St Cadoc's Church, Llancarfan
Nestled in a green-swathed valley, St Cadoc’s Church flourishes in a village famous for its monastery as long ago as 650 AD. It is celebrated as a settlement that kept Celtic Christianity alive in the face of Anglo-Saxon invaders. Despite destruction around 900 by the Danes, the Llancarfan monastery or ’clas’ proved ‘the most powerful ecclesiastical community in Glamorgan’. Today’s church emerged in its present form under the Normans.
However, it was only the accidental discovery of a thin red line of ochre under two dozen layers of limewash which in 2008 led to this millennium’s discovery of our finely preserved mediaeval paintings, striking visual education on the walls.
During the last ten years knowledgeable welcomers have discussed with very many groups of visitors, formal and otherwise, the questions and lessons that this remarkable conservation has revealed. Pupils will relish the stories behind only the third (and finest) George & the Dragon found on a Welsh church wall (St George’s Day was celebrated in Wales in, for instance, 1508). Students can explore and emulate not just the pigments and skills of talented 15th century artists, but also think through the ‘poor man’s bible’ on the walls, whited out with ‘no memory of the same’ at the Reformation. But did the congregation really forget our skeleton, leading an over-proud gallant into the churchyard? And was our portly Gluttony and his fellow deadly sins entirely forgotten until HLF, CADW & benefactor grants revealed astonishing images between 2008 and the present day?
Sessions tend to be in English, but Welsh language interpretation is built in, while a Welsh speaking guide can be requested. Three booklets also offer accessible accounts of the paintings and their background, popular with visitors, but enriching too if read beforehand. And our guides, alert to the curriculum and Inset potential, will engage from a range of subject angles, open to discussion, and targeting each age and Key Stage needs. The highly-specialist conservators even hosted 17 students on their scaffolds to learn the delicate skills of conservation.
The hidden images of around 550 years ago are now displayed in their vibrant original state; but catch them now, because they are ever vulnerable to threatening damp and attentive bats. Unmissable.
However, this two-aisled church is not entirely upstaged by the paintings. It also has an ancient rood screen and a uniquely-carved reredos, this conserved with its original c.1510 gold leaf & pigments. It’s origin is still unknown – perhaps a dissolved Welsh monastery (plenty of Brexit parallels available for discussion here!) Here too are many carved artifacts, including a ‘Celtic’ cross stone which sits alongside a memorial chiselled by Iolo Morganwg in his mason’s role (his bread & butter income when he wasn’t collecting and inventing Welsh history). He was born at Pen’Onn, just up the hill.
There is adequate parking, loos in the adjacent village hall, and also for visitors to next door’s Fox & Hounds. The interesting village itself treasures a ford, waterwheels and ancient well sites, and offers rewarding historical rambles. Compare and contrast St. Cadoc’s with St. Illtyd’s in Llantwit Major, throw in the mighty river Severn, boasting the second largest tidal range in the world, its geology & dinosaur footprints, and we guarantee a multi-discipline day’s learning in this Vale of the Saints.
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