If you head out of Hereford on the A438 towards Hay-on-Wye and Brecon as you pass through Swainshill glance over to you right and you will catch site 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 fact 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 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 bell 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 church. The screen consists of two fixed panel and double doors.
There are also some heraldic tiles on the floor of the vestry
The church is open daily during the summer months for visitors to enjoy the tranquillity and beauty of the building and spend time in private prayer.
The churchyard is well kept and the PCC take great pride in keeping the churchyard in good order.
The PCC like to hold a Gift Day every year on the Saturday nearest to the Patronal festival of St Mary Magdalene when we take turns in manning the church for people to come and bring their gifts or just have a chat and a cup of coffee.
An annual Strawberry tea is held in June.
An annual Christmas bazaar is held in November to raise funds as well as various other events which take place during the year.
Service Rota as at the present time
1st Sunday of the Month Family Service 10.00am
2nd Sunday of the Month Group Parish Eucharist 10.00am
3rd Sunday of the Month Parish Eucharist 9.30am
4th Sunday of the Month Parish Eucharist 9.30am
5th Sunday of the Month Parish Eucharist 9.30am
Everyone is welcome to all these services and will be made most welcome.