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Site 6

Derwen

Preaching Cross and Church of St Mary

In a hillside village high above the Clwyd valley, St Mary’s displays two outstanding medieval treasures. The first is the 15th century preaching cross in the churchyard, now in the care of CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments. Among the best-preserved examples in Wales, the cross was the focus of open-air sermons by travelling friars and other visiting preachers. Its carved octagonal shaft supports a box-like head with canopied figures: the Crucifixion on the west side (facing away from the church); a battered Virgin and Child o the south; the Coronation of the Virgin to the east: and on the north side a fine figure of St. Michael the Archangel, with raised sword and scales of weighing souls. (The adjacent ‘church house’ is a walled-up churchyard gateway, with schoolroom above.)

Within the church is an even more unusual medieval treasure - a 15th or early 16th century rood screen complete with its rood loft. Surviving medieval rood screens are themselves quite uncommon (there is a fine example at Clocaenog) but the galleries or ‘lofts’ which originally surmounted them are very rare survivals indeed: Derwen’s is one of only a dozen or so in Wales. Thousands of lofts were destroyed during the Tudor Protestant Reformation, because their main purpose was to display the large painted ‘roods’ (an Old English word meaning ‘crucifix’) which reformers condemned as idolatrous. Reached (as here) by stairways set into the wall, loft galleries were also used by preachers, musicians and singers, their parapets being lined with candles on special occasions.

Derwen’s screen and loft, richly carved with intricate foliage and delicate tracery, is a striking tribute to the skills of medieval Welsh carpenters. Though its ‘rood’ and original coat of bright colouring have long gone, it provides a very rare reminder of what church interiors looked like before the upheavals begun by Henry VIII.

The church is generally open for visitors.

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Preaching Cross, Derwen: Denbighshire Record Office

Preaching Cross, Derwen