Living where I do near the Welsh border, I am spoilt for choice. As well as indulging my love of Welsh history, I also get to cross the border and regularly indulge in a spot of church crawling in the Marches. Earlier this year I managed to finally visit a church that has been on my list for some time – St Faith’s, Bacton.
It’s a small, rural church which you can find hidden down country lanes on the Herefordshire side of the border near the Black Mountains, in an area called the Golden Valley. It really is near to nowhere. St Faith’s doesn’t even always feature in some of the guides to churches in England or Herefordshire. Its importance and uniqueness has only really come to light over the last few years – but now St Faiths Church is ready to take centre stage!
If you love royal history, fashion history or church history (and luckily for me I love all three) then you must visit Bacton – even more so if you are a Tudor history lover! Make sure you read all the way to the end of the post because there really is so, so much to discover at St Faith’s, Bacton!
St Faith’s, Bacton – History
St Faith’s has a long history. The oldest parts of the church date to the 13th century, but the site almost certainly goes back long before that. The original dedication was to St Foi (otherwise known as Moi or Tyfoi) a 6th-century follower of St Dubricius. Also, the yew in the churchyard is thought to be 1,350 years old, suggesting this has been a sacred site for some time.
Fun fact – Bacton is Old English meaning ‘Bacca’s enclosed homestead’!
St Faith’s, Bacton – Notable People
The most notable person associated with St Faith’s, Bacton is Blanche Parry.
Blanche was Chief Gentlewoman of Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Chamber. She was the Queen’s close friend and confidante and served as the official Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels. She served the future Queen Elizabeth from her birth in 1533, serving her for 56 years in total. She was almost certainly in attendance when Elizabeth was confined to the Tower of London. Elizabeth trusted her implicitly, and Blanche was a central figure at Elizabeth’s court.
Blanche was born in Bacton to a prominent border gentry family, and given the part of the world she grew up in is very much considered as having an Anglo-Welsh background.
St Faith’s Bacton – Church
The oldest parts of the present church date from the early 13th century. The main roof timbers are late 15th century, but the small carved angels may be even older. The choir stalls are also late 15th century and was commissioned by Blanche Parry’s father or grandfather. They feature the Parry coat of arms.
Blanche Parry Monument
St Faiths is home to two Tudor treasures – the first being a magnificent monument to Blanche Parry, which features the earliest known depiction of Elizabeth I as Gloriana.
While Blanche was still alive she expressed a wish to be buried at Bacton, hence the tomb. But unfortunately when she passed away in 1590 she was interred at St Margaret’s Church in Westminster.
As well as the iconography, the tomb is also important in supporting the theory that Elizabeth I died a virgin. The epitaph on the tomb ends with the line ‘With maiden queen a maid did end my life’ – and there was no way Blanche Parry was going to lie about something like that when she was on the way to meet her maker!
The memorial shows the figures of Blanche Parry and Elizabeth I side by side under a rounded arch decorated with Tudor roses. Blanche is shown kneeling, while to her left stands the queen holding an orb. The symbolic representation of Elizabeth I as Gloriana became very common at the end of her life, but this is the first known example.
Bacton Altar Cloth
The second treasure to be found at St Faith’s is the Bacton Altar cloth (or to be totally transparent an amazing replica of the Bacton Altar Cloth as the original is priceless and currently safely tucked away in storage at Hampton Court Palace – and when I say amazing, I mean amazing! Lack of signage in the church meant I didn’t realise this wasn’t the real deal until I got home).
This cloth had been gracing the altar of St Faiths for centuries until, in 2015, experts figured out that not only did the cloth date from the Elizabethan period, it was extremely likely that the cloth had been fashioned out of a dress that once belonged to Elizabeth I herself – making it the sole surviving dress of Elizabeth I. Perhaps even more amazingly, it appears to be the same dress she wears in the famous Rainbow Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts The Younger which now hangs in Hatfield House.
Of course this link is due to Elizabeth I’s relationship with Blanche Parry. Evidence suggests the dress was sent here in the 1590s in memory of Blanche, possibly by the Queen herself.
The cloth is valued for insurance purposes at over £1 million and is likely the only piece of Elizabethan dress in existence today.
So next time you fancy a dose of Tudor History, head to historic Herefordshire, not Hampton Court Palace!
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