Michaelston-y-Fedw Community

A History of St. Michael's Church

St. Michael's ChurchLittle is known for certain about the early history of this ancient church - we must rely largely on deduction.

Let the visitor first go up to the Chancel and look to their left at the North wall. They will see three filled-in arches. Two of these are apparently Roman and probably date back to the 4th century, from which we may deduce that a building stood here in Roman times. Moreover, as the Roman road from Caerleon to Pembroke - the Via Lucia - ran within half a mile of this spot, it would be in accord with Roman military practice for a military post of some kind to be located here.

Christianity, however, was brought to Wales before it came to England. It is known, for instance that Llewrwg, King of the Silures, who inhabited these parts, sent three men to Rome for instruction in AD 156 and one of these men named Medwy was canonised for his Christian teaching and medical work after his return. It is suggested that the name of the parish (Michaelston-y-Fedw) is derived from the name of the two Saints, Michael and Medwy, and because very few churches in Christendom were dedicated to St Michael before 495 AD it may be that the building that stood here was used for Christian worship as taught by St Medwy even before it was requisitioned by some pagan Roman soldier during the occupation.

We cannot be certain, but it is not impossible that Christian worship has been practised here for nearly two thousand years, which would account for the sense of holiness and calm that everyone perceives on entering the building.

Now, look up at the window in the North wall of the Chancel above the arches. On one side of the window there are the remains of a picture drawn on plaster. Experts declare that this picture is of St Medwy and resembles others in Europe dating back to the 5th century AD.

The stained glass window over the Altar is late 19th century and was presented by Mrs Kemys Tynte in memory of her late husband, Colonel Charles Kemys Tynte. The centre light depicts the Ascension, the South light depicts St Michael and (possibly) the warrior saints - St Maurice, St Thomas, St Gereon and St Barbara, the patron saint of Artillerymen. The North light shows St Cecilia and the martyr St Agatha.

The Altar has a top formed from a large slab of locally quarried stone. On it there are five primitive crosses engraved where it was anointed with consecrated oil by the Bishop of Llandaff in the 14th century. The stone slab lay (cracked) on the floor of the chancel for many years and was only incorporated in the altar when the East window was installed.

Looking towards the south wall of the Church, you see steps leading up to what is now called the Tynte Chapel. This was built in the 14th century by the Kemys family who lived in Cefn Mably. Beneath the floor is a vault containing the bodies of the members of the Kemys family. Wooden coffins were not always used, most of the bodies being wrapped in lead following the human form. Those wrapped in lead must have been very tall men; but there is one small coffin in the vault with a sort of lead 'hat-box' on top of it. This coffin is thought to contain the truncated body of Sir Nicholas Kemys who defended Chepstow Castle against the Roundheads and was killed or was perhaps beheaded after the Castle fell to the Parliamentary Army in 1648. His son, who held Pembroke Castle in the same year, is commemorated by a plaque in the vault. It is the recorded wish of the family that the vault should be opened periodically so that succeeding generations shall not forget.

Now look at the pointed arch that separated the Chancel from the Nave. This is not keyed into the side walls of the Church and must have been built much later.

The pews are late 19th century and replaced the high pews that stood there since the time of a fire that gutted the Church in the 15th century. After this fire a Vestry was built outside the North wall of the Chancel which accounts for the arch that cuts across the older Roman one.

Returning to the door of the Church, the visitor will see the Font and an old oak table. The Font dates back to the 16th or 17th century. The stem is of Flemish design and the serpent is more likely to refer to the emblem of Aesculapius the Greek god of medicine than to the tempter of Eve. The allusion is presumably to the healing powers of Baptism.

The church underwent a major restoration between 1999 and 2005 with the nave roof being restored, a new heating and lighting system installed, the organ renovated and the bells refurbished and for the first time since their installation in 1782 made to ring 'full-circle'. At the same time a toilet and kitchen were built in the tower.

After leaving the Church the visitor may wonder at the tombstone on their right inscribed with the name of Elizabeth Mackie Hess. She was the first wife of Carl Hess, whose son by his second marriage was the Nazi Party's Deputy Leader, Rudolf Hess.

The parishioners of Michaelston-y-Fedw are alone responsible for maintaining this ancient Church and the visitor is asked to pray for those who bear this responsibility and if possible to make some offering through the collection box inside the Church.

The History of Michaelston Church was revised in the year of our Lord 2006 by the Reverend John Dale.