its west side. There is a rood stair in the north wall of the nave. The original south-west window in the nave is Decorated with two trefoil-headed lights surmounted by a quatrefoil. The south door has been dated to the fourteenth century and the west tower was added in the fifteenth or sixteenth century with a monumental Perpendicular arch opening into the nave (Orrin (1988), 301, 303; Newman (1995), 504). Restorations, during which most of the windows were replaced or renewed in the Perpendicular style, took place in 1800, around 1860 and in 1893 (Clark and Jones (1861), 6; Orrin (1988), 297, 299, 304). The font is probably thirteenth century. There are two loose pieces of chevron-carved stone in the churchyard. 


The earliest historical evidence for the church at Penmark dates from the thirteenth century. In 1254, the church was assessed at £20 in the ‘Valuation of Norwich’ (Lunt (1926), 315). In the assessment of ecclesiastical incomes in England and Wales ordered by Pope Nicholas IV in 1291, Penmark was valued at £16 and recorded as impropriated to the abbey of Gloucester (Denton and Taylor (1998), 137, 147). Gloucester’s possession of Penmark has been questioned, seemingly in favour of Tewkesbury (Green (1906–7), 63; Rees (1950), 143). However, in the accounts of the receiver of the abbot of Tewkesbury for parts of Glamorgan for 1449–50, the church of Penmark is referred to as ‘lately appropriated to the monastery of Tewkesbury’ (Rees (1950), 180).

Penmark Castle stands around 40m north of the church. Although not mentioned in documentary sources until 1307, the castle was probably founded by the Umfraville family in the early twelfth century (Royal  Commission (2000), 280).


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel Arch

The chancel arch is pointed and of a single order

East side

Chamfered jambs rise from what appear to be damaged half-width chamfer stops at the base on both north and south. Carved human heads act as upper chamfer stops, below and distinct from the imposts on both jambs.

The northern head is damaged with the left half cut away and the upper part defaced. Enough survives to show that it was the head of a bearded man with no suggestion of clothing. The neck rises from a decorated base with roll-mouldings top and bottom separated by diagonal reeding.

The southern head is also damaged with the right half cut away and the upper part defaced. It is a crowned man, with a plain high collar above a decorated base consisting of a roll moulding above deeply carved vertical reeding.

The dark sedimentary rock imposts are damaged to the north and south. The northern impost extends for a short distance into the adjoining wall. The southern impost is chamfered.

The voussoirs on this side of the arch are unornamented, but have been cut away above both imposts, perhaps to take an earlier rood screen to the east of the chancel arch (Evans, 1998).

West side

The jambs are also chamfered on this side. To the south, the base of the arch sits on a dark-coloured sedimentary slab forming a step about 0.43m above the floor of the nave. A damaged stop at the base of the chamfer consists of a roll moulding above chevron decoration. There is no comparable step on the north side, but diagonal tooling at the base of that chamfer suggests that a stop may have been neatly cut away.

Just as on the eastern side of the arch, carved human heads act as upper chamfer stops below and distinct from the imposts to north and south.

The northern head is of a male secular figure with a crown/headdress decorated with a horizontal band of chevron; his high-collared garment is decorated with incised vertical stripes

On the south is a finely carved head of a cleric or monk with his cowl lowered to reveal his tonsure.

To both north and south, the impost is cut away above the carved head and there is a filled rectangular hole and an open square hole below, perhaps to accommodate the rood screen.

The voussoirs of the arch on this side are decorated with a single row of flat lateral chevron with a cogwheel inner edge. The apex of each chevron is almost central to each stone, creating at times a slightly uneven but harmonious whole. The ornamentation terminates at a square stop approximately 0.15m above each impost.




The font stands at the west end of nave at the entrance to the west tower.

The plain, lead-lined tub has a roll moulding on the rim. At four points around the rim, stone has been inserted with joints so fine that they are almost undetectable. There are holes for a clasp on the south-west side. A single roll moulding encircles the waist of the font and there are three unequal roll mouldings at the bottom of the tub. The font sits on a separate round pillar stem with roll mouldings at top and bottom, which stands in turn on a square chamfered base topped with a prominent roll moulding. The whole is placed on a large hexagonal plinth.

