St Mary’s Church, Hay-on-Wye

button_lang_frenchbutton_lang_welshSt 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.

About the place-name:

Hay, often known locally as “The Hay”, derives from Old English gehæg or its Medieval English form hay (originally “a fence”, later “area within a fence”), probably referring to an area enclosed within the castle. Hay is also occasionally recorded in Latin form as Haia taillata and Sepes Inscisa (12th century), meaning “cut hedge/cut fence” of uncertain significance. The Welsh form Y Gelli (“the grove/the woodland”) is recorded from c.1400, with the very occasional later addition Gandryll, i.e. candryll (“'shattered, shivered, ruinous”), not quite the same meaning as taillata and inscisa, and it may be a mistranslation of the Latin qualifiers.

With thanks to Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, and to Richard Morgan, of the Welsh Place-Name Society, for place-name information

Postcode: HR3 5EB    View Location Map

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