St Anno

The little church of St Anno clings to the banks of the River Ithon. From the outside, it is a simple, symmetrical structure of grey limestone, yet within is one of the great treasures of Welsh craftsmanship. The rood screen and loft of c. 1500 burst with life: the bressumer trails with vines, pomegranates and water-plant issuing from the mouth of a wyvern. The vines symbolise Christ. The popular pomegranate motif represents eternal life, although, in this work it carries additional significance as the emblem of Katherine of Aragon. The thirty-four coving panels are decorated with seventeen different designs, creating a somewhat restless pattern. The tracery heads, again with differing designs, hang like delicate lace. It is generally accepted that the screen and loft are the work of the Newtown school of carvers, who were, as the other surviving examples at Llanwnog and Newtown itself bear witness, capable of producing exquisite and intricate work. Yet, by 1874 parts of the church were in a “dreadfully dilapidated state”. An engraving of that date shows the screen and loft in situ in the old church and reveals where the original carving had decayed or been destroyed.

Indeed, the soon after, the church was rebuilt by David Walker (1840-92) in memory of John Stephens, a wealthy surgeon who had practised in Shrewsbury. The specification accompanying the faculty application shows just how thorough the rebuilding was: the whole church was to be taken down and any sound stone to be reused internally. Walker carefully dismantled the screen and loft, which was stored until reconstructed in the new church in 1880. The new work is respectful and honest. Walker also replaced the figures which had originally stood in the niches across the west face of the loft, commissioning the work from Boultons of Cheltenham. In the centre is the figure of Christ; to his right the Old Testament figures of Noah, Abraham, Melchisedek, Aaron, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel; to his left the twelve apostles.

St Anno’s church first appears in recorded history in 1304, when it is mentioned as Thlananno. Whether or not Llananno was originally a parish church is doubtful; it is recorded in the sixteenth century as annexed to the parish of Llanbister and was probably originally a chapel-of-ease with rights of baptism and burial. The earliest surviving evidence of a former building on this site is the octagonal font of plain, simple design, which has been dated to the fifteenth century. Walker replaced the box-pews with uniform, open-backed benches. The splendid churchwarden’s pew, with the carved inscription ‘David Lewis, Church Warden, 1681’, now in the north-west corner of the nave, and converted into a small vestry is the only survivor of an earlier seating arrangement.

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Llanbadarn Fynydd, Llandrindod Wells, Powys, LD1 6TN

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