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Old Radnor Parish Church

extracted from A Short History of the Church
by J.B. Sinclair & R.W.D. Fenn

Photographs copyright © 2002 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

The place-name Radnor refers to ‘a red bank or hill side’ and its earliest authentic occurrence is in the Domesday Book. The extended form of Old Radnor first appeared in 1252 and its Welsh equivalent Pen Graig, describing the site of Old Radnor, ‘on top of the rock’, first appeared in the 15th century.

The parish church of Old Radnor is dedicated to St Stephen to whom there is no other authentic Welsh dedication. It was a popular Norman dedication, however, and it is likely that when the Normans came to Old Radnor they found a church already in existence here, dedicated to the Welsh saint Ystyffan, whom they mistakenly understood to be St Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The enormous font, standing on its four squat feet, is certainly pre-Norman, and has been dated by some as belonging to the 8th century. Ystyffan himself belongs to the late 6th century and was a member of the royal family which ruled Powys c600-850.



Old Radnor was one of the border parishes in Powys, and, with the coming of the Normans, was transplanted ecclesiastically into the English diocese of Hereford. Its patronage passed from the princes of Powys into the hands of the Mortimer family. The stone slab set into the nave floor in front of the chancel arch and decorated with a floriated cross, has been identified by some as the tombstone of Hugh Mortimer, rector of Old Radnor 1257-1290.

The present church which stands 840 feet above sea-level is largely a re-building of the 15th and early 16th centuries. It consists of a nave and chancel, north and south aisles, a south porch, and a west tower. The survival of piscinas and aumbries of carved stone in the inside walls of the church show that in pre-reformation times there were five alters, including the high alter, in the building, further evidence of its medieval status.



Medieval churches were places of colour, splendour and mystery which originated in the vestments of the altar coverings, the stained glass and wall-paintings, and in the holiest parts of the church being screened off. The medieval vestment chest in the north chapel and the 15th century stained glass window there, depicting St Catherine, the patron saint of scholars, are reminders of this splendour. So too are the medieval glazed floor tiles. But by far the most impressive, however, source of colour and mystery was the late 15th century screen which still separates the chancel and chapels from the nave and aisles. This is one of the finest screens in Wales. The other outstanding piece of woodwork in the church is the elegant organ case, standing on the north side of the chancel. It belongs to the 16th century and is the earliest surviving organ case in the British Isles.



Below: view across Old Radnor Castle towards the church.


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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas