The final leg of our church-crawl today took us to another multi-cell Norman church, at Peterchurch in the Golden Valley, but one built on a considerably grander scale and with four cells not three. The second cell was probably the base of a now-fallen tower, replaced with a large 13th-century west tower and later a tall spire too. The entrance door is at first-floor level, allegedly to allow the locals to take refuge there and pull up the ladder after them. The present spire is in fact an even later Polyplan replacement, which the Pevsner guide coyly describes as a mixed blessing, but the church has to be congratulated on achieving a determined make-over which has create an excellent cafe in the second cell, and a branch of the county library in the tower, both served by a new kitchen and toilet ‘pod’ at the west end.
The east end has by contrast retained its air of sacred separation, and the great thing to look for here is the surviving mediaeval “Mensa” or altar-slab, still with its consecration crosses. Look out too for glass by Clayton and Bell (indifferent but colourful) in the cafe and a fine recent piece in the choir commemorating the patron saint.
St Michael’s is set well away from the village on the Moccas Court estate, a fine Adam mansion where you can stay in 5-star comfort. Their website tells us that
The area between the rivers Wye and Usk is a land full of characters from Arthurian Romance and the Grail Quest. Moccas (the name Moccas probably derives from the Welsh Moch-ros, or swine moor) is reputed to be the site of the residence of Llacheu, son of King Arthur. Also there was the abbey of Saint Dubric or Dubricius, the bishop who crowned Arthur.
Dubric was an actual historical figure with a significant local reputation, and Herefordshire churches at Hentland, Whitchurch and Ballingham are dedicated to him. He died in 612 (or so says a life of the saint written at least five hundred years after his death) but 14th November is still named St. Dubricius’ Day. This is also the festival of the Celtic pig goddess coincidentally called Moccas, or Mochros.
It was a perfect day to visit with lambs in the fields and a warm spring light raking across the Norman church. Moccas is very nearly a twin to Kilpeck, but without the riot of Romanesque carving. perhaps if the tympana were more legible we would see the connection more clearly. The one pictured below is of the Tree of Life flanked by beasts unusually devouring humans who are reaching for the cross. The Romanesque thought-world can seem very alien to us.
The three-cell structure of the church gives it a fine axial view, with the effigy of a 14th-century knight occupying pole position in the sanctuary (“all depressingly griped-up” as Pevsner puts it). At the opposite west end of the church there is a fine organ-case by Kempe, and in the south windows tracery remains from the mid-fourteenth century, probably Gloucester school work, which also reminds me of the tracery in Ely’s Lady Chapel of about the same date.
It’s a beautiful morning so we’re on our way to Moccas, outside Hereford, for a spot of church-drawling again. En route our eye is caught by the beautiful sight of St Lawrence’s Preston-on-Wye across what might once have been a fish-pond. Gorgeous!
The church had a drastic Victorian makeover c.1883, and the very pretty pooch dates from then, but inside you can see the remains of its Norman foundation in the deeply embrasured window and blocked north doorway. Few churches stand still, and you can also see the remains of the fourteenth century generously-sized Huntley Chapel, and also the inserted stairway up to the rood loft from the fifteenth century (few lofts date to earlier than that: they were introduced only just before the Reformation made them an anachronism).
The churchyard is suspiciously raised and rounded and I’d have said “Amglo-Saxon” if this hand’t been such disputed territory at the time. That learned source Wikipedia tells that
According to the Book of Llandaff a local warrior prince, Gwrfoddw, who was king of Ergyng, after a victory in battle over the Saxons granted land at Bolgros to Bishop Ufelfyw – Bolgros was said to be “on the banks of the Wye, at some distance from Mochros (now Moccas)” – in thanksgiving for the victory. Bolgros is believed to have been Preston-on-Wye, and a church was built on the site of the present church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, St Peter, St Dubricius and St Peter.
I haven’t time to dig into the archaeological record at the moment, but there sounds to be an interesting story and puzzle here.
Over the last few years, I’ve become interested in the Great Divide (which I don’t believe in) between science and religion, and I have tried to do my bit as a bishop in building some better bridges in the churches for which I’ve had responsibility. The Faraday Institute in Cambridge and the Equipping Christian Leaders in an Age of Science based at Durham have both been really helpful partners in the task, and this blog gives me the chance to say hooray and thank you to them both – and mention a great hero of mine.
Speaking at a recent Faraday event for local church leaders, I was struck though by another Divide. When I asked for a show of hands, I found that nearly half the participants had a further degree in science, and a those who had stopped studying science after GC(S)E’s like me were much in…
My Yorkshire upbringing means that I have never quite got round to upgrading the WordPress account on which this blog runs from the free version to a subscription one. Unfortunately that means that adverts appear over which I have no control. Sometimes these seem to involve Scantily Clad Persons. I apologise for ant offence caused (though the adverts are of course out of my control, and I do not in fact see them when I log in myself). For now I recommend More Tea, a cold shower, or both. But if enough of you feel upset, I will fork out and get rid of them.
Our grandchildren, who live just outside Hereford, go to school at Credenhill, famous for its connections with the SAS on the one hand and with Thomas Treherne, the poet, and Charles Henry Bulmer, apple-expert and founder of the cider dynasty on the other.
The real eye-catcher is the little panel of stained glass in the chancel, showing the two St Thomas’s – Becket of Canterbury on the left (note his archiepiscopal cross rather than crozier) and Cantilupe of Hereford on the right. Cantilupe was canonised in 1320 (major celebrations are planned for the 700th anniversary) and the absence of a halo, and the general style which feels very early if it is fourteenth century, has led Richard Marks to suggest that it was made as part of the propaganda for the sainting.
Anyway, the saints are show blessing, and we felt well-blessed to meet them,
St Mary Magdalene, Eardisley lies about twenty minutes’ drive north-west of Hereford, and Jean and I motored out there in rainbow weather this morning, mainly to see what the Shell Guide calls the best Romanesque font in England. No messing there! And I think they’re right. Just look at this:
The carving is incredibly crisp and respect to the local church-people for installing some good on-demand lighting as well with a nice low raking light to bring out its relief.
The scene is the Harrowing of Hell (bottom right: Christ plants his cross in Hell and drags Adam out). The excellent guide to the font by Susan Wood illustrates the iconographical background. Here is a twelfth-century parallel from Torcello in a very different style:
There is an extensive literature, of course, arguing the toss about just who the other figures are, but for now, enjoy!