This weeks challenge is Relic and over the last 6 months I have been photographing nothing but relics in the various churches i have been visting
Caerwys, in North Wales is the smallest town in Britain with its own charter, which was granted in 1290 by King Edward I. He issued charters for many other Welsh towns, where there were strategic defences and ‘planted’ residents from England. Caerwys, by contrast, never had a stone castle or town walls, and its charter reflected its importance as an established commercial centre. The charter was the catalyst for redevelopment of Caerwys to the north and east of the church, producing the layout of streets – resembling a grid pattern – which we see today. A weekly market and annual fair were authorised in the 14th century.
St Michael’s Church is at the heart of the town and some historians have suggested that the site on which the church is built has been dedicated to St Michael since the 8th century, when the cult of St Michael was popular in Wales.
The tapered lower section of the tower and one of the naves of the present church were built in the late 13th century. Other sections including a second nave, were added later and the the tower has been altered several times in later centuries including the upper part, with its battlements, which took on its present form in 1769.
The earliest written reference to the church is 1244, when the Pope chose St Michael’s as the venue for a court hearing to decide whether prince Dafydd ap Llywelyn, son of Llywelyn the Great, had been forced to agree a treaty with King Henry III. The king was summoned to the church, and as you can imagine, he was furious! He thought it was beneath his dignity but he couldn’t disobey the Pope, so he asked for the treaty to be annulled. The Pope agreed, but unfortunately the situation paved the way for more quarrels between the Welsh princes and the English Crown.
Inside an ornate arched recess in the church, to the right of the altar, lies the figure of a woman carved on a slab of grey sandstone, dating from the 13th or 14th century. The effigy has suffered weathering, which suggests it was originally the lid of a tomb chest in the churchyard. The woman’s head lies on a square cushion with tasselled corners, her hands joined in prayer, and parts of her clothing are visible. Who was she? Nobody really knows, but according to legend the effigy depicts Elizabeth Ferrers, who died c.1300. She was the widow of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, who was prince of Wales until King Edward I executed him in 1283.
Outside the church and built into the wall is a stone dedicated to Robert Evans, who became rector of Caerwys in 1557, at least three years before finishing his studies at grammar school. A vicar performed the clerical duties, but young Robert was entitled to a share of the parish tithe. He died on 13 August 1582.
Back inside Saint Michaels you will find an octagonal font, dated 1661. Like most fonts it was installed to hold holy water for baptism ceremonies. Later a lid for the font was provided due to concerns that people might steal some of the holy water for unholy purposes, such as witchcraft or making potions.
Behind the font are several slabs including a Four Circle Cross which was once the top part of a beautifully crafted monument. It dates from the early 14th century. The circles’ precision indicates that a compass was used to mark out the design. Elements include the four ribbed circles, set back to back, a central flower and a quatrefoil – a clover-leaf pattern. Underneath is a 14th-century tomb slab which is upside down and the surviving fragment of Latin tells us that “Gyean Vach…” lies here.
In another part of the church you can find the Fragment Window, which is made with fragments of glass from several earlier windows. Some glass fragments may have come from the church’s east window, and some may have come from other churches. The glass dates from the 14th century through to c.1870. Half of a viscount’s coronet is depicted, although no viscount lived in this area!
Can you imagine putting this together? Did they make the frame fit the glass, or the other way round? As always I’d love to hear from you…..