St Peter’s Church celebrates its 700th anniversary this year. In 1310 John de Grey, 2nd Baron Grey de Wilton, was granted permission to found a collegiate church for the growing community around Ruthin Castle, which had been built by his father, Reginald de Grey, the first baron, in 1282. The church building, which was approved by Anian, Bishop of Bangor, was to be served by seven priests, known as canons who would live in a self- governing community under the presidency of a provost, rector or warden. To this day, the vicar of St Peter’s is known as Warden, a title peculiar to Ruthin; today’s warden, on the other hand, is on his own, looking after congregations in Ruthin itself, at St Meugan’s and, now, St Mwrog’s as well. Also in 1310, Chirk Castle and Denbigh Castle were completed; Bala was founded; Duccio painted the Raising of Lazarus (still in Siena Cathedral, ltaly) and Christ and the Samaritan Woman (now in the Kimbell Gallery, Fort Worth, Texas, USA); ’Ala-ud-din, sultan of Delhi invaded Malabar in South India; the Arabs and Mongols invaded Arbela, Syria and sold their surviving inhabitants into slavery; famine swept through Timbuktu, Mali, West Africa; and Goronwy Gyriog, the Anglesey poet was born.As is well known locally, St Peter’s was not the first Christian building in the area. That honour belongs to St Meugan’s Church, Llanrhydd, although no trace of the early St Meugan’s remains. The collegiate church in Ruthin took over as the most prominent church in the area. Other collegiate churches included Westminster Abbey, St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh, what is now Manchester Cathedral, St Endellion, Cornwall, and, nearer home, the church of St Mary Magdalene, Bridgnorth, Shropshire. We don’t know how much the Ruthin Collegiate Church was involved with Ruthin School, founded around the same time, but it seems likely that they had a major part to play. The members of the Ruthin college were originally secular priests rather than monks or friars, but they may, at some stage, have linked themselves to the Augustinian Order of Friars, which was devoted to study and community.That would explain why the Ruthin college, along with other minor religious houses, was closed down in 1536 after Henry VlII’s dissolution of the monasteries. The church’s status and influence in the community now fell, but was restored in 1574, when Ruthin-born Gabriel Goodman, Dean of Westminster for 40 years, returned to his birthplace, restored the educational work of St Peter’s by re-founding Ruthin School, and in 1590, the social care by establishing Christ’s Hospital, which provided homes for 12 poor people. He re-introduced the office of Warden. The Revd Stuart Evans, appointed Warden in May this year, is thus the latest in a long line. Born in Denbigh, he grew up in Bodfari and is a fluent Welsh speaker. He was educated at Ysgol Maes Garmon and Abelystwyth University, where he studied English and drama. He spent two years as a VSO worker in Egypt before returning to the UK in 1980 to train as a teacher. After teaching in secondary schools in Wigan, he moved to Singapore to work at the United World College of South East Asia, where, for six years, he taught drama to students from some 80
different nationalities. His experience there convinced him to fulfil a long-held personal belief that he was called to the Anglican ministry. Following training at Trinity College, Bristol, he was appointed assistant curate at Connah’s Quay then, in 2002, as vicar of Rhosllannerclun|gog, Wrexham.Stuart Evans hopes that all the people of Ruthin can regard St Peter’s as their church, regardless of their beliefs. He is keen to promote a feeling of croeso, hospitality. The church building is open for much of the day so that Ruthin residents can enjoy its peace and tranquillity. A friendly, sympathetic person, Mr Evans told Town and Around that he is eager to listen to what the people of Ruthin want from their church community. He wants St Peter’s long tradition of educational and social care to continue. Indeed, he would like them to grow during his ministry in the town. Many people will want to take a closer look at St Peter’s for its birthday perhaps during the forthcoming Heritage 700 Weekend. ln1310, the building would have been different in appearance to the church we know today. Over the centuries additions and improvements were made, perhaps the most striking being the erection, in 1859, of the spire, designed by the Wrexham-based architect Richard Kyrke Penson (his family firm also built the Butchers’ Market in Wrexham, a very different kind of building). Visible for miles around it has become a familiar, even iconic, part of the Ruthin’s skyline.Inside, Town and Around offers the following suggestions for those who wish to explore St Peter’s in close- up: The double nave. This feature is peculiar to this part of the world. Was it built due to pressure on space or did one local church set the ball rolling with others following, to keep up appearances? Which came first, the north por south nave?The wonderful carved roof. The beams are especially interesting illustrating coats of arms, badges and inscriptions. Among the families represented are the Stanleys. Extensive references to the Goodman family, including Gabriel’s bust in the chancel, and no less than two brasses, (1560 and 1583) devoted to his father Edward Goodman, one shared with his wife Ciselye.The Wadsworth-Willis Pipe Organ, a relative newcomer, installed in 2003. St Peter’s reputation for its music, especially its choral work, is growing and the new director of music, Peter Litman, wants to expand it further. The Old Cloisters. They were much latered during the 19th century but the splendid 14th century undercroft, built at the same time as the church itself, is still intact, and can be seen during the Open Doors Weekend.The ornamental gates to the churchyard, made by Robert Davies of Bersham in 1727. They are closed most of the time. The new Warden, Stuart Evans, is pondering how to show off their magnificence as well as encouraging people through them. He would be pleased to hear any ideas on how this can be achieved.
In Ausgust 2010, RUTH BACON and DEREK JONES joined the celebrations for one of Ruthin’s most important and prominent buildings