St. Urian's Chapel.

Much uncertainty surrounds the names of St. Urian and Centurion's Copse as well as their relationship to each other, and over the years the fog of conjecture has become so thick as to be virtually impenetrable.

On any Ordnance Survey map since the mid nineteenth century, the wood to the north-west of Longlands farm, the supposed site of Wolverton, has been known as 'Centurion's Copse', while the hill to the south-west is called 'Centurion's Hill'. The possessive noun 'Centurion's' was further confirmed by archaeological finds of what was considered Roman tile and pottery in that area in the nineteenth century. Indeed the Victorians were always very keen to discover Roman sites, since this industrial, imperial age admired Roman engineering prowess and were keen to establish affinities between the two empires.

However the connection of the word Centurion with the site of Wolverton stretches back earlier still. A 1774 map, drawn up for the Worsley family, detailing their estates, shows several parcels of land using the word Centurion: "Centurions", "Centurions Mead" and "Centurions Copse". (JER/WA/33/36).

But the earliest use of the word is made by Sir John Oglander in the 1630's in his Commonplce Book. On an undated page, while referring to the Glamorgan family, he states "...there they had theyre Chappell pt whereof I have sene standinge, Called Centurions Chappell." (OG/90/4) This is the first recorded appearance of the word 'Centurion' and, significantly because of later misinterpretation of this word, it is connected with the chapel at Wolverton. Indeed, in the same book, Oglander reiterates the fact that the ruins were still standing.

"Saynt Uries at Bindbridge (a chappell now decayed) wase founded by ye Lordes of Woolverton and Milton, for theyre ease and theyre tennantes, for in those tymes ye Cawsey at Yarbridge wase not errected so they weare fayne to goe abowt by Sandham to come to Bradinge. The ruines still remayneth but I conceive they buryed at Bradinge". (OG/90/4)
What is interesting is that Oglander here refers to the chapel as "Saynt Uries". In "A note whoe ye ffowndors of sutch Monestaryes as gave Land Out of owre Island unto theyer Mayntenance", also in the same Commonplace book, Oglander lists "The Chappell at Centurions in Bindbrydge". Nowhere does he refer to a St. Urian. It would seem therefore that the use of the word Centurion can be traced back to Oglander, who was trying to make sense of the saint, to whom the chapel at Wolverton was dedicated. Thereafter it quickly gained in currency, so that by the eighteenth century it had passed into common usage.

Before the nineteenth century, it would seem that the name St. Urian was unknown. Worsley, in his History of the Isle of Wight, refers to the three "chapels of Woolverton, La Wode, and Middleton" in the Bembridge peninsula. He does not use the term St. Urian, which really only emerges in the nineteenth century along with the first marking on maps of its exact site. It is clear that this is a rationalisation for the term Centurion, relating it to the nearest homophonic equivalent. The term had finally come full circle, reverting back to a saint's name, allbeit a distorted version of the original name. In fact, it was like a huge game of chinese whispers, spanning two centuries, and resulting in a confused, but similar version of the original name.

St. Urian?

'Saint Urian' is a strange character. He is not listed as a Catholic saint or indeed as any saint. Urian is a Greek word meaning "heavenly/from heaven". In Greek mythology, Uranus was the god of the heavens and Urania was the muse of astronomy and the skies. The Hebrew names, Urian, Uriel,Uriah and Uri, are also derived from a common source. In the Celtic language of Wales, Urian became Urien and meant 'one of privileged birth'. In Arthurian legend, Urien was a necromancer, a king of Gore, and the brother-in-law of Arthur. In Scotland, the word developed as the names, Urey and Ure. It is clear therefore that the name Urian or Urien was used in Wales and Scotland as a forename, but so far no saint with that name has been recorded. But if there wasn't a saint by the name of Urian, how did the mistake occur?

As mentioned earlier, the use of the word Centurion was set in train by Oglander in the early seventeenth century. But what names were used to refer to the chapel before Oglander? He refers to the chapel as "Saynt Uries", while a Chantry Certificate of 1545 refers to "the free Chaple of Seynt Uryth in Bymbrydge". Earlier still in 1520, an enquiry into churches and chapels on the Island describes it as "capella S Urie". The 1545 reference gives a clue to a possible saint, to whom the chapel at Wolverton was dedicated.

Saint Urith (Welsh: Iwerydd, Latin: Heiritha) is an Anglo-Saxon Devon saint from about the seventh century. She was born at East Stowford, near Barnstaple, in Devon. She is known to have founded the church at Chittlehampton, seven miles away. She was killed by local (apparently female) haymakers at the instigation of a jealous, possibly pagan, stepmother. She was cut down with a scythe and a miraculous stream immediately sprang up where she fell. She was buried in the church at Chittlehampton, where a shrine was set up. This became popular with people from the region and pilgrims from further away, thus earning the parish church much revenue. However, the shrine was suppressed during the Reformation, when her statue and shrine were dismantled. This may explain the sudden disappearance of the chapel of St. Urian in the 16th century at Wolverton. If the chapel was dedicated to St. Urith, how did such an obscure saint from Devon become associated with a chapel on the Isle of Wight? Possibly the clue here lies with the de Redvers or Reviers family, who owned large estates in both Devon and the Isle of Wight. They were Earls of Devon as well as the Lords of the Isle of Wight during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Map of places relating to saints connected with St. Urian.

