Places of Living History; Open Churches Day: Scores of Churches in Wales Will Be Opening the Doors on Their Architectural and Cultural Riches on Saturday. David Williamson Takes a Look

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 17, 2009 | Go to article overview

Places of Living History; Open Churches Day: Scores of Churches in Wales Will Be Opening the Doors on Their Architectural and Cultural Riches on Saturday. David Williamson Takes a Look


Byline: David Williamson

HIDDEN architectural gems, poignant memorials to the great and the fallen and even honey fairs are just some of the surprising wonders of Wales' churches being revealed this weekend.

Great cathedrals and secluded chapels alike will have their doors open and a welcome ready this Saturday as part of Open Churches Day. More than 150 churches throughout Wales are taking part in the event to share their architectural and cultural riches with the nation.

The initiative, organised by Churches Tourism Network Wales, is designed to show that Wales' churches are treasure houses of history and beauty - and that they continue to be important places in the lives of people throughout the nation.

Rather than being relics of a vanished age, the churches which will welcome visitors are places where friends, neighbours and families gather for worship and the sheer camaraderie which is sometimes called fellowship.

Within the walls of Welsh Anglican churches last year, there were 8,513 baptisms, 3,526 weddings and 8,150 funerals. Professor Malcolm Parry of Cardiff University, one of Britain's leading architectural experts, believes this sense of a building which is as much part of the present as the past is an es-element of the awe a great church can inspire.

"I think that's the great thing about it," he said. "When you realise how long it's been in use [and] is going to be in use, even if one isn't particularly religious, it makes it worth the visit."

Even St Teilo's Church - relocated from the outskirts of Pontarddulais to the St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff - still throbs with this sense of shared experience.

Dr Parry also delights in the way that light moves through churches as the day progresses and services begin and end.

He said: "I think the Christian church is really rather interesting in the way it [almost] always orientates on the east-west axis. The church itself becomes something of a timepiece."

On a sunny day, light will blast through a window from the east as the first service is held, and the church will be illuminated from the west by evensong.

Generations of clergy and congregation made the most of this daily blaze of light by installing stained glass windows.

Dr Parry said: "We have to remember, so many people couldn't read - I suppose it's a kind of graphic novel with New Testament one on the other side perhaps the Old Testament."

On his favourite examples of architecture at its most fascinating is the Church of St Anno, Llananno, Powys.

It is famed for the intricate carvings on the wooden "rood screen" which runs across the church. This was created around the time that Columbus first spied the Americas.

Such screens were once common, dividing the congregation from the altar. But many were removed and destroyed as a result of both the Catholic Council of Trent and the Protestant Reformation when demands were made for ordinary people to be able to see the most sacred rituals of communion.

Llananno's screen has survived the centuries and witnesses to the imagination of its creators. A griffin can be glimpsed in the spectacular contortions of the woodwork.

Among the finest examples of Victorian architecture is St Augustine's in Penarth. This was completed in 1866 and is an acclaimed example of the work of William Butterfield.

The architect was inspired by the Oxford Movement - a group of Anglicans who were determined to prove the denomination had a direct link to the church of the apostles. Butterfield was at the forefront of the so-called Gothic Revival, and this Penarth masterpiece was financed by the Countess of Plymouth at a cost of pounds 10,000.

Dr Parry further admires the ecclesiastical work of modern arsential chitects, such as Sir Alex Gordon, who brought a vision of simplicity to the construction of St David's Lutheran Church in Fairwater, Cardiff. …

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Places of Living History; Open Churches Day: Scores of Churches in Wales Will Be Opening the Doors on Their Architectural and Cultural Riches on Saturday. David Williamson Takes a Look
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