Featured on 10th September 2021
The church is sweet and small. Diarist and clergyman Francis Kilvert, who lived a few miles away, described it as 'squatting like a stout grey owl among its seven great black yews'; today its whitewashed walls, lichen encrusted roof and plain sash windows ooze character.
Built in 1762, on an ancient site of pilgrimage, St Mary’s is reached by a remote country road, where the trees meet at the top forming a verdant tunnel. With room for just 20 worshippers, inside is a simple, small chamber with a stone floor, wooden seating, a two sided gallery, and a pulpit dating from 1780.
In the churchyard survive two headstones carved by Eric Gill, who founded an artistic community in the nearby monastery where he designed the typefaces Perpetua and Gill Sans.
To the north is the road known as Gospel Pass, over the mountains to Hay on Wye, which Dorothy and William Wordsworth described as one of their favourite walks, and it seems fitting that a window in the church is inscribed with the words from Psalm 121: ‘I shall lift up mine eyes to the hills whence cometh my salvation'.
The final powerful pull comes from David Jones painting of 1925 in gouache and pencil, hanging on the stairway by the chapel door. Christ on a rugged cross is the focus of ‘Sanctus Christus de Capel y Ffin’, with the local landscape as the eerie backdrop. The hills are split by the cruxifion and Christ sits in the gouged out gap; bleak, and powerful, with the black earth below. ‘Christ is right here’ is the message, and it’s difficult not to be touched by the spiritual resonance of this place.
Main photo: David Skinner (CC-BY-SA2.0)Learn more about St Mary the Virgin