From its earliest days the town of Pembroke has had two Parish Churches within its walls. Each served a large area outside the walls; they were probably built inside the town for the sake of security.
Speed’s map of Pembrokeshire, published 1610, suggests that two distinct communities grew around the two churches. There were two town Crosses – one outside the Old Cross Saws Inn, the other outside the Lion Hotel - but there seems to have been a central meeting point of the two communities at the Elm Tree, where stood the stocks for punishment of wrongdoers.
Both churches date from at least the 13th century.
On entering the Church through the modern west porch, erected in 1926 as a memorial to the Rev Hayward Phillips, one encounters the oldest parts of the building. The South wall is one of the original walls of the Church. Under its plaster is hidden a round headed Norman window and the doorway to what is now the Choir Vestry is the original entrance to the Church. On its outer side is some Early English moulding similar to that over the entrance to Monkton Priory Church and to one of the doorways in St Davids Cathedral. Above the doorway is a niche which would originally have contained a statute of the Virgin Mary, but which now contains a tablet to a former benefactor of the Church.
The arcade of pillars which separates the nave from the north aisle were made from the original north wall of the Church in about 1350, when the tower was built. The north aisle, with its pointed vaulting, so typical of Pembrokeshire Church architecture of this period, has modern windows which feature St David, William Marshall (Earl of Pembroke) and Henry Tudor.
At the west end of the north aisle is the children’s corner and here too are the memorials to the Adams family who lived first at Pater Church (Pembroke Dock) and then at Holyland House. One of these is especially interesting. It is a piece of carved alabaster dating from 1410-1450. It seems to have been deliberately defaced and from its weathered appearance would seem to have been discarded. In 1610 little William Adams died, aged ‘8 years, 5 weeks and 2 dayes’, and the old panel was re-used as a memorial to him and was set with its carved face hidden in the plaster of the wall. It was rediscovered at the 1879 restoration.
A recess high on the east wall would have housed a gallery similar to that which can still be seen at Manorbier church. The blocked entrance doorway can still be seen in the ringing chamber of the tower.
The font, a square bowl supported by a cylindrical stem, with cable moulding, is Norman. There is no documentary evidence to support the claim that Henry VII was baptised here.
The Lady Chapel
The Lady Chapel, set off the east end of the nave is a place of special sanctity. Here the Sacrament is reserved for the sick and has a focus for the devotion of the faithful. It is here that our midweek Holy Eucharist services take place.
The pulpit was given to the church in 1880 by Col M J Saurin of Orielton, the last lay patron of the living.
The Chancel & Sanctuary
The modern Chancel arch replaces a narrow opening over which stood a rood screen and loft. The corbelled structure over the organ probably supported another gallery for there is a blocked doorway to this also in the ringing chamber.
The reredos depicting Christ in majesty, was designed by J L Pearson, who supervised the renovation work of 1879. Above it, the great East window is one of the best examples of the work of C E Kempe. There are another seven Kempe windows in the church, all carrying his trademark – a wheatsheaf. There are some ancient and one modern memorial to the family of Meyrick, formerly of Bush.
On the North side of the altar is yet another blocked doorway, which led out to a lean-to building at the base of the tower, which served as a vestry.
A beautifully carved chair representing St Peter’s denial stands in the sanctuary.
The Tower and Bells
The Victorian ecclesiologist Professor Freeman describes the tower as ‘among the most remarkable towers of Pembrokeshire ... conspicuous for its immense massiveness, which gives it a more military effect than any of the others’. It contains a ring of eight bells, the earliest of which dates from 1763. Two more were added in 1765, one bearing the inscription ‘Thomas Rudhall made us all’. The last two were added to commemorate Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1897.