Last week we were a loss for something to do on Thursday when I recalled a recent conversation. In North Wales a couple of weeks ago I was talking to an old friend and mentioned that we like interesting churches, she lives in Herefordshire and told me about the church of Saint Michael at Garway; it’s a Templar church, one of only six in the country.
This was too good to miss, so on a damp and dreary morning we set off for a drive of about an hour and twenty minutes. We arrived in the village of Garway without any problems and refreshed ourselves with lunch at The Moon which stands on the village green, then on to the church which is down an easily missed side turning and set off in the rain to have a look.
The substantial tower nearest the camera now houses the bells and isn’t open to the public but was originally built as a refuge against the hostile Welsh just across the River Monnow.
The Knights Templar came to this remote valley in about 1180 AD after being gifted all the local land by Henry I and built their church on the site of an earlier Saxon church. The Templars followed their usual building style with a round tower and square nave although only the footings of the tower remain today. James de Molay, Grand Master if the Knights Templar, visited Garway in 1294.
After the destruction of the Templars in 1308 the church and lands were given to the Knights of St John, the Knights Hospitaller, who continued to own the manor until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. Returning to the mainstream church the parish appears to have been a thorn in the side of successive Bishops of Hereford over reluctance (refusal) to pay their dues
Nowadays it is just the parish church and is delightfully simple but with some interesting carvings on the capitals of the columns supporting the chancel arch, including a Green Man. However I kept wondering just what those Templars must have made of such a remote and secluded spot all those years ago. Here are some pictures.
The altar stone seen above is the original Saxon altar that was in use for over 500 years until, like all stone altars, it was thrown out on the orders of Edward VI at the start of the Reformation; it was rediscovered some 200 years later and restored to the church in 1901.
Green Man on the chancel arch column.
Back in the car and still having plenty of time we decided to head across into Wales and visit Llanthony Priory, an Augustinian Priory built around 1230AD and which was in use for about 300 years but was closed down in 1530 as part of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Nowadays part of the site is an hotel but the main part of the Priory remains in ruins. There is a tea shop where we enjoyed tea and cake and where the sun came out at last .
* For most of the information on St Michael, Garway I am indebted to Joan Fleming-Yates whose excellent and informative pamphlet is available in the church, and to my friend Julie Barnard for the original suggestion.
1 August 2016