The Marian Cult

This page was researched and written by Graham Loveluck-Edwards, Warden at St Curig's Porthkerry. email: [email protected] or Tel: 07711 118826

This information also appears in his book on local history, legends and folklore entitled: "Legends and Folklore of Bridgend and the Vale".

Despite the secret nature of the cult, they were not afraid to display signs of their defiance. What appears to be a “WA” carved into the door in St Curigs is a point in hand. This is a recognised cult symbol which has numerous interpretations. You will note how the central lines of the “W” cross. This serves to announce to those in the know that it is not a “W”. In its simplest interpretation it it is an inverted “M” for Mary. However in its inverted form it is also two “V”s to denote “Virgin of virgins”. And lastly of course, where the lines meet they form a cross. The “A” is an abbreviation for “Annos” the Latin for year and below you can see the year “1790”. This symbol was widely used for fellow cult members to recognise where they might find like minded worshipers.


Not all symbols were quite this crude however. As many of the members of this cult were crafts people, they often left their mark in more indelible ways in the actual fabric of the church building itself. Often you will find a subtle engraving on a door frame or in a hidden corner. However the cult members in Porthkerry were pretty brazen in how they displayed their defiance.


As you enter the church, directly facing you is a 17th century memorial, and in the top, left hand corner is an engraved rose with open petals. This is also a symbol of the cult and its presence on this tomb either tells us that the noble family remembered were members of the cult or (more likely) that the stone mason who engraved the memorial saw an opportunity to put the mark of the cult in plain view inside the church. No doubt this would have marked him out as something of a legend to his fellow cult members who would have seen it every time they went to church knowing that those outside their circle would have been completely oblivious to its significance.

Want to know more about the history of the village of Porthkerry? Who were its most famous sons? Its Roman Past? The tsunami that devastated it? Click here...


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The Service Tree - A rare species discovered at Porthkerry. Click here

To weather proof our church, we still employ the ancient craft of lime washing. To learn more about that process and how we do it, click here for more information.

Find out about the fascinating history of our church and the part John Wesley played - click here


The secret goings on at Porthkerry and how a heretical cult was allowed to thrive for around 200 years.

If you’ve ever walked towards the heavy oak door at St Curig’s Church in Porthkerry you may have noticed some scratches and engravings in the timbers but probably thought nothing of them. The fact is, this ancient graffiti on the church door is a clue to a fascinating chapter of our local history which reads like a Dan Brown novel. It is proof that an old and secretive cult was once rife in this corner of the Vale of Glamorgan and that it’s members were not afraid to put two fingers up to the church establishment. Even if it was in the subtlest of ways.


This all dates back to 1534 and the reformation in Britain, when Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church in England and Wales. As has been well documented, not every one was happy with this arrangement but one of the lesser known pockets of resistance was a movement called The Marian Cult. They had one over riding problem with the reformed church, and that was the downgrading of devotion to The Virgin Mary. By 1552 the Book of Common Prayer was stripped down to just three mentions of her and this was too much for some, for whom she had always been central to worship. So these people (most of whom were respected crafts people such as carpenters and stone masons) would meet in secret as their practices would have been seen as heretical at the time. Behind closed doors they would continue a worship which featured a central theme of devotion to The Virgin Mary.

The ancient and secretive order that left its mark on the church door.

tomb_Marian1_Resized tomb_marian2_Resized

These two symbols also give us a pretty substantial timeline and indicate that the cult was able to thrive in this area for a pretty long period by any measure. No doubt it would have been established when the cult nationally was at it’s height; in the late 16th Century. The memorial is dated twice, but both dates are in the 17th century and the marking on the door is 1790. So potentially they continued for over 200 years.


This is quite unusual. The cult generally is not known to have survived and thrived for such a long period else where in the UK. Even though it enjoyed something of revival all round the country in the 18th and 19th Centuries with the rise of “The Oxford Movement” which was a movement led by scholars centred at the various University colleges in Oxford who described themselves as “High Church Anglicans”. They campaigned vigorously for more Roman Catholic thought and practice to be adopted within the Church of England.


It just goes to show, when the people of the Vale are in defiant mood they are unshakable.