22 April 2011

Easter Hare

Deep in the Berwyns, at the head of Cwm Pennant, Pennant Melangell is home to Britain's only extant shrine of the Romanesque period. There's no through road, and just three houses about the church. The oldest part of this is of the twelfth century, but the almost round churchyard suggests pre-Christian use - there are Bronze Age burials here. Four of the five massive yews are adjudged to be over two thousand years old.

Just inside the porch of 1737 are animal-excluding gates, of 1763. The window to the far right (top) is fifteenth-century, the others in the south wall Victorian. Remarkably, the apse at the east end is of 1989, built upon the twelfth-century foundations of the original apse, replaced six centuries later by a square schoolroom, and replaced in its turn a further two centuries on.

The rood screen is of the fifteenth century, with a new oak loft above - the rood itself would have been destroyed as a result of the Reformation. Behind the tympanum is preserved a huge plaster panel, originally a reredos upon the east wall, featuring the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer, in Welsh.

The chancel is dominated by the shrine of St Melangell. The story goes that in 604 a Welsh prince chased a hare into a briar patch, wherein was in saintly contemplation Melangell, a traditional beautiful virgin. The hare hid under her garment and the hunting dogs fled. The prince gave Melangell the valley as a sanctuary.

Originally constructed circa 1160-70, the shrine was likely broken up early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth as part of the drive to control devotion to relics. Re-erected in 1958, some parts recovered from where they had been built into the nave walls and the lych gate, it was moved into the chancel in 1989.

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