St Mary’s Church, Hay-on-Wye

St Mary’s Church, Hay-on-Wye

This location may seem a strange one for a medieval church because it’s outside the area bounded by the old town walls. However, the original church pre-dated the walled town’s construction. It was founded when the castle stood on a mound east of the churchyard.

The new parish of Hay-on-Wye was formed c.1115 (previously the area was in Llanigon parish). The church was dedicated to St Mary by 1135.

Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, gave a sermon here in March 1188 while on a tour around Wales to recruit for the third crusade. He was accompanied by Gerald of Wales, who recorded that, after the sermon in Hay, many young men ran to the Archbishop outside the castle to “take the Cross” (sign up for the crusade). Some of them were restrained by wives or friends, fearful of the dangers they would face overseas, who grabbed their cloaks – but the men slipped out of their cloaks and dashed forward.

The church was recorded as Ecclesia de Haya in 1254. The tower is the only part of the medieval church which survives. It mostly dates from the 15th century, with a 19th-century castellated top.

During the turbulence of the 17th century, vicar Thomas Dennis was removed because of his Royalist sympathies. Hay was without a vicar for years. Later the parish was usually covered by vicars who didn’t live locally, and the building decayed until it was restored in the 1830s.

Inside you can see an effigy of a monk, possibly one of the early vicars. Memorials to the influential Gwynn family include an inscription recording that Elizabeth Gwynn, who died in 1702, founded the local almshouses where six poor parishioners lived. There are also memorials to local people who died in the First and Second World Wars.

The interior has retained its gallery, supported by cast-iron columns. The organ was built in 1883 by Bevington & Sons of London and was originally at Holmer Church, Hereford.

The oldest known gravestone in the churchyard dates from 1697.

Postcode: HR3 5EB    View Location Map

With thanks to Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust 

Parish website – detailed history, service times and more