Death and the Gallant

Many years ago I lived in Cowbridge in Glamorgan and one of my daughters was christened in Holy Cross Church. About twenty years later I joined the Richard III Society and discovered that Holy Cross had a connection to Richard III. The following is taken from History
Holy Cross Church was probably built around 1254 in the newly established town of Cowbridge. In the 15th century the church was enlarged with a Chantry Chapel and a new aisle known as the south Llanquian aisle. This was reputedly a gift from Lady Anne Neville, the Duchess of Gloucester, wife of Richard Duke of Gloucester who was Lord of Glamorgan. When he became King Richard III granted the Church a chaplaincy in a document which still exists in the Glamorgan Record Office complete with the King’s seal in red wax.

While living in Cowbridge I went several times to the village of Llancarfan and enjoyed a meal and drinks in the Fox and Hounds pub. The food was excellent I spent many a happy evening there with friends. However, what I didn’t realize was that Llancarfon was home to the very splendid St Cadoc’s Church.

Recently I was sent a link to this BBC programme about Welsh art, which may be shown again some time soon. It set me off on some research to see what else I could discover about St Cadoc’s, which was also featured in The Art That Made Us (part two).

The Vale of Glamorgan was an important centre of Christianity in Britain. There was a monastery founded by St Cadoc from at least 650AD. By the 9th Century it had become a centre for learning and by 1200 it proved to be the most powerful ecclesiastical community in Glamorgan. However, after the Norman invasion it was dissolved, and it became the responsibility of the Abbey of St Peters in Gloucester. St Cadoc’s Church appears to have been founded in around 1200. During a repair of the roof in the south aisle in 2005/2006 wall paintings were discovered.

In an article written on Wales Online, Jane Rutherford, one fine art conservators entrusted with revealing and safeguarding the series of long-lost wall paintings in St Cadoc’s, wrote “It is a moving experience to be one of the first two people to see a set of paintings that have been hidden for about 450 years. The thrill is even greater when those paintings happen to be amongst the best of their kind in the whole of the British Isles”. The paintings are of St George and the Dragon and the Seven Deadly Sins also an exceptionally rare portrayal of Death and the Gallant. It is thought that the paintings date from 1455 -1485-The Yorkist Age.

Jane Rutherford says “The image of St George appears to be the largest wall painting of this kind in Britain and apart from one other example seems to be the most complete. The representation of the Seven Deadly Sins is equally spectacular. The only comparable painting of Death and the Gallant survives in Newark”. Until the end of the fifteenth century there were no printed books and any books that existed were in Latin and French. So the paintings on church walls assisted parish priests to impress upon parishioners Bible stories and the lives of the saints and also the moral teachings of Christianity.

In 1547, in the first year of the reign of the “Tudor” King Edward VI, the order was given for the obliteration and destruction of popish and superstitious books and images, and so St Cadoc’s paintings would have been obliterated with limewash.

See also an excellent article and pictures of the paintings by Pitt Stops through History (18th August).


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