Sunday, 31 July 2011

Mediaeval Church Interiors - the Wow Factor!

The Church of St Teilo at St Fagan's Museum, Cardiff

The exterior of this plain little church, dating from the twelfth century, hides a stunning secret. It is the church of St Teilo which, until the 1970's, was situated on the banks of the River Clwchwr at Llandeilo Tal-y-Bont, near Pontardulais. It ceased to be a parish church in the 1850's and became increasingly damp and delapidated so that worship was all but impossible. The final service was held in 1970 and the building was carefully demolished and brought to St Fagan's Museum of Welsh Life (the National History Museum) in Cardiff where it was painstakingly reconstructed, stone by stone. However, as this ancient building was taken down, it revealed an unexpected surprise. As the layers of paint and plaster were removed, 500 year old wall paintings were discovered depicting many aspects of the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. When the church was rebuilt at St Fagan's, it was decided that the walls should be painted to appear as they would have looked in 1520.  Visitors to the church now walk into a building which looks much as it would have in the Middle Ages. The impact is breath-taking and provides a powerful reminder that Mediaeval churches were full of images which told the Christian story for largely illiterate congregations. We have a wonderful example of the use of such wall paintings in this area at St Agatha's church, Easby, near Richmond; there, in the chancel you can still see the original paintings of the Fall, on one side, and the cross and resurrection - the remedy for the Fall - on the opposite side. In today's society where image is once again such an  important feature of communication , it seems a shame that this element of church interior decoration has largely been abandoned. We are perhaps missing an opportunity to tell the Christian story, to inculturate or localize aspects of it (as the church has always done) and to utilize contemporary art forms to do so.   

The South Porch
The Rood Screen
Christ at the Last Supper with the Apostles
Christ Carrying His Cross
Christ Being Taken Down From the Cross
St Catherine
St Teilo was a Welsh saint, a contemporary of St David and St Padarn. It is said that he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he was consecrated bishop.

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