St Stephen's Church

Radnorshire, United Kingdom

St Stephen's Church was constructed in the 15th century in perpendicular gothic style on the site of a 6th-century church. Although much restored and rebuilt, it may have the oldest church organ in the United Kingdom; the organ case, although later, is also very early.

Since there is no other church of St Stephen in Wales, it is speculated that the original church might have been dedicated to Ystyffan, a member of the royal family of the Kingdom of Powys, with a number of churches dedicated to him. Following the Norman conquest of Wales, the Normans might have incorrectly believed that Ystyffan was a Welsh reference to Saint Stephen and rededicated the church to the Protomartyr as he was a popular saint with the Normans.

In the 1200s, the church was transferred to the Mortimer Family. In 1401 it was destroyed after being burned during the Glynd┼Ár Rising. Despite the fire, the very large pre-Norman baptismal font, which might be as old as 8th century, survived. It was rebuilt shortly afterwards and the font reinstalled. The new church building was reconstructed with embrasures in the merlons on the parapet, which has led to suggestions that it was intended to be a fortified church. However, beyond the embrasure which was uncommonly used for decoration, there is nothing else on the building that suggested that it was fortified. When it was reconstructed alongside the high altar, there was room for five chantry altars, though one was later shut off to become the vestry.

In the 15th century, a new stained glass window was installed in the church featuring Saint Catherine. Also installed in the church at the time were symbols relating to King Edward IV of England including the White Rose of York and the Black Bull of the Duke of Clarence. In the 16th century, the church underwent renovations with tributes to the House of Tudor. New choir stalls were installed and a new roof was fitted over the nave with Tudor Roses. A new Welsh tracery was also installed during this time. The rood screen is also notably fine.


St Stephen's Church is reported to have the oldest organ in the British Isles, potentially dating originally to the 15th century, though Cadw states that it is not in its original form. The organ's case dates to the 16th century, and there are suggestions that it was installed before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which makes it one of the earliest surviving organ cases. It has been suggested by historians that future composer and organist of several cathedrals, John Bull learned to play the organ on the one at St Stephen's Church. It was later restored in 1872 by F. H. Sutton, who installed new organ pipes and linenfold panels. Though it is not known why such an organ was installed in a village church, it has been stated that its remote location was a contributing factor to its state of survival.


The main churchyard contains a war grave of a Machine Gun Corps soldier of World War I, and the churchyard extension one of a Manchester Regiment soldier of World War II.



Your name


Founded: 15th century
Category: Religious sites in United Kingdom

More Information


4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

PIOTR K (4 years ago)
Huw Morgan (4 years ago)
Paul Wood (6 years ago)
An interesting church with a fantastic view
Susie Jones (8 years ago)
A lovely church well worth a visit! The grand organ case is the earliest surviving in the British Isles. The church also has a stunning carved rood screen from late 15th century and an enormous stone font, possibly dating to the 8th century! While you're at the church you can stop to appreciate the beautiful views of the Radnor Valley.
Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick.