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12th Century

The Tironians established at least four alien priories during the first quarter of the 12th century. These were dependent on a mother house in France, hence called classified aliens. The aim of an alien priory was not always that of a full conventual house; some were houses of estate managers. When donations from Norman landowners ceased, alien priories often remained poor. The Abbey of Tiron did not include a workforce of lay-brothers in its order and was suppressed as such in 1391. Below is a picture of the 'Mother Abbey' at Tiron, France.Mother Abbey

Pill Priory was founded by the Roche family of the Barony and Roch Castle, Pembrokeshire and was founded within a few years and as a daughter house of St Dogmaels (between 1161-1190) , near Cardigan, West Wales (Click here for area map), which had itself been established in 1113 as a priory of the newly-founded Tironian (or Tironensian) Order of reformed Benedictine monks (gray-clad monks - Roman Catholic monastic order). The founder was Adam de la Roche, who would of necessity be a descendant of Godebert de Fleming (Adam's grandfather). Over time, it is believed that the house acquired some 1300 acres of land. However, it is believed that Pill was poor compared with other monastic houses.

The Tironians were founded in 1109 by St. Bernard d'Abbeville (.pdf -725kb) also known as Bernard of Tiron (.pdf 815kb), abbot of the Benedictine house of St Cyprien, near Poitiers in north-west France, who moved his community to Tiron in the Diocese of Chartres in 1113, encouraging a return to the strict rule of St. Benedict which had, he felt, not been observed by the official Benedictine order. In that year he was visited by Robert Fitzmartin, the Norman Lord of the newly-conquered territory of Cemais, who brought back thirteen monks and a prior to form the basis of a new community which was installed at St. Dogmaels in 1113, hitherto a monastery following a ‘Celtic’ rule. In 1120 St Dogmaels was raised to abbey status but retained allegiance to the mother house of Tiron until the dissolution of the 1530s.

The community at St Dogmaels quickly established daughter houses of its own, eventually comprising three priories. The first in 1117, on Caldey Island, was by tradition founded by Fitzmartin’s mother in 1115. The Charter Roll of 1121 records the grant and confirmation by ‘Robert, son of Martin, to the monks of Tiron and the monastery of St. Mary at St. Dogmaels of the Island of Pyr, granted by his mother'. Like the mother house of St Dogmaels, Caldey was the site of a pre-existing Celtic monastic community.

Godebert the Fleming of Rhos, a Flemish Knight (Flemish DNA), was born in Roch parish in 1096. He had two sons, Richard FitzGodebert de Roch and Rodebert FitzGodebert de Roch and they acquired the Roch name from the local parish area (both were in Wales by the reign of Henry I (Picture below 1100-1135). Both became Knights and Richard FitzGodebert de Roch who settled in Roch Parish (1133) Wales was granted lands previously owned by Lambert Echiners (now Lambton) in Pembrokeshire, he was also the first Knight to land in Ireland in 1167, prior to the main Norman forces.  The families became known as de Roche, or de Rupe (in latin) and they acquired substantial property in Wales and Ireland, including Roch Castle and Pill Priory.  Descendants of these Roche families are found predominantly in Ireland and to a lesser extent throughout the UK.

Mother AbbeyThere is no direct evidence for any kinship between the Roches and the Fitzmartin Lords of Cemaes, patrons of the mother house at St Dogmaels, but it may be inferred that the two were close associates during this period and the Roches were later, at least, tenants of the Fitzmartins for some of their lands.

While of Flemish descent (How the Flemish came to Pembrokeshire) (The Flemish Colonists in Wales - BBC ©), the family adopted the style of their Norman allies. Rodbert FitzGodebert de Roch being Richard's brother had three sons, David, Henry and Adam (they accepted the spelling 'de Roch' in French and 'de Rupe/de Rupella' in Latin [de Roch/de la Roche]. A brief history, this amongst other things (by Peter Roche Ph.D - Roache DNA Project:  Administrator Lineage ) can be found by clicking here. Adam was apparently the first one to hold Roch(e) Castle, Pembrokeshire.

The exact date of the establishment of Pill Priory is not known, but the founder, Adam de Roche of the Barony of Roch who was born about 1160 in Of Castle, Roch, Pembrokeshire, Wales and who was a man of extensive possessions towards the end of the 12th century, was active in the latter part of the 12th century. Adam's possessions were very extensive. His dominium included churches in Steynton - Saint Kewit (Cewydd), St Mary of Rupe (Roche), St David of Newcastle and St Nicholas of New Mote.

Richard FitzGodebert de Roch, was the first Norman knight to land in Wexford, Ireland in 1167 followed in 1169 by the main body of Normans, Welsh and Flemish forces and somewhat later the Roche family founded a further daughter house on their lands at Glascarreg, Co. Wexford, Ireland.

Unlike St Dogmaels and Caldey, Pill Priory was a de nova foundation and there is no suggestion of any pre-existing religious establishment on the site. The priory church was dedicated jointly to St Budoc, in the Celtic tradition, and the Blessed Virgin. It is likely that the community was mostly Welsh, first drawn from monks of St Dogmaels and later from the locality.

The joint dedication may have been a concession to the native population, but the colonisation of the house by monks from St Dogmaels, possibly one of the first Norman abbeys to recruit Welshmen, may have influenced the choice, Welsh monks having doubtless been well aware of their native monastic tradition.


Cruciform shape

Apparently, documents show Adam de Roach (Rupe) endowing Pill to the Order of Tiron, as witnessed by Bishop Peter de Leia, St David's [1176-1198] which sets the timeframe. The original charter has been lost and the sole remaining source is an inspeximus from AD 1294-5, which reads: 'For the monks of Pill. The king etc....We have inspected a charter which Adam de Roche made to God and St Mary and St Budoc and the monks of the Order of Tiron, in the monastery of Pill in these words: I, Adam de Roche, founding a monastery in my land of Pill, with the consent and assent of my heir, my wife Blandina have given, granted and by this, my present charter, confirmed to God and St Mary and St Budoc and the monks of the order of Tiron there....etc., etc....(Charter Roll, 25 Ed I, Membrane 7, July 13, 1294-5, reproduced in Calendar of Charter Rolls, Vol. II, Henry III - Edward I, 1257-1300 (1906), 468-9).

Pill Priory is unusually complex for a British Tironian priory, which appear mainly to have been small and compact like between these houses and the Tironian abbeys, of which St Dogmaels and five houses in Scotland are the only British examples. The church appears to have been unaisled, cruciform around a three-storey central tower, and of moderate size.


The suriving fragments appear to be of a single build, which is stylistically transitional and contemporary with the foundation date·range.

The present assemblage of two·storey buildings ('Pill Priory - Cottage' and the 'Priory Inn' public House) south of the church appear to incorporate the remains of vaulted, conventual buildings including an east range of vaulted chambers and a southern chamber, possibly a kitchen or warming house, that may not have formed part of a proper south range. However, they cannot be closely dated, having been extensively rebuilt for 'Iower·gentry' domestic use after the Dissolution, when the church appears to have been abandoned. Evidence for a west range is so far absent but a possible inlinnary was suggested by geophysics.

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