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Village church unveils restored 500-year-old screen

Posted on: December 5, 2013 1:32 PM
Cameron Stewart, conservation joiner, at work on the reredos
Photo Credit: Church in Wales
Related Categories: Wales

From the Church in Wales

A rare, dramatically conserved – and mysterious – treasure in the small Vale church of St Cadoc’s, Llancarfan, will be unveiled for the first time today. 

The  extraordinarily intricate, gilded early 16th Century reredos screen has been painstakingly returned to former glory by a team of three specialists, over the last six months. It will be revealed at a Celebration Evening to mark more than four years of major conservation work in the Church.

This work included the discovery and restoration of Medieval wall paintings of the St George and the Dragon and the Seven Deadly Sins and further dramatic detail of these paintings will also be unveiled during the evening.

Reredos colour detail (2)

The mystery remains as to why a work of the magnificence of the reredos is tucked away in a village church such as St Cadoc’s. One theory is that this screen possibly began life elsewhere and only moved to Llancarfan when it was 150-years-old, in the mid 1600s. Was it a refugee from the Dissolution of the Monasteries? A discarded glory from a grand abbey? The whim of a rich local benefactor? Detective work goes on…

It is certain, though, that this historic screen can now take its place alongside St Cadoc’s famous emerging wall paintings, making the church one of the most intriguing in Wales. Conservation by the specialist team of Hugh Harrison (timber conservator), Cameron Stewart (conservation joiner) and Liz Cheadle (paint conservator), has transformed a neglected treasure into an intricate thing of beauty, splendid in its original subtle colours.

Wall painting of St George and the Dragon
Wall painting of St George and the Dragon

Conservator Hugh Harrison says, “Canopy work like the reredos at Llancarfan can be found in the choir in almost every cathedral and major church in England and Wales, but none of these grand arrays of woodwork are coloured and gilded as at Llancarfan.  This lively polychromatic scheme lifts this work to quite another level of sophistication.  It is also unique in using simple metal brackets to display the ornate pinnacles in front of the general canopy spires as though they float by magic…a daring concept not found anywhere else.”

The Archdeacon of Llandaff and Priest-in-Charge of Llancarfan, Peggy Jackson, says, “Since work began in 2010, this conservation project has prompted visits by people from all over the world. We have been gratified by the support and funding help we have received but we have also been touched by the enthusiasm and joy which the church has generated amongst its supporters and the wider public.”

The presentation evening at 6.30pm this evening marks a turning point in the first major phase of conservation at St Cadoc’s, a project generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund Wales, among other benefactors.

Liz Cheadle, paint conservator
Liz Cheadle, paint conservator

Presentation visitors will have a chance to see how much these thrilling major tableaux have developed during recent conservation; and will hear how much more might be hidden behind layers of limewash and history.

For background information on the Heritage Lottery Fund grant which made this work possible and on the wall paintings, please see here