The Parish Church of St Mary, Chirk
11:00am Holy Eucharist- (except first Sunday in month - Family Service)
Chirk, traversed by Offa's Dyke, is a border village which welcomes visitors to Wales. The name Chirk is generally considered to be an early English corruption of the name of the River Ceiriog which joins the river Dee in the parish. However, Sir John Rhys gave another explanation and suggested that the name primarily referred to the parish Church of St. Mary, Chirk, called in Welsh eglwys y waun (the Church on the moor).
The Church is ancient and the community it serves has been influenced by Welsh inhabitants, Norman Invaders, and English conquerors. Agriculture, seventeenth century ironworks, coalmining from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries gave the community a rugged but friendly independence of character. Telford's road and canal with its famous aqueducts brought prosperity which continues today when the village is experiencing growth and new industries.
The first question the curious visitor asks is, 'how old is this Church?' This is always difficult to answer. We may perhaps discover the age of the Church by identifying it with the saint to whom it is dedicated. The first dedication at Chirk was to Tysilio a seventh century Celtic saint said to be the son of Brocmail prince of Powys, on the Menai and in south Cardiganshire. Architecture also provides a clue to the age of a church. The Normans established themselves in Chirk, next to the Church, sometime before 1130 when they built a motte and bailey castle. (Now a scheduled ancient monument).
When the Doomsday Book was compiled in 1086 Tudor ab Rhys Sais, (Tudor Trevor), was Lord of Whittington, Chirk, Nanheudwy and Maelor Saesneg. His daughter married a powerful Norman, Fulk Fitz-Warine whose descendants warred with the Trevors for the possession of Whittington Castle until 1280 when it passed permanently to the Fitz-Warines.
The Norman imprint upon the Church is still to be seen. There is a closed early Norman doorway in the south west wall where a thatched porch stood and was the only entrance to a one naved church. Under a south window is a Norman buttress and above an early consecration cross, probably of the twelfth century. By the west door is a heart shrine in the form of a small medieval sculptured figure which was found in the vicarage garden.
Written records relating to Chirk Church begin with the Norman occupation and the earliest to be found in the Pipe Rolls in 1163 when it is noted that 'Warinus, priest of Chirchelanda renders account of 7 marks of plea of Richard de Luci, which he delivered into the Treasury' (The Pipe Rolls are the national account books of the period - and this entry a proof that Chirkland was at this time in the hands of the Crown.)
In 1200 Madog ap Gruffydd, Lord of Powys Fadog established Valle Crucis Abbey. G. Vernon Price informs us that 'Originally the Church at Chirk was regarded as a chapel attached to the Llangollen Church. The benefice was recognised as under the control of the abbey by Bishop Anian II when he visited Oswestry in 1275.' In the Taxation of Pope Nicholas in 1291 it is reported as Eglwys y waen and with the appropriation of the Church to Valle Crucis Abbey it was re-dedicated to St. Mary.
There is some confusion about the feast day. Archdeacon Thomas states that it was the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin (September 8th), more than likely however it was the Falling Asleep of the BVM (August 15th) which was observed as is confirmed when the Gregorian replaced the Julian Calendar in 1752. At this time the Chirk Vestry agreed 'that the festival or dedication of our Parish Church of Chirk shall be kept and observed as a festival, according to the new stile on the first Sunday after 15 August 1753.'
The Lordship of Chirkland
In 1282 the Welsh were defeated by Edward I who in order to consolidate his victory created Marcher Lordships. The Lordship of Chirkland was given to Roger Mortimer who built the existing castle of Chirk. The history of the nation is mirrored in that of the lordship. Roger Mortimer died a traitor in the Tower of London in 1326 and the Lordship was conferred on Edmund Fitz Alan, Earl of Arundel with whose successors it remained until the Wars of the Roses. Edward IV gave it to Sir William Stanley who was executed in 1495 for his implication in Perkin Warbeck's rebellion.
The Crown retained the Lordship until 1563 when Queen Elizabeth I gave it to her favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. It passed to Lord St. John of Bletso who sold it in 1595 to Sir Thomas Myddelton in whose family the castle remains.
© The Parish Church of St Mary, Chirk
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