However, strong evidence for a French saint can be found in France, across the Channel in Brittany and Normandy. For here , in the 7th and 8th centuries lived and worked a saint who goes by many names but more usually St. Turien. He was born in Baulon, south west of Rennes around 650 A.D. and was recruited by the Bishop of Dol, Gurval. Thurien succeeded as bishop of Dol, where he remained for many years. He finally retired to a monastery called La-Croix-Saint-Ouen (now the Cross of Saint Leufroy) near to Evreux, where he died in 1750. During the Norman raids during the ninth century, the monks fled to Paris taking with them the relics of several local saints, including St. Ouen, St. Turien (Turiave), St. Leufrid, and St. Agofroi. Over the centuries, Turien's name has appeared under a number of spellings due to local pronounciation and uncertain literacy. For example, it may be found as Turien, Thurien, Turio, Turion, Turiaf, Turiav, Thuriavus, Turianus, and possibly, in England, as Urian or Eurian. In fact, the latter spelling was launched by Rev. E. Boucher James in a short article he wrote on St. Urian in 1889. However, no such place or person as 'Eurian' exists and it would seem that he muddled up the words St Urian with the department, Eure, to which St. Turien retired. The spelling 'Eurian' can thus be dismissed as a corruption of a corrupted saint's name with a department name.

Several villages today still bear the saint's name. In Brittany there is Saint-Thuriau, Saint-Thurial and Saint-Thurien; in Normandy, there is Saint Thurien. The only route for the name of St. Turien to be brought to Wolverton is through the agency of an Anglo-Norman family. The Glamorgans, who also owned large estates in Wales, were also Lords of Wolverton and possibly the dedication of Wolverton chapel relates directly to them.

It is easy to see how 'St. Urian' was arrived at when one bears in mind that French pronounciation of Saint Turien does not pronounce the letter 't' in the word 'saint'. This elision causes the listener to hear, in effect, one word 'sain_turien'. To the English ear, this easily becomes 'centurion' especially if Saint Turien is said with uncompromising English intonation.

If St. Urian is a distant memory of the garbled spelling of a French saint, then it refers to a Breton bishop who retired to Normandy and the spelling of whose name has been brutalised and deformed in all manner of ways to suit the speaker of the time. Possibly, it also points to the fact that St.Turien/Thurien/Turiav/Turio/Turiaf/Thuriavus/Urian/ Eurian was so little known that no one knew how to spell his name properly. One thing is for sure: he was never called St. Urian, for that name never existed except on 19th century Ordnance Survey maps.

During the 19th century, antiquarians were aware that there had been a chapel at Wolverton and, in looking for a saint dedication, they latched onto the nearby name Centurion's Copse and Centurion's Hill. Along with references in old documents to St. Urie etc., they proceeded to conclude that Centurion was a misspelling and corruption of Saint Urian. They had found their 'saint'.

On both the 1862 and 1908 Ordnance Survey maps, the site of the chapel is marked by a large cross with accompanying text, "Supposed site of St. Urian's Chapel". It is not certain on whose authority the site was marked thus. However, in the 1950's, while excavations were being undertaken in Centurion's Copse, a bomb crater, within one metre of the supposed chapel site, revealed no trace of any building or any associated debris. In which case, how did the chapel come to be marked so exactly on the map? Indeed, even Oglander and Worsley may have been looking at the stone remains of old Wolverton manor house and assumed these were the ruins of the chapel? However, whatever Oglander had seen, he mentions that he'd seen the "ruines". These had decayed so much by the end of the eighteenth century that Worsley records only seeing the foundations. The demise of the chapel can be attributed to the repression of the monasteries, chantries and other holy places in the 1540's. The Chantry Certificate issued in 1545 concerning the chapel at Wolverton points to a deterioration in services due to the dissolution.

The free Chaple of Seynt Uryth in Bymbrydge
founded by thauncesters of John Gylberd gentylman to thentente to have a prest to serve there (as yt ys supposedde) for the ease of them and theyr famylie ones in a weeke. And for the stipend of the said prest he gave yerely xls. oute of his londes lyinge in Bymbrydge whyche Stipend a monke of the late Abbey of Quarre dyd yerly perceyve and take to his own use and dyd saye a masse ones in the weeke, but with Dyssolucon of the said late Abbey ther hath ben no masse said or songe
P.R.O. E301/51/2
Presumably, much of the stone was taken away in the 16th century to be reused in other buildings.

Although further research is required both in the Hampshire Record Office and the Public Record Office to consolidate this claim, it would seem that most of the available evidence points to the dedication of the chapel at Wolverton either to a French saint, St. Thurien or a Devon saint, St. Urith.