Powys Digital History Project

Religion in Wales
The medieval church


An era of change
The conquest of large areas of Wales by the Normans brought about a rapid transformation in a church in Wales which was already beginning to undergo changes in its own right. The Welsh church’s integration of secular aristocratic practices with a loose church organisation made its subjugation a necessity for the new Norman overlords. The existing practice of married lay canons passing on ecclesiastical office to their descendants was one which would undermine any external control by the new barons and so it was swept away wherever the new Norman lordships were created. As in England the conquerors expected control over the church and by the mid 12th century all the Welsh bishoprics were occupied by Norman nominees accepting the supremacy of Canterbury. As in England the new bishops were also tenants-in-chief of the king for the lands they held and had the same feudal obligations as vassals

The new monastic orders
The new Norman overlords exploited the ecclesiastical wealth of the newly conquered areas. Some estates and endowments were simply seized and added to the estates in the gift of the local lord, but mainly there was a huge transfer of Welsh ecclesiastical estates and income to monastic foundations in Normandy and France or to houses in England. As early as 1070 all the tithes of the lands between the Wye and the Usk were transferred by William fitz Osbern to two new monasteries he had founded at Lire and Cormeilles in Normandy. Just as the new overlords were anxious to plant new boroughs with populations loyal to their rule, so they created nineteen Benedictine and Cluniac priories in Wales between 1070-1150.

There are 5 main pages on the medieval church in Wales. Use the box links below to view the other pages.