Old Radnor, Powys – St Stephen

Go and have a look at Old Radnor parish church said one of the ladies in Kington, so we did – SO 250590. St Stephen’s church is in Wales, but still the Church of England. (That’s made it fun when the Covid regulations have been different across the border). The views are lovely, and we should probably have gone to the pub next door. Good website – their photos are better than mine, so do have a look – https://www.kingtonparishes.org.uk/oldradnor

There was probably an early church here dedicated to the Welsh saint Ystyffan, a member of the Welsh royal family of the C6. The stunning font is pre-Conquest (perhaps as early as the C8). The Normans assumed that Ystyffan and Stephen are the same bloke, started to build their parish structure, and put Old Radnor into Hereford diocese. Its patronage moved from the princes of Powys to the hands of the Mortimer family. I didn’t take a close up of the stone in the nave by the chancel arch, but apparently it may have been the tombstone of Hugh Mortimer, rector here 1257-90. He was also parson of Bisley in Gloucestershire and in 1270 was granted licence for life “to hunt with his own dogs, the fox, the hare, the badger, and the cat through the forests of Oxford, Gloucester and Worcester.”

There was probably an early church here dedicated to the Welsh saint Ystyffan, a member of The church today is largely a rebuilding of the C15 and early C16 centuries – its size, proportions and balance, suggest it was rather more than just a parish church, some sort of collegiate church. In pre-Reformation times there were five altars, which suggests a college of priests maintaining the worship. The tower was also designed for security – apparently there is space where a beacon could be lit should reinforcements be needed from the castle at New Radnor.

The most stunning thing in the church is the C15 screen. It stretches right across the church, including both aisles, and would once have held a rood (the statue of Christ on the cross with Our Lady and St John). It is the work of Gloucestershire carvers, and their work can also been seen at Cirencester. Originally it would have been painted too – we tend to forget the colourful experiences that worship would have been. I failed to photo the stalls, including one which still has a medieval iron book chain – to make sure the clergy didn’t walk off with the book I assume.

The organ case is apparently the earliest surviving organ case in the British Isles – C16, restored in 1872. It has been suggested that the organ came from Worcester Cathedral when it was replaced by a bigger instrument. There’s also a connection made with the composer John Bull, organist to the Chapel Royal and first Professor of Music at Gresham College, was born in the parish in 1563. Apparently the organ is worth hearing. The roof is rather splendid too, and I should have got some better photos.

You can also enjoy some tiles, some Victorian glass (Easter Sunday morning), a splendid memorial, and a lovely angel.

Sacred to the memory of Thomas Lewis Esq of Harpton, who descended from an Ancient and respectable family in this County: on the accession of the present Royal Family, he was called by the voice of his countrymen, to represent his native Borough in Parliament: in which character he served them during the reigns of George the 1st and 2nd, a period of near 30 years. He was blest with a clear understanding and sound judgment.

It had been worth the drive to visit a friendly bookshop and two lovely churches – one either side of the border.

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