Friday, 9 September 2011

A little painted church - and a LOT of photos!

Today's post is one which got missed in despatchs around the time of my birthday back in April. St Mary's Church at Kempley on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire borders is far too interesting to ignore, so I will tell you about it today. We had heard about its wonderful NORMAN wall paintings. Yes - Norman - that's 12th C (or elevenhundredandsomething to those of us who use their fingers for counting!) That they survived at all is absolutely amazing, but we must thank those with whitewash brushes after the Reformation, who painted over the marvellous artwork and thus saved it for posterity, although the colours are just a pale echo of what they would have been when the frescos were originally painted.

The manor of Kempley belonged to the de Lacy family, Norman knights who had settled there. The church is thus 900 years old. Baron Hugh de Lacy was a confidant and advisor to Henry I and he almost certainly had the church built in memory of his father, Walter de Lacy who came over with William the Conqueror. The paintings date from this time too. After being covered in whitewash, they were not rediscovered until the 20th C. The tower dates from the 13th C and was added at a time when the Welsh wars involving Edward I (who had many defensive castles built in the principality to "control" the Welsh) were causing civil unrest, although it is not known if they had much effect at Kempley.

It is a quiet spot now, and it was probably thus ever since the villagers gradually migrated to higher ground a couple of miles from the church.

Sculped design at the top of one of the capitals.

Note: above and to the left of the lovely Norman arch is a little doorway. There is one just like it at Manorbier church (dates from a similar period), and was for refuge - the rope you climbed up (as priest?) would then be drawn up after you. Fine and dandy unless the attackers decide to set fire to the church!

"The subject of the paintings in the chancel seems to be the Last Judgement. In the centre of the barrel-vaulted ceiling Christ sits upon a rainbow, adored by winged angels (seraphim); on either side of him stand the twelve apostles, with the Virgin Mary and St Peter closest to the chancel arch.

Above the simple round-headed windows there are representations of the heavenly Jerusalem, and between the windows and the east wall there are two figures with the hats and staffs of lay pilgrims. These are almost certainly Hugh and Walter de Lacy. The identity of the bishops painted on either side of the east window is not known, but they may be early popes.

Wall paintings of this kind are very rare in England and their muted colours and treatment of drapery are typical of the Romanesque style of painting in France. The artist may well have been a French monk from Hugh de Lacy’s own foundation at Llanthony Priory.*

In the nave of the church there are more paintings of a slightly later, probably 14th century, date. These are worked in tempera painted on dry lime mortar unlike those in the chancel which are frescoes (painted directly onto wet plaster). Their subjects – appropriate for the nave of a church, which was used by the laity – warn of the dangers of temptation; they include the Wheel of Life and St Anthony and the Devil." Extract from the English Heritage webpage about this fascinating church.

Double click on these to read about the paintings.

This splendid coffer was literally a tree trunk roughly squared off and then hollowed out and kept locked with huge blacksmith-made strap hinges. It dates from the 16th Century and the tree used was approximately 250 years old when felled.

This caught my eye: "Aged 7 months" - poor little mite. In this day and age it is hard to comprehend the scale of infant mortality mothers suffered in previous centuries.

All the solid oak doors had beautiful hinges.

Decorative gravestones in the churchyard. Slight changes in the headstone designs can date them accurately even if the dates have worn away.

William Wingod: his memorial.

Although the beautiful wild daffodils had gone over, Cowslips were there in abundance.

Two views of this beautiful old church. It had an atmosphere all of its own and I know that the spot it was built on was chosen deliberately. Inside, there were two definite focal points where - how do I describe this - you could pick up on "something" - earth energy is the nearest I can come to putting a name to it. In one spot it was almost like a vibration. It was one of the reasons we visited, as my friend had told me about it - although it had been much stronger when she visited a couple of weeks earlier. Strange.

HERE is another link you may want to visit.

* I will do a posting about Llanthony Priory over the weekend. It is a beautiful place to visit and one of our favourite destinations for an outing.


  1. Oh you were SO near to my house! I am about 2 miles away from Kempley and we go there often. It is wonderful there!

  2. Next time I'm heading that way we WILL look you up, I promise CW! Do you "pick up" on the feelings within the church?

  3. Some beautiful pictures in the church BB. You really get a sense of the artist trying to explain his understanding of the world order in those paintings.

  4. Yes, very much so! Similar feelings at Aylton Church and also Dymock Church - also built near water/springs and Saxon in origin....

    Glad to read you are feeling better , at last!

    S xxx