Stackpole Church, is dedicated to St James and St Elidyr, and goes back probably to the 12th century. It is situated in the village of Stackpole Elidor, otherwise known as Cheriton.
St James is, by tradition, the disciple and apostle St James and therefore the first martyr among the apostles, put to death by king Herod, as described in the Acts of the Apostles.
St Elidyr is a bit more of a puzzle. Henry Owen, in his book on Old Pembrokeshire Families, states Elidor de Stackpole founded the Church of Stackpole Elidor or Cheriton, and like other founders was afterwards to be the patron saint. It is generally considered that this is a correct assessment of the situation. It may well have been originally dedicated just to St James, and an indication of this possibility is that as late as 1733 Browne Willis in his Parochiale Anglicanum names St James as the sole patron of the Church of Stackpole Elidor.
Quite possibly the founding knight's name, Elidor, already incorporated in the name of the Parish, became associated with the St Elidor or Elidyr who was already established in the Church Calendar, and thus became added as a co-patron of the Church.
The layout of the Church is in the traditional cruciform shape, aligned East to West, with a chancel and nave flanked by two transepts. The tall, slender tower is undoubtedly the oldest part of the present structure, dating back probably to the 13th or late 12th century. It is of the typical South Pembrokeshire form, if anything even more slender than usual, and at present without stringcourse or battlement.
In 1807 the churchwardens stated that the Church was in good repair, but by 1828 they declared that the fabric, though in good repair, was very damp, and by 1848 it was recorded that "not one casement opens