ST STEPHEN, OLD RADNOR, POWY
You get the best sight of this church on approaching it from the west, along the A44 from Rhyader, when you notice the strong C15th tower, whose projecting stair-turret at the north-east corner once held a beacon. When you get there, enjoy the splendid views from the church, clinging to the side of the hill. No one knows how long there has been a church on the spot – if the churchyard was once circular, that is strong evidence for an early date – but what you see today is mainly C15th, allegedly because Owain Glyndŵr burnt down the predecessor.
As you cross the threshold, you enter a church that is big by Welsh standards and which is darkened by the absence of a C15th clerestory. At first sight everything looks old, and the oldest is the massive circular font near the entrance. No one knows how old it is, but pre-Norman is very probable.
C18th hatchments hang at the west end; part of the flooring is mediaeval encaustic tiles; the roofs are old, and the pews look old but are actually C19th. A canopied late C15th screen stretches across the nave and both aisles, looking less like the typical screen of the Marches and more like an export from the Cotswolds, possibly not unconnected with Old Radnor being in the diocese of Hereford.
Up in the chancel there are medieval stalls, but you don’t pay attention to those, as you are looking at the earliest organ case surviving anywhere in the UK; with its linenfold panelling, it dates from around 1500. No one knows how this out-of-the-way place came to have such a splendid adornment; derelict and empty by the mid-C19th, it was sensitively and conservatively restored, then fitted with a new organ by J. W. Walker. All that church music by Tallis, Byrd, and Co. didn’t arise from a vacuum.
Map reference SO 250590