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Saxon Churches

The distribution of churches in Herefordshire with a known Saxon date (this may be the date of the site/foundation only, not of the present church building) shows that the churches with almost definite Saxon origins are all found within the area of Herefordshire that remained Celtic throughout the Anglo-Saxon invasion and settlement periods.

Britain had first been Christianised during the occupation of the Romans in the 3rd century AD and the church had quickly flourished. After the departure of the Romans and during the arrival of the Saxons and their pagan religion the Christian church continued to survive in the Celtic areas such as Scotland, Cornwall and Wales, which Celtic Herefordshire bordered.

Christianity was re-introduced to England in 597 by St. Augustine and it began to take over from paganism, although the Saxons never completely gave up their own religion, often choosing to combine elements from both.

The Saxon Churches

St. Bridget, Bridstow (Historic Environment Record no. 4090) 

The name Bridstow is a derivation from the Saxon Bride and Stow, which signifies a place dedicated to St. Bride or Bridget. In the Liber Llandavensis (the Book of Llandaff) Bridstow is calledLlansan-ffread, the Welsh name of St. Bride.

The old church was consecrated in 1066 by Herwald, Bishop of Llandaff. It was a very plain edifice with two small aisles divided by light circular piers with a low square tower at the west end (Seaton, History of the Deanery of Archenfield, 1903).

With the exception of the west tower the whole church was rebuilt in 1862, but the chancel arch is of early 12th century materials reset.

St. Dubricius, Hentland (HER no. 6826)

This church is said to be on the site of the earliest religious house founded by St. Dubricius. The parish church was consecrated by the time of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) and parts of the church are said to date from this time. The north aisle and the west tower, with bell openings, would appear to date from the 14th century. There are some 15th century figures in the east window. This is one of the earliest stone churches in the deanery, and it is thought to date from 1056. The chancel was rebuilt c. 1430. The church was rebuilt in the early 15th century, and restored in 1849 and 1897. It also underwent drastic restoration by Seddon in 1853.

St. David, Kilpeck (HER no. 715)

The Book of Llandaff suggests a church existed at Kilpeck ("Lann degui cilpedec") in the 8th century (Book of Llandaff, reproduced by J. Evans, © The National Library of Wales, p. 275). The present church was built perhaps in 1134 when a priory cell of Benedictines was established. In 1848 it underwent restoration by Cottingham. The nave, chancel and apse are of decreasing height and width. The church has flat buttresses and clasping corner buttresses. In 1134 the church of St David was given to the Abbey at Gloucester. 

Llangunville, Llanrothal (HER no. 31892)

There was a church at Llangunville in the time of King Meurig ab Arhfael of Gwent (848-74). This is known from a deed in the Book of Llandaff. Another deed records that there was a priest called Clemens.

St. John the Baptist, Llanwarne (HER no. 847)

Llanwarne means "the church by the swamp/marsh or alders" (Eilert Ekwall, Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names)

The Book of Llandaff mentions a 7th century church in Llanwarne being given to Bishops of Llandaff. It records that one Catvuth ap Coffro gave to Trichan, 5th bishop of Llandaff, a piece of land in Llanwarne.

At the time of the Domesday Book (1086) the church belonged to the Bishop of Hereford, and by 1291 it belonged to Llanthony Priory. In 1861 there were plans to restore the church but this was to prove too difficult due to extreme damp, and in 1863 the church was replaced by the present Christ Church. The roof was taken off the old church and it was left as a ruin. In 1981 the tower was still complete and most of the walls still stood to their original height.

A survey was carried out in the late 1970s, before and after the collapse of some parts of the church*. In 1980, excavation was carried out in advance of consolidation. The earliest surviving feature above ground is a 13th century doorway in the south wall of the chancel. The western part of the north wall is of early 14th century date. The eastern part of the west wall was probably rebuilt in the 16th century and the north chapel probably in the late 14th century on the site of one of similar dimensions. The south aisle is early to mid 14th century and appears to have replaced an earlier structure on approximately the same lines. 
Excavation revealed pre-13th century church traces and floor levelling of many periods to raise the church's height. The church was largely rebuilt in the 14th century, perhaps as a result of earlier flooding.

Nothing visible remains of the church prior to the 13th century, but Ron Shoesmith has suggested that the remains may lie under the 13th century walls and that the church was rebuilt at this time to dimensions similar to those of the previous structure (see Shoesmith, "Llanwarne Old Church", in Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, 1981).

