Now in the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches, St Mary’s has been saved from neglect and is now a wonderful work in progress. A single chambered church, white washed and scaffolded, the little village surrounds the medieval building. It boasts a rather lovely rood screen, dated to around the late 15th or early 16th centuries. The rood itself displays the skills of the Welsh carpenters that created it, although the original bright colouring has long since worn away. The rood screen is itself an uncommon sight in Wales, but even more surprising is the rood loft accompanying the screen. A very rare survival indeed, and one of only a handful in the whole of Wales. Most were destroyed, of course, in the Tudor Reformation and subsequent Puritanical vandalism, but it would seem that the isolation of Derwen saved this treasure, along with the churchyard cross. Stairs lead up to the loft, and a fine view of the church interior is afforded. Careful examination of the loft shows again the superb carpentry of foliage and tracery. Lofts were used to display the rood (a cross or crucifix), of which the socket remains, to the congregation, but would also be used by preachers and, as at Llangar, musicians and singers. Such wonders show how churches often looked before the ravages of the Reformation.
In the churchyard, other than the famous cross, is the Church House. This two storied building has had an interesting and busy history. It was probably used as a vestry and certainly as a village school, for it is thought that the children used to climb the cross and indeed caused some damage. It was also used as a a lych gate and a hearse house, and the remains of the doorway can be viewed from the road. Also, note the 17th century double bell cote, currently under repair.
In the north east corner of the churchyard used to be the Blue Bell Inn, which by all accounts had a door which entered into the churchyard. Ball games, including fives, were often played against the Church walls on a Sunday, as they commonly were all over the area, and an ale or two in the inn after play was a welcome reward, with the players nipping through the door into the Blue Bell. Well as it might be, it seems the Church authorities had other ideas and unceremoniously bricked up access to the pub. A minor inconvenience perhaps, but the point was made.
There is work to be done in returning the church to its former glory, and that work is undergoing. It remains a beauty, a place of serenity in a peaceful part of the country.
The Church is generally unlocked and you are free to enter, although a little gumption is required to open the door. Donations are gratefully accepted, of course, in order to aid its restoration by the Friends of Friendless Churches.