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St Mary's Church, The Square, Cilcain

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Map ReferenceSJ16NE
Grid ReferenceSJ1764065160
Unitary (Local) AuthorityFlintshire
Old CountyFlintshire
Type Of SiteCHURCH
PeriodPost Medieval

St Mary's church, Cilcain was first mentioned in 1291 and fragments of carved masonry of this date were found during renovations.The church has been rebuilt at various times: the 15th century roof of the south nave was brought from elsewhere at an unknown date; the north nave was rebuilt in 1746 having been destroyed by fire in 1532; the porch gates of c1720 pobably came from Mold church and there has been substantial 19th century restoration and 20th century work to the roof.

It is built from limestone rubble with roughly squared quoins and some work in red sandstone. There is slate roof with red ridge tiles.

The roof is of very high quality, boldly carved and well- finished. It is one of several notable hammer-beam roofs with angel terminals in Wales and the March dating from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The distribution of these roofs is mapped in Houses of the Welsh Countryside (2nd ed., 1988), Map 57, pp. 680-1, and there is a concentration in north-east Wales. These roofs are celebrated for their dramatic impact and enriched timberwork. The roof at St Mary's Cilcain is particularly massive and ornate with the full late gothic decorative repertoire of roll mouldings, cusping, carved bosses and terminals.

The roof has been regarded as too large and too ornate for a county parish church like Cilcain, which is not otherwise architecturally distinguished, and more appropriate for a town church or monastic building. Fred H. Crossley (Archaeologia Cambrensis XCIX 1947, pp. 346-51) considered it possible that it derived from Basingwerk Abbey, which was dissolved in 1535. Edward Hubbard's view in the `Pevsner' is stronger: the roof `was obviously brought from elsewhere' (The Buildings of Wales: Clwyd (1986), p. 377).

Scaffolding of St Mary's in 2015 provided an opportunity for close inspection of the roof. It was quite apparent that the roof (although much repaired) was purpose-built for St Mary's. There is no indication whatsoever of the structural adjustments that inevitably have to be made if a roof is reused. Everything fits as designed, including the hidden parts of the roof behind the panels at wallplate level. The wallposts of the hammerbeams relate awkwardly to the arcade in places but this seems to have been a small price to pay for an ambitious reroofing. The roof has not been brought in from elsewhere but was purpose-built to replace an older roof at St Mary's.

The roof probably dates from the 1530s and replaced a roof destroyed by fire in 1532. There are several literary references to the destruction of the church, and Browne Willis cites a brass inscription, now lost, which recorded the date of the fire. The new roof was part of a prolonged campaign typical of the period (cf. Gresford) to beautify the church, which reached completion about 1546 when the glass in the chancel window was installed. The 1546 inscription, also lost, was noted by Sir Stephen Glynne.

The hammer-beam roof at Llanidloes provides an instructive comparison with Cilcain. The ornate roof at Llanidloes was supposed to have been derived from Abbey Cwmhir at the Dissolution. Tree-ring dating demonstrated that the timber with full sapwood used in its construction was felled in Summer 1538, and therefore could not possibly have been derived from the dissolved Abbey. The completion of the roof four years later is confirmed by the 1542 inscription on one of the angel shields. The details are reported in Vernacular Architecture 34 (2003), pp. 120-21.

The stained glass in the east window is reset and restored 16th century work with a central crucifixion with the Virgin and St John, SS George and Peter in the outer lights.

Associated sites:
Fragment of churchyard cross (NPRN 306861).
Sundial in churchyard (NPRN 306862).

Richard Suggett, Painted Temples: Wallpaintings and Rood-screens in Welsh Churches, 1200–1800, (RCAHMW 2021), pp. 13.