Kempley, St Mary

The kindness of friends took us on an outing across the county boundary to Kempley, a church which still breathes and speaks the twelfth-century when it was built for the de Lacy’s, with a massive west tower a century later when the Welsh were launching reprisal raids and places of safety were needed. Some window enlargement and a typical Herefordshire porch (albeit in Shropshire) followed in the later Middle Ages and a Jacobean ceiling was added beneath the original nave roof, but the feeling remains, as the small single-cell nave leads into a smaller chancel still covered in its original wall-paintings, recreating heaven on earth.

The effect is Mediterranean, with Byzantine and even Coptic features – and that is now, with the colours so muted by time.

The nave wall-painting survives too, though this time it is fourteenth or perhaps fifteenth century. We saw St Anthony Abbott at Croft. Here he is again, being tempted by the Devil. And the prize question is, can see his pig by his feet? I can make out two possible candidates amongst the lines and scars, but was declared to have a strong imagination by one of our hosts…

The church is thankfully in the care of English Heritage, with the support of Friends. It is perhaps time that more of our small ancient churches were taken into state care, though that is a vexed subject (and it will be interesting to see how things work out at Notre Dame where the state does of course have “ownership” and the church mighty well feel pushed out: one politician declared “this is not a cathedral”). And what a contrast to Croft where despite being on National Trust property the church struggles even to repair the roof.