Madley Church, Herefordshire


The nave
South side of the church

Unusually large parish church from the 13th century, containing a vaulted crypt, medieval stained glass and ancient wall paintings
Church Croft, Madley, 6 miles west of Hereford; HR2 9DP
Photo Tour (12 images)
Six miles west of Hereford, the village of Madley is notable for its unusually large and ancient parish church, some parts which were built by the Normans soon after the conquest, though most dates from the early 13th century. The building contains several notable features including a polygonal apse, a vaulted crypt, a large Norman font, 13th century wall paintings, medieval stained-glass and a few ancient monuments. Apart from the windows, the interior is relatively plain, though imposing, with thick columns, grand arches and high walls, mostly clad with dark reddish/grey sandstone.

A religious building had existed on the site since the sixth century, in recognition of this location as the birthplace of Dubricius (died ca 550), the first Bishop of Llandaff, however it was the Normans who created the first stone church; relics from this in the current building include parts of the north porch and the southwest wall, originally from the north and south transepts. The earlier building was in use for little over a hundred years, before being greatly modified and enlarged in the 13th century, and the majority of the structure is from this period. The last major changes were at the start of the 14th century - replacement of the previous rectangular chancel with a more ornate structure terminating in the apse, installation of the crypt below (partly to take advantage of the natural downwards-slope of the ground), and extending the south aisle, adding a new enclosure known as the Chilstone chapel. There was also one new window installed around 1500, at the west end of the south aisle. The chapel represents the Decorated Gothic style of architecture, while the remainder is Early English Gothic.

The Church

Madley Church sits on the east edge of the village, just off the B4352 in the wide valley of the River Wye, and is surrounded by a tree-lined graveyard on all sides, containing a fine assortment of old tombs and headstones. The west end rises to a battlemented tower, one corner of which ('Jacob's Chair') is somewhat higher than the remainder. The south wall (Chilstone chapel) and the apse are buttressed, while the other sections are not. Nearly all the exterior windows are relatively tall, each containing two or three lights; this style was initially used for the chapel in 1330 and then for all others, replacing the smaller originals. Entry to the Church is through the partly Norman north porch, into the north end of the nave, which is separated from the main area by an arcade of six pillars, with a corresponding set on the far side, along the south aisle. The pillars of one pair have short sections of north-south walling, indicating the alignment of the side of the earlier church. The Chilstone chapel borders most of the length of the south aisle, while the 14th century chancel projects eastwards from the nave. At the east end of the north aisle is a short spiral staircase leading to a narrow passageway and more stairs, accessing the crypt, which is centred on a thick, angular pillar rising to ten ribs. Another stair climbs from the far side, to a passageway that emerges behind the organ, at the east end of the south aisle. It is believed that the crypt once held a statue of the Virgin Mary, which became a famed object of pilgrimage; visitors would descend one set of steps and return via the other. This is the reason for the dedication of the church, as The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Other Features

On the west side of the chancel arch, in a dark corner up near the ceiling, is a large, faded wall painting, from the early 14th century. A light on a timer enable better viewing, operated by a switch on the north wall. Near the end of the north aisle is a dark, wooden enclosure, the Lulham pew, built for a wealthy local family, probably using wood from an older screen that divided the nave from the original chancel. The replacement chancel contains a sedila, decorated with ball-flower ornaments, and four rows of wooden seats with misericords beneath, all original, from the 1330s. the easternmost three of the ten windows in the chancel contain mediaeval stained-glass; the outer pair has a random arrangement, using fragments salvaged from earlier windows, while the centremost is intact, and dates from two periods - the upper half, mostly blue, from the mid 13th century, and the lower half about 100 years later.