Ten miles southwest of Hereford, the small village of Kilpeck, population only about 90, contains two important Norman structures, the minor but well positioned remains of Kilpeck Castle, and the Church of St Mary and Saint David, or just Kilpeck Church, a compact building of reddish sandstone adorned with usually fine sculptures and carvings, both inside and out. The two buildings are situated on the north edge of the village, mostly surrounded by fields, and they have a very peaceful, rural aspect, seemingly unchanged for centuries.
This area of Herefordshire is part of the Welsh Marches, a once-disputed area along the border between Wales and England, and the site was originally part of the Welsh territory of Mercia until captured by the Normans following the 1066 invasion. The village is mentioned in the Doomsday Book when its population (of men) was 57, though in later mediaeval times the settlement is thought to have contained up to 600 people, living in a now completely disappeared group of houses just northeast of the current village. Unexcavated foundations of walls can just be discerned in the adjacent field.
The church at Kilpeck was constructed in about 1140, probably on the site of an earlier Saxon religious building. Its structure is simple; a nave leading to a chancel and a semicircular apse, with a wooden gallery above the nave, but it is made especially notable for the original, high quality, well preserved and varied stone carvings, in particular around the main doorway, at either side of the west window, along the chancel arch, and under the eaves of the roof. The building has remained largely unaltered ever since the Norman era, apart from limited restorations in the 19th and 20th centuries; the only major addition was a belltower above the west front, placed here in Victorian times. It is thought that population decline, in part due to the Black Death of the 1340s, led to the village being isolated and somewhat forgotten, hence the church was never modified or damaged.
Kilpeck Church is signed from the nearby main road, the A465, and reached by short journey down a country lane then along a side road. Parking is available right in front, and the place is usually open from about 9.30 am to sunset. The building is orientated approximately west to east, with a hedge-lined graveyard to the west, bordering the remains of the castle. Entry is along a short path to the beautiful south doorway, flanked by two pairs of vertical columns beneath an elaborate tympanum, its top protected by a strip of lead, recently installed to protect the carvings from dripping rainwater. The columns are decorated with intertwined branches, snakes and warriors, and the inner right is topped by a human head effigy, an example of a 'green man', his face wreathed with leaves. The tympanum has a variety of designs including angels, birds and animals. All such carvings on the church are examples of the Hereford School of sculpture as practiced in the county during the 12th century, influenced by the Romanesque architecture of France and Spain. The other famous carvings of the exterior are the corbels supporting the roof - 85 of these remain out of the original total of 91, and all have an individual and unique design, mostly animals, real and mystical; a mix of Christian, Celtic and pagan imagery.
Visitors enter the church through the south door, connected by two large, decorative iron hinges, and proceed into the nave, where relics include a stone (conglomerate) font, probably Saxon, and a wall stone bearing a rounded cross design, associated with the Knights Templar. Creaking steps access the gallery, looking down over the five rows of pews below. The nave leads to the chancel, connected via an archway decorated with slender human figures along the pillars, and geometric designs above. On the far side of the chancel is the apse, entered through a much plainer archway. The domed roof of the apse is supported by the original Norman vaulting, with four ribs, meeting at a stone boss, borne by columns rising between the high, narrow windows, which contain modern stained glass.