A medley of churches today around Kilgwrrwg (Cilgwrrwg), Wolvesnewton (Trenewydd Dan-y- Gaer: ‘new town under the fort’) and Llangwm.
Still nursing a dodgy foot, it was a slower trek than usual but so good to get out in the clear air of this often overlooked part of Monmouthshire.
The Church of the Holy Cross in Kilgwrrwg was our first destination – high on a hill with not even a track leading to – you have to cross two fields and a stream to get to it from the nearest road! It’s got a fascinating background and is probably amongst the earliest churches in the country. The origins of the present parish and church can be traced back to the 7th or 8th century but the circular shape of the church yard indicates a much earlier Celtic origin. As a Northumbria Community Companion, I find this particularly interesting as the NC has its roots firmly in the Celtic tradition of Christianity. No wonder I love this place!
Legend has it that two heifers were yoked together and left to wander. Where they stopped to rest, it was decreed this was the divinely appointed spot for a church. (Don’t want to be cynical but as it was also on top of a hill this may also explain why they stopped for a breather!). No electrics or water but still used by locals – one of the most remote worship places to still be in use – full of mystery, the air is thick with history.
Discovered the most brilliant lectern – who knew they rotated so the Old Testament and New Testament could be more easily read in turn! St Jerome’s also had one so clearly they were fashionable once upon a time. The swallows of spring have long gone but we discovered evidence of some serious bat activity here but sadly failed to spot any hanging from the roof.
Over to the church of St Thomas a Becket in Wolvesnewton. Thirteenth century and showing evidence of sloppy building work that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the beamed roof and peaceful atmosphere.
Then to the church of St John of Llangwm Isaf, tucked away from the main road, this was a lovely church but provided the perfect reason why old churches require protection. Don’t want to be overly critical – I leave you to make your own judgement by providing a photo and saying no more! Chris tried out the pedal organ which took our fancy.
Finally to St Jerome in Llangwm Uchaf – a listed Grade 1 church I last visited about 14 years ago. The church itself is beautiful with a history I’d like to know more about but the rood screen and loft c.1500 are the focal point and rightly so. It is just astonishing in its intricacy – more like looking at lace than carved wood in parts. The remote location probably saved it from destruction by Puritan vandals. Discovered the three Green Man carvings of the 13th century – predating Christianity by about 1000 years, the old religion in some form persisted and still does in places today.
Extraordinary character connected to the church is Rev. Walter/William Cradock (1606 – 1659), the Rector of the parish. He was a pivotal member of a group of leading Puritans who founded a number of non conformist churches in Wales, including Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians and Congregational churches. He preached in Welsh to the Welsh troops at the Battle of Naseby and gave the celebratory sermon in Parliament when Charles I headquarters fell in Oxford in 1646.
Recently taken under the wing of the Friends of Friendless Churches (who knew there was such a society?) it is being looked after but still, it’s sad to see such a place no longer at the heart of the community. It’s described as ‘redundant’ but such places of peace are needed more than ever these days.