The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Partrishow Church, Forest Coal Pit, Powys

SO2788 2243. The secluded little church of Partrishow, Patrishow or Patricio, can be reached along winding, narrow country lanes about 1 mile north of Forest Coal Pit, overlooking the Afon Grwyne Fawr Valley, at the foot of the Gader Fawr. The town of Abergavenny lies 5 miles to the south, while Crickhowell is about the same distance to the south-west. The hamlet of Partrishow consist of just a few farmhouses along with the little medieval church of St Ishow (Issui) and its graveyard and, just down the lane in the cwm, the holy well Ffynnon Ishow, a site of pilgrimage down the centuries.

English: St. Ishow church, Partrishow Taken fr...

St. Ishow’s church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parts of the church dates back to the 11th century although much of it is from the 13th-14th century with some restoration taking place in 1908-9. When you enter the 14th century porch with it’s old holy water stoup you are immediately taken right back into the middle ages, the building is just a sheer delight, it’s whitewashed walls, pre-Reformation paintings, gorgeous decorated oak rood-screen and other antiquities are a pleasure to see. The closed-off room at the west side is a hermit’s cell and chapel that dates from the 11th-14th centuries and is called ‘Eglwys-y-Bedd’ or grave of St Ishow, indeed the saint is said to lie under the altar that has six consecration crosses, rather than the customary five. In 1908 human bones were discovered under the wall. Also at the west end a painted skeleton is a “figure of doom” holding a scythe, hourglass and spade. The painting has been whitewashed over many times but it always mysteriously re-appears again.

The carved font dates from 1055 AD, making it the oldest in Wales. It has a Latin inscription to Genillin or Genyllin Voel the son of prince Rhys Goch, Lord of Ystradyw, and prince of Powys. When translated the inscription reads:- Menhir made me in the time of Genillin. In front of the rood-screen there are two stone altars each having five consecration crosses carved onto them, these representing the five wounds of Christ’s passion. The beautiful Irish oak rood-screen and loft is renowned throughout Wales, said to be of Flemish design, but more probably made by Welsh craftsmen in 1500. The screen is carved with figures representing St Mary the Virgin, St John the Apostle and a fearsome fire-breathing Welsh dragon.

In the churchyard stands a 12th-13th century preaching cross standing on three steps, its octagonal shaft leading up to the lantern that is more recent in date but, which has a number of figures carved upon it including St Issui. Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) is said to have preached his sermon on the 3rd crusade at the cross in 1188 during his famous tour of Wales. The small square building at the front of the church was used as the parson’s stable.

Back down the lane in the cwm on the left-hand side stands Ffynnon Issui (St Ishow’s well). Some steps lead down to the well situated close to the Nant Mair brook (St Mary’s stream). One of the steps has a Maltese cross. The well is inside a 1 metre high drystone-wall well-chamber with a slab for it’s roof. There are some niches to allow pilgrims to place offerings or flowers; the water runs into a small square basin at the bottom. According to legend, St Issui a 6th century hermit lived beside the well, so the well is of a pre-Christian date, the holy man using the water to baptise local people. But the saint was murdered by a man who sought shelter with him but had refused to be converted to Christianity; the site of this martyrdom became known as Merthyr Issui. In the middle-ages pilgrims began to come to the holy well to be healed of various diseases and this  continued up until the 19th century. But even today people come here and leave crosses made out of twigs and partake of the water in the hope that they, too, will receive a miraculous cure. Coins are also occasionally thrown into the well for good luck!

St Ishow’s Holy Well (Ffynnon Ishow), Partrishow, Powys.