Sunday, 4 October 2009


In 1907/08, during renovations to an old property in Cross Street, Abergavenny a startling discovery was made. In the attic of a house that had once been part of Thomas Gunter’s mansion, workmen discovered a secret room. To everyone’s amazement, on the sloping ceiling of this room in the north end of the house, was a beautiful fresco. The subject of the painting was the Adoration of the Magi.

The owner of the property, Mrs Foster, had the good sense to realise that they had stumbled upon something of importance. After consultation with several prominent local historians, it was realized that they had found the secret chapel of Thomas Gunter. Here, in the 17th century, Abergavenny born Fr David Lewis and Monmouth born Fr Philip Evans had said Mass and ministered to the Catholics of the town. Mrs Foster called in the Photographer, Mr Bailey of High Street, Abergavenny, who took photographs of the ceiling and other paintings and drawings which adorned the walls of the little room. Then, in an attempt to preserve the fresco, Mrs Foster had the painting carefully removed and placed, under glass, in an oak frame. For many years this treasure was in private hands but, fortunately, it is now on display in Abergavenny Museum where it can be viewed and appreciated by all.

In the fresco, believed to have been the altar piece under which the altar was positioned, Our Lady is wearing a blue dress and her head is encircled with a gold halo. The Child Jesus reposes on her lap and his head too is encircled with a golden halo but one of more elaborate design. The rays of the brightly shining star appear to shine directly towards the Infant. One of the Magi kneels in homage and offers his gift to the Babe. In Bailey’s photograph, which can be seen in the Haines Collection in Newport Library, three Magi are discernable. Unfortunately, only one remains today but, in the bottom right corner of the painting it is possible to see a hand of one of the vanished Magi. The gift the hand is bearing is also visible. On the opposite side of the painting an ox looks over his shoulder at the proceedings.

It is astonishing that this painting, hidden for over two centuries, has come to light and survived in such detail and beauty. The unknown artist has left us a wonderful reminder of the faith and courage of Thomas Gunter, St Philip Evans, St David Lewis and the people who, in spite of grave danger, worshiped in that little chapel in Thomas Gunter’s Mansion on Cross Street.

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