Heaven meets earth Abbey Dore in Herefordshire

The border between England and Wales has known some exciting times, but you cannot meet anywhere much more pastoral nowadays than the area to the southwest of Hereford, where the village of Kilpeck lies just off the A465.

Several English counties have a perfect Norman church. They do not get any better than Kilpeck, a classic confection of nave, chancel and apse, built of red sandstone in the third quarter of the 12th century, with a strong Scandinavian influence. It has a splendidly carved south doorway with a Tree of Life tympanum, and Welsh warriors in Phrygian caps; inside is a chancel arch with equally remarkable carving.

But Kilpeck is our hors d’oeuvre to Abbey Dore, a few miles to the west, closer still to the Welsh border. It began life as a Cistercian Abbey, founded in 1147 and largely built 1175-1220. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it fell into disrepair, becoming a source of stone for other buildings, like Cluny later.

In 1633, Viscount Scudamore decided to convert the remains of the abbey into a parish church. He took the ambulatory and chapels, crossing and transepts, and added a tower, fitting out the interior with furnishings including stalls, benches, a pulpit, west gallery and poor-box, and above all a great oak screen (featuring the arms of Charles I, Scudamore, and his friend William Laud). The twelve foot mediaeval altar stone was restored to its proper use. English Heritage has recently given massive grant aid to save this remarkable building for the future.

Can we see Abbey Dore, patched up amongst the ruins, as a metaphor for our continuing existence within the ruins of the once noble Church of England? Pray that people of faith and vision like Viscount Scudamore will always be found in dark times.

Simon Cotton

Grid ref: SO3831