ST. MARY MAGDALENE CHURCH
Mrs. S. Williams Tel: 01432 276948
Mrs. B. Andrews Tel: 01432 342085
The Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene, Stretton Sugwas
If you head out of Hereford on the A438 towards Hay-on-Wye and Brecon, as you pass through Swainshill glance over to your right and you will catch sight of one of the most picturesque churches in Herefordshire. The black and white tower of St Mary Magdalene rises above the East Gable, surrounded by the lush greenery of churchyard and fields.
The timbers of the tower are ancient, Norman in fac,t and yet the original parish church of Stretton Sugwas didn’t have a black and white tower, and, although the church is full of Norman stonework and carving, the original church stood on a completely different site. So what is the mystery of St Mary Magdalene Church?
The first church of Stretton Sugwas, built in 1150, stood next door to the present Priory hotel and you can still make out the old floor plan if you look just to the right of the hotel. There are tombstones around the boundary of the site of the old church. It is a very tranquil spot and well worth a visit.
When the church fell into disrepair in 1877, it was decided to build a new church rather than repair the old one. The new site was chosen because it was the centre point between Stetton and Sugwas and would be able to be seen by travellers along the highway.
The cost was estimated at being £2,275 and before work was commenced £2,250 had been promised.
The old church was pulled down and re-useable material brought along the lanes to the new site and building began in 1878 by a Mr Cheiake, who later emigrated to Canada. Photographs of both the old church and the present church are hung at the back of the nave under the West window.
Examples of the re-use of materials are to be found in the Romanesque or Norman arches leading into the tower, from the tower into the church and on the inside of the South doorway and some of the timbers in the tower, which was heightened from the old church.
The greatest of the treasures is the Sampson Tympanum. As you walk through in the South door it faces you above the doorway leading into the tower. It is a semi-circular carving of breath-taking beauty, depicting Sampson astride a lion, forcing its jaws open with bare hands. It is an absolute masterpiece and artistically way ahead of its time. The cuffs of Sampson’s tunic fall in delicate folds, and there is a sense of struggle and movement in the piece which is quite un-mediaeval. It is a brilliant example of the work of the great mediaeval sculptor known as the Chief Master, working under the patronage of Sir Ralph de Baskerville.
The incised memorial stone of Richard Greenaway and his wife built into the South wall was laid over their grave at the old church. We are led to believe the font itself is Norman.
There are four bells in the bell tower. Bell number 1 is dated 1671, number 2 1813, number 3 1930 and number 4 1706. The old number 3 bell stands at the back of the north aisle; it is badly cracked.
The chancel screen out of the old church was erected to the entrance of the vestry at the north east end of the hurch. The screen consists of two fixed panels and double doors. There are also some heraldic tiles on the floor of the vestry.
The churchyard is well kept and the PCC take great pride in keeping the churchyard in good order.