External diameter 0.78m
Height 1.02m
Internal diameter 0.58m

Loose Sculpture

Chevron-decorated piece 1

One of two pieces of chevron-carved stone found in the churchyard.

The ornamented face has a cogwheel inner edge and lateral chevron of two unequal rolls and a flat outer band.  The cogwheel emerges from a jamb on the lateral face, which has a chamfer to the inside. Traces of lime wash remain on the jamb, the chamfer and the inner face of the block.


Depth 0.23m
Height 0.17m
Width of ornamented face 0.24m

Chevron-decorated piece 2

One of two pieces of chevron-carved stone found in the churchyard.

The ornamented face has a cogwheel inner edge and lateral chevron of two unequal rolls and a flat outer band.  The cogwheel buts on a jamb on the lateral face, which has a chamfer to the inside. Traces of lime wash remain on the chamfer and the jamb. At the top of the lateral face there is a triangular stop to the chamfer and a shallow notch cut into the jamb. Those features and the angled upper surface of the block suggest that this formed the springing for the voussoirs of an arch upon which the ornamentation continued.


Depth 0.23m
Height 0.22m
Width of ornamented face 0.24m


The close association between the castle and the church, prompted Thurlby to observe: ‘While no Romanesque stonework remains [at the castle], the juxtaposition of church and castle is an excellent example of this sort of Norman pairing of ecclesiastical and secular’. If the church did originate in the early twelfth-century, no evidence survives from that date. The oldest feature in the church is the transitional chancel arch, which Thurlby suggests is not earlier than the end of the twelfth century (Thurlby (2006), 179).

The pronounced step on the south side of the chancel arch and the height of the entrance to the rood stair in the north wall of the nave (1.02m) may suggest that the nave floor was lowered at some point. Orrin notes that during the 1893 restoration, both nave and chancel were refloored and the sanctuary floor was raised (Orrin (1988), 299, 304).

The use of lateral chevron decoration and a cogwheel edge on the voussoirs of the chancel arch and the two loose chevron-carved stones found in the churchyard may point to a similar date for both. The loose pieces may have come from the original south door or the north door. The north door, which would have provided access from the nearby castle, has been blocked, but its position is marked by a pointed relieving arch


  • L. A. S. Butler, ‘Medieval ecclesiastical architecture in Glamorgan and Gower’, in T B Pugh (ed), Glamorgan county history: Volume III, The Middle Ages, Cardifff, 1971, 379–415

  • G. T. Clark and R. O. Jones, ‘Some account of the parish of Penmark’, Archaeologia Cambrensis 3rd series, 7, 1861, 1–22

  • J. Denton and B. Taylor, ‘The 1291 valuation and the ecclesiastical benefices of Llandaff diocese’, Archaeologia Cambrensis 147, 1988, 133–158

  • E. M. Evans, ‘St Mary’s Church, Penmark’, Glamorgan Historic Churches Survey: Churches in the Archdeaconry of Llandaff, Deanery of Penarth & Barry, Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust report for Cadw, 1998

  • C. A. H. Green, Notes on churches in the diocese of Llandaff, 1906–7, 62-3

  • J. Newman, The Buildings of Wales. Glamorgan, Harmondsworth, 1995, 504–05

  • G. Orrin, Medieval Churches in the Vale of Glamorgan, Cowbridge, 1988, 297–303

  • W. Rees, ‘The priory of Cardiff and other possessions of the abbey of Tewkesbury in Glamorgan’, South Wales and Monmouthshire Record Society 2, 1950, 129–99

  • Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, The Later Castles from 1217 to the Present, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan, volume III, part 1b: Medieval Secular Monuments, Aberystwyth, 2000

  • M. Salter, Old Parish Churches of Gwent, Glamorgan and Gower, Malvern, 2002, second edition, 96–97

  • M. Thurlby, Romanesque Architecture and Sculpture in Wales, Woonton, 2006, 178–79

Exterior from the south-east


Site Location
National Grid Reference
ST 058 688 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Glamorganshire
now: Vale of Glamorgan
medieval: Llandaff
now: Llandaff
now: St Mary
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Bill Zajac, Diane Williams 
Visit Date
09 Dec 2016 and 31 Mar 2017