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The Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust News - old stories

Caring for Medieval Churches

While Wales is often closely associated with the chapels of the Methodist revivals, the importance of early churches to Welsh heritage is highlighted in a new booklet, 'Caring for Medieval Church Archaeology.'

Booklet cover

Published by the Welsh Archaeological Trusts and Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments, the booklet, written by Bill Britnell of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, looks at how these important features of Wales's built landscape can be maintained for the benefit of future generations.

Often the earliest surviving building within a community, churches provide a real link with the past and can help archaeologists and historians date the age of a particular settlement.

While most of the thousand churches across Wales surveyed as part of the project date from the mid to late Middle Ages, a number are built on earlier sites dating from the fifth and sixth centuries. These sites are particularly important - not just for their own medieval fabric, but for the buried archaeology that may lie beneath them.

Church architecture and interior design also reflect different trends in religious worship over the centuries. For example, changes in internal layout point to the fact that most medieval churches didn't have seats until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries - congregations had to stand on earth floors covered with reeds and straw.

Early churches were often elaborately decorated with colourful patterns or religious scenes. Many of these paintings were obscured by limewash during the protestant Reformation of some three to four hundred years ago, and traces of early painting of this kind can often be found below later layers of wall plaster. more

The booklet, which is targeted at diocesan advisors, vicars and members of parochial church councils, aims to increase awareness of the significance of these sites, in both historical and architectural terms. It also offers important advice on where people can go for information about church archaeology.

Author Bill Britnell, who is also a member of the Cathedral and Church Commission in Wales, explains, "This booklet highlights different architectural and archaeological features common to many medieval churches, and looks at the role they play in helping us learn about our history.

"It also makes the case that while we don't want to stop change in the form of, for example, essential modernisation, it is vital to manage change in such a way that important above and below ground archaeology isn't inadvertently destroyed."

 . . . and now we'll sing number 192 in your Hymn Books . . .

Rev. Malcom Ellis, vicar of St John's Church, Cardiff, Chris Samuel, Rick Turner and Bill Britnell (left to right)

Rick Turner, inspector of ancient monument at Cadw, the National Assembly agency responsible for Wales's built heritage, adds, "There's a popular perception that archaeologists are only interested in below ground archaeology, but this isn't true. As demonstrated by this booklet, archaeologists can learn a great deal about the past from the fabric, furniture and fittings of a particular building and can contribute to the preservation of these medieval churches."

Chris Samuel is head of property services for the Representative Body of the Church in Wales. He says, "In most Welsh communities the church lies at the core of the community. It provides us with evidence of early Christian workshop while it is also a symbol of the antiquity of a settlement.

"We're delighted this booklet will raise the profile of Wales's medieval churches."

For further information contact Hannah Thomas, Cadw Information Officer, on 029 2082 6178

Hannah Thomas, November 13th, 2000

An on-line version of the churches booklet is now available on this website, as is the Historic Churches Survey database for the Montgomeryshire district of Powys and for Denbighshire. Over the next few months, project databases for all counties in the Clwyd-Powys area will be available here.

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