* The results of the photographic survey are held in the HER.

Church of St. Clodock, Longtown (HER no. 1458)

The present church at Clodock is said to lie on the site of an earlier wooden one. Clydawg, from whom Clodock gets its name, was a 6th century martyr. The discovery of a 9th century tombstone in nave of Clodock Church c. 1917 appears to reinforce the idea of a Saxon church on the site. The tombstone was rediscovered in a cupboard at the vicarage prior to its being demolished.

The inscriptions reads "HOC TUMLILIM RETINE T MEMBRA PUDIC E MUL IE RIS GUINNDA CAR AE COIU GIS QUAE FUIT IPSA IB IDEM", "This tomb holds the remains of that faithful woman the dear wife of Guinndas who was herself [born?] in the same place".

The stone is of local limestone and is Herefordshire's earliest known inscribed monument since Roman times. So far no record of Guinndas has been found. The stone now stands on a shelf at the eastern edge of the nave of Clodock church. 
 
The guidebook to the church tells the interesting story of how Clydawg became a martyr. "Our crowned Prince Clydawg, now King or Ruler of Ewias, was out hunting one day (according to the Book of Llandaff) and amongst those hunting with him was one who was jealous of his relationship with a lady friend. In his jealousy he killed Clydawg. On the day of his burial the two oxen carrying him refused to cross a ford and the yoke between them broke. He was buried, therefore, near the bank of the river. Such an act of murder made Clydawg, because of his godly life, a martyr". A CelticLlan or church was set up around his tomb and later a wooden church would have been built on the site, to be replaced with a stone one sometime in the 11th century.

St. Michael & All Angels Church, Moccas (HER no. 1775)

Built of coursed and squared local tufa with some sandstone dressings and a roof of stone slates in the second quarter of 12th century, when the land belonged to the diocese of Llandaff. It is still complete, except for the west wall which may have been rebuilt. The south porch is of C14-15 date. Moccas is said to have been the site of a Saxon abbey established by St. Dubricius sometime in the 5th century.

Although it was called a school, St. Dubricius' foundation at Moccas would have been an organised monastic community. The first building would have been small and made of wood. The last known abbot of Moccas was Bishop Comereg c. 590, and it is thought that the church would have closed after his death. At the time of the Domesday Book it was owned jointly by St. Guthlac's Priory in Hereford and Nigel the physician. Silas Taylor, the 17th century antiquarian, wrote "in the churchyard at Moccas are to be seen the foundations of a very large church to which this standing was but a chapple".

Silas Taylor (Harley MS 6726) records the tomb of King Drabeles, alias Pibianus king of Irchunfield, "whose tomb raised two feet from ground, of purest coloured marble, been perfect green , white, yellow, black in perfect proportion of rounds" within the church (see Rev. Charles J. Robinson, The Castles of Herefordshire and Their Lords, 1867). An evaluation of four trenches north-west of the churchyard enclosure in response to a planning application to extend the graveyard located seven burials. Radiocarbon dating put two of the skeletons at 11th to 13th century in date.

(For more information about Moccas church, see "The Church of St Michael and All Angels, Moccas, Herefordshire. A report on an archaeological trial evaluation" by Dale Rouse and John Eisel, held in the HER.)

St. David, Much Dewchurch (HER no. 6847)

The current church of St. David at Much Dewchurch is said to stand on the site of the c. 6th-11th century monastery of St. David.

In the Book of Llandaff it is recorded as "Lann deui ros cerion", one of the churches of Ergyng (Book of Llandaff, reproduced by J. Evans, © The National Library of Wales, p. 275).

The church has a plain Norman south doorway, with a Norman window above the porch, a Norman chancel window and a plain Norman chancel arch. The west tower is short, broad and unbuttressed with a 13th century date, except for a Victorian roof. The south porch contains timbers dating from the 14th century.

The church was consecrated during the reign of William the Conqueror (1066-1087). In 1292 in a taxatio it is attached to the Priory of Kilpeck.

St. Peter's Church, Peterstow (HER no. 7501)

According to the Book of Llandaff there once stood a church on this site that was consecrated by the bishop of Llandaff prior to the rule of King Harold (1066), and large stones in the base of the north wall of the nave are thought to be of pre-Conquest date.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2005]