St Mary's Church, Kempley

Recent Photograph of St Mary's Church (Kempley)

St Mary's Church is Norman in origin, believed to have been built between 1095 and 1100, by Hugh de Lacy, son of a Norman baron, Walter de Lacy, of Lassy in Normandy, and on the site of an older Saxon Church.

Inside the church are some very fine 12th Century murals. The following brief account - describing the murals in their original context - has been kindly supplied by Margaret Brooke, with reference to research carried out by the Revd. R. Hart a few years ago:-

The Three Maries

“High up to the right (south) side of the chancel arch are the remains of a 12th Century painting of the Three Maries at the Sepulchre. The scene is represented not as a depiction of the events as described in the Gospels, but as a representation of a liturgical drama such as would have been enacted in the churches at the time. The Three Maries thus carry crosses and thuribles, the smoke from the incense in these being depicted. The mound in front to them represent the church's own Easter sepulchre.”

“Liturgical dramas were part of the Church's regular pattern of worship in the early middle ages, and the layout of a church was designed with them in mind, especially the various doorways to allow processions to come and go. The unusual layout of the important Saxon church at nearby Deerhurst is thought to have been influenced by the needs of these dramatic presentations.”

“In the centre of the chancel arch would have been the rood, the scene on the crucifixion with Mary to the north and John to the south. To the north of the chancel arch, and destroyed by the wall monument would have been an earlier scene from the Holy week Easter story, possibly Jesus' trial or his arrest in the Garden of Gethsnamne, or perhaps the Last Supper or the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.”

The church is believed to have been at the centre of an early agricultural community at Kempley, of which few traces now remain. The area around the church is prone to flooding, and whilst early settlers might have benefited from the nearby water supply as a source of power to drive water wheels, there was a gradual drift of population during the 18th and 19th centuries towards other power sources and to higher ground, where the hamlets known as Kempley Green and Fishpool are sited.

During the 19th century particularly, there was frequent flooding which cut off the villagers from their ‘spiritual sustenance’. It was therefore decided a new church was needed, of which the foundation stone was laid in 1902. The new church, St Edward the Confessor, was dedicated on St Stephen's Day, 1903.

By this time St Mary's church was in a sad state of repair, and the early years of the 20th century saw a struggle for its preservation, and in particular the uncovering, and conservation of the murals. Thanks however to the hard work and perseverance of some dedicated people the church and murals still survive, and the church has now acquired the status of an ‘Ancient Monument’.

Opening hours are 1st March - 31st October 10a.m. to 6p.m.
Winter months by prior notice - Apply Mrs M.E. Brooke:
Telephone 01531 660214.

(Information provided by Rosemary Lockie)

Gethyn-Jones, Rev. J.E. - St Mary's Church Kempley and its Paintings. Printed by John Bellows Ltd, Gloucester, 1959.

Image contributed by Rosemary Lockie on 21st October 1998.
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