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Chelfie at St. Lawrence, Gumfreston, Pembrokeshire, Wales.
"St. Lawrence Church Gumfreston is a very special place for me. I was married there and attended the services for over 30 years until sadly it closed. I still visit the Churchyard regularly especially on my wedding Anniversary and at Christmas and I have a walk around. The setting is perfect, surrounded by trees, and in the Spring the flowers are like a blanket of yellow with patches of blue and white all the way from the gate going down to the Holy Wells. I have always found there is such a special feeling of tranquillity here and that feeling continues inside this amazing little Church that is so full of History.
I am absolutely delighted that The Friends of Friendless Churches are now looking after this wonderful place."
"The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material"
Abbot Suger (1081-1151)
There’s always an air of anticipation when I enter a new church, but this time, at St. Lawrence, Gumfreston, it is different.
Before I enter, I notice a sign that says ‘THIS CHURCH IS CLOSED.” Below these words somebody has written ‘PLEASE RE-OPEN’; and above them there is a sticker that says: “Don’t forget to drink from the spring it’s filled with iron!”
It all adds to the sense of unease as I crack open the door.
I can smell the space before I can see it. It is dark and dank, and it takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the gloomy interior which reveals itself intermittently in swags of sunlight dropping in from behind the clouds.
I close the door behind me and walk into the centre of the nave. There’s plaster underfoot, rot in the pews and lime green mould upon the walls.
"I close the door behind me and walk into the centre of the nave. There’s plaster underfoot, rot in the pews and lime green mould upon the walls."
Time stands still here, and because of that, despite the dereliction, I am drawn up into the saturated 12th century walls. Redundancy has placed such a stark line between the past and present, that it really does feel like I’ve travelled back in time. I’m stood within a space that wouldn’t intimidate my medieval forebears - other than the leaky roof.
Amidst the decay, there is a bitter-sweet beauty. It feels as if this place is being gently reclaimed by the earth. But, as I walk towards the chancel arch, and set my camera up in front of the pulpit, I’m reminded as to why the survival of this place is so important.
I place my camera upon the tripod and cup my eye to the viewfinder.
It feels snug and safe. My eyes detach from my earthly self and wander around the space through the conduit of my lens. They float around the altar condiments and hover over the cracks in the wall, until they stop with a start. There is another eye looking straight down the barrel of my lens.
There is a face peeping out from behind the flaking limewash.
It sparks a yearning empathy with the building - as if a window has opened up into the soul of the place. It takes some time to realise the gravity of what I’m witnessing.
The face embodies a glimmer of hope amidst the gloom, poised to ignite the monumental effort, against all odds, of saving this place. Friends of Friendless Churches have taken on the mantle, and managed to raise funds towards the repair and conservation of the church. It will enable future generations to connect with those eyes, and gaze into the depths of time.
Smothered by circumstance and freed by happenstance, the face embraces, within the artful strokes of a medieval hand and the decay of a crumbling wall, the paradox of the human condition: our unceasing pursuit of the sublime to light up our lives and find beauty amongst the shadows.
St. Lawrence, Gumfreston, Pembrokeshire, Wales
St. Lawrence, Gumfreston is a medieval church that is, apart from a few small Victorian interventions, largely untouched by modernity. It was built between the C12th and C14th.
It sits on an ancient site that predates the church and includes three holy wells.
As noted in a previous Digest: Gumfreston is achingly beautiful in its isolation.
It is a place of solace and raw beauty and holds a deep-rooted connection to the past.
But it is suffering because of changes in its circumstances.
There is good news. Friends of Friendless Churches are now carrying out a programme of repair and conservation after being awarded a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. They have kindly shared some photographs with me for the Digest.
Member Powered Photography
The last photo shoot at Gumfreston was photographed under Member Powered Photography. A huge thanks to Members for your support.
I'll be travelling down in the new year to photograph the progress for the Friends of Friendless Churches and sharing it with Members of the digest as part of Member Powered Photography (MPP).
MPP enables me to photograph and record the church for no cost, so that costs can be ploughed back into the church conservation.
More info here about Member Powered Photography:
Members can get a sense of what I saw during the shoot at Gumfreston via this hauntingly beautiful VR (viewable on any device)
St. Lawrence is currently closed - but you can visit and see progress from the outside - always check here, before visiting:
The inside of Woody is starting to look like the interior of Sir John Soane's Museum.
A mould from the restoration of the State Dining Room at Stowe House:
It also includes a Green Man boss ( a replica from one in Lincoln Cathedral)
Another boss of Samson and Delilah (a replica from one in Exeter Cathedral)
A little jumper that reminds me of the archaeologist, the late Mick Aston.
A mini-column from Rosslyn Chapel.
A Mouseman chopping board.
Stuff from mudlarking about...
...and a brick mould re-purposed to hold all my electrical stuff ( in front of a Ravilious cushion)
A short video of my photography at Gumfreston.
“In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas." “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”
C.S Lewis in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This is something that I've wanted to do for a long time and it's taken a little while to put the mechanics of it all together.
The Eustace Collection draws from the Genius Loci Digest and helps provide nuanced counter-narratives to threats to our historic environment, whether it be the mightiest cathedral or the collective thumbprint on an ancient latch.
Updated regularly, the aim of Eustace is to build up a resource to help others. They are accessible to everybody, and updated with more content regularly.
Please feel free to share them with those that might need help and support. Access the collection here:
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Photographs and words by Andy Marshall (unless otherwise stated). Most photographs are taken with Iphone 14 Pro and DJI Mini 3 Pro.