One of the nicest things about camping at Chapel Farm House (aside from sponging off our Host Family) was the short, easy walk to the Church of St. Mary, which just happens to be a Grade II listed building dating back from the early 1400s, with additions in the 1600s and some restoration in 1883.
It’s still a working church, too, and the pastor is justifiably proud of it – as well as worried about its upkeep. As he says:
the church was built when the Priory was suppressed in the 1460s for being a foreign foundation and the suggestion is made in the guide book that the east window was relocated from there evidence of both recycling and the ever thrifty hill farmer I suggest. Beautiful in its simplicity the interior of the church is furnished with free-standing wooden pews … At the east end the sanctuary is simple with altar, pulpit and modern stone font providing all that is necessary for Divine Service. Although very plain, traces of pre-Reformation decoration remain on the roof timbers above the altar where delicate flowers and foliage point to a more colourful past. At the west end a gallery, lit by a dormer window, provides extra seating up a narrow stair. Under the gallery a small door leads to a vestry. In the 18th century the west end was separated by a wall from the rest of the church and this space used as a schoolroom entered through the substantial porch. Originally linked through an arched opening to the church this was blocked up to make a much smaller door.
Of course, I nearly plotzed when I went in.
The inside really IS beautiful in its simplicity, with ancient beams and stonework, adorned with Victorian plush and pews. The kids, being kids, made a bee-line for the loft, while the adults enjoyed the quiet contemplation of the elderly house of worship.
If you are of a spiritual and/or Christian bent, as I am, the peaceful yet sanctified air of the church – set as it was in the birdsong-filled glories of natural greenery – filled the heart with gladness and refreshed one’s technology-wearied heart. It was rather like being embraced by a loving and beloved great-aunt who old-fashioned but possessed of true piety and kindness.
Respectful but curious, we examined every nook and cranny of St Mary’s, eventually leaving through the side exit in order to feel the weight of the ancient timbered door.
Don’t worry; Sweet Babou loved the church too. His natural facial expression, even in his best mood, is that of a man who just ate something very bitter while learning he lost a fortune in the stock market. In women this phenomenon is known as “resting bitch face”, but in men it is called “a stern countenance”. I just call him sour-puss-grumpy-face and tell him he has to smile in order to see me nekkid ever again. That always makes him grin, even if he also rolls his eyes at my foolishness.
Looked at from the side, the church seems to have an expressive face. Doesn’t it look like she’s surprised to see visitors romping in her side gardens, making personal comments about her slate tiled roof?
I believe she is thinking, “Yes, my slate tiles are original and lovely but really, do you think you should air your opinion regarding their attractiveness so openly?!?!”
Unusually, there are no graves around St Mary’s, because (following Biblical injunction) on solid rock she stands. There is, however, what I assume to be a Victorian replacement of an older Celtic cross standing on much older pile of stones directly in front of her doorway.
The church still has services on the first and third Sundays of the month, if anyone is interesting in attending. If I was closer, I would … although to be fair my local church is just as gorgeous in its own way, even if it’s ancient structures have been extensively remodeled by well-meaning Victorians.
St. Mary’s is venerable, but as subject to weathering as the most secular building in Christendom, so she is beginning to fall apart a bit at the seems. Happily, this little church is getting some much needed help from historical grants, so it can remain standing to beguile visitors for another 500 or so years into the future.
Three cheers for English Heritage in the Herefordshire borderlands!