Urishay

Urishay Castle Chapel


Urishay is the twelfth century former chapel of Urishay Castle and is preserved as a part-ruin. It is a Grade II* listed building and scheduled ancient monument.

In fact it is the earliest purpose-built castle chapel in Herefordshire, and beyond it is the mound on which the motte-and-bailey castle was sited. The present ‘castle’ dates from the 17th century and takes the form of a ruin simply because the someone took the roof off rather than repair it in 1921.

The Friends have owned the building since 1978, and from the research of Ron Shoesmith the former County Archaeologist we know that the chapel was built at around the same time as the castle by Urri de la Hay in the 12th century. In its early incarnation the chapel was even smaller – with a curved apse demolished barely a century later to enlarge the building. “Even after that, the building remains almost completely devoid of architectural pretension – that was or the garrison to meet their God, not for a high status family to proclaim its wealth to the world.” (Matthew Saunders, Saving Churches, p 104)

A medieval altar table with five consecration crosses survives inside the chapel, together with evidence of later work – notably in the 16th century – but the use Urishay over the years as a blacksmith’s forge, a carpenter’s shop an a dog kennel have taken their toll. In the early 19th century the chapel was purchased by ‘ a small committee of churchmen’ and after a report had been prepared by the SPAB (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) the chapel was repaired by the same family that built it, as the wooden tablet on the north side of the nave records.

By 1949, as at so many ancient churches, Urishay was once again in a poor state of repair with gaping holes in the roof and leaning walls. Unfortunately when the Friends were able to take it into care finally, in 1978, we had no alternative but to rebuild much of the walling to prevent collapse. The building remains only partly roofed.

“As with all historic buildings there are poignant human stories. In the 1980’s archaeologists found in front of both altars evidence of several infant burials. In its 800 years there have been no adult interments at all, and the hasty nature of the children’s graves suggests the interments may have been clandestine. What pain may lie behind this archaeological find.”

(Matthew Saunders, Saving Churches, p 105)

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