The Friends of Friendless Churches has announced that, following urgent repairs, St Michael and Angels, Gwernesney, Monmouthshire is now open for visitors.

Gwernesney (‘Gwernesni’) means the ‘parish of the alders’, after the alder trees (‘gwern’) that once grew nearby in abundance.  This diminutive Grade I listed church dates from the 13th century, and is said to house the oldest bells in Monmouthshire.

St Michael’s is constructed in Old Red Sandstone rubble and surviving features – such as window reveals and arches – place the origins of this building in the late 13th – early 14th century.   The church was rebuilt in the 15th century with the wagon roof and rood-beam, which retains a pierced, foliate trail of carved decoration, dating from this period. We love the simple decoration to the screen below – with quatrefoil and Tudor rose carvings.

In 1953, local historian C. J. O. Evans noted: ‘…small though the building is, it ranks highest in the county to those interested in campanology, because the two bells in the western turret are of 13th century dateand are the most interesting as well as the oldest in Monmouthshire’.

J P Seddon of Pritchard & Seddon undertook restoration in the mid-19th century – rearranging the interior and reconstructing the bell-cote. The earlier bellcote was is described by E. A. Freeman in Archaeologia Cambrensis in 1851 as `a mere pierced gable, not supported by any buttress or corbelling;…a wooden structure has been erected to the west of it, and…the head of the gable has been cut down to allow of its conversion into a sort of square turret with a quadrangular capping’.

The pulpit in the nave was brought to the church from All Saints, Kemeys Inferior, which was demolished some years ago to make way for the Usk Valley Road.

Other features of interest include the pretty artisan memorial of 1791 to Catherine Langly of Llandenny, the American organ by the Estey Organ Company of Battleboro’, USA and the delightful, unobtrusive set of the Stations of the Cross, made up of coloured paper illustrations, as if from a child’s picture book, and mounted on small wooden plaques.

Courtesy: www.friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk