MARK Muller explores the origins of the Augustinian Priory of St Mary and St Thomas, ahead of this year's Civic Society history walk.

I’ve briefly touched on the Priory before, but I’m surprised that I haven’t inundated you with pieces about it, as for me it is one of the most beautiful of heritage sites in the area... and crammed with history.

There is another reason for its inclusion now which is that last year’s Mayor of Haverfordwest, Sue Murray had an agenda including the resurrection of Civic Week as part of which I’ve been asked to do a history walk this Friday evening (July 29) which will end at the Priory.

The walk has been included in the Haverfordwest Civic Society’s programme and will be its annual walk for this year.

Founded in about 1200, the land on which the Priory stands was donated by Robert FitzTancred, grandson of Tancred, the original Flemish builder of Haverfordwest Castle.

The land wasn’t as much of a gift as might be assumed, as what wasn’t marsh was very steep and impractical for use as farmland.

Although King John might have been initially taken in by FitzTancred, granting him in 1207 a charter in which he is mentioned by name as being worthy of being given the port of Milford Haven, as well as markets and fairs, he fell foul of John within three years and was exiled.

The Augustinians, just one of many orders who flocked to these shores after the Norman Conquest, based their teachings on St Augustine who was born in the mid fourth century into a Romanised North African family in modern day Algeria. He became known as a philosopher who added much to the early interpretations of ambiguous biblical passages. Truth, suggested Augustine, was to be found through learning, and the Augustinians became known, as did other orders, for their habit of continual study.

The Augustinian Canons, or Canons Regular, who formed the senior group within Augustinian houses were not monks in the sense that we might now assume.

Although the Priory and all similar foundations had a good number of ‘lay brothers’, the Canons (and Haverfordwest Priory never had more than 13) were the ordained clerics who acted as a conduit between the Priory and the outside world.

A key feature of the Priory is its herb garden.

Although a building loosely called a hospital existed within the building ranges, it would have functioned more as an apothecary with preparations being made from the herbs and dispensed to the sick.

During the 1280s John Pecham, Archbishop of Canterbury visited the Priory. He had already spent much time in Wales acting as negotiator... unsuccessfully... for Edward I with Llewellyn ap Gruffydd, known as Llewellyn the Last, grandson of Llewellyn the Great. Pecham was not an enthusiast of Wales and things Welsh, especially the clergy. He considered them idle, uneducated and lazy.

He also criticised many of them for adopting unchaste lives and criticised their drinking habits.

Unsurprisingly he was unpopular amongst them, with the fact that he was a Franciscan suggested as having an influence on his attitude.

He didn’t save his criticism for the clergy and in the fearless manner for which he was renowned, he suggested that Queen Eleanor, engaged in renovating and remodelling Haverfordwest Castle following her and Edward 1’s visit in 1284, was wrong to have borrowed money from Jewish moneylenders.

He was also however a champion of those oppressed and of the poor; during his visit to Haverfordwest Priory, he insisted that the leftovers of all meals be distributed amongst the needy.

He was the only Archbishop of Canterbury to have ever visited every diocese.

The Reformation came 250 years later, and Haverfordwest and its Priory became acquainted with William Barlow who became its prior.

By then Haverfordwest Priory was a shadow of its former self and at the time of the Dissolution it seems that there were only two or three Canons.

Within a short time the valuable stones, especially the mouldings and carvings out of which the priory had been built and decorated, were robbed and the Priory land sold... to the Barlows.

Lots more to tell you.

The walk will start at 6.30pm at the Castle Square. All welcome. A small charge of £2 will be made by the Civic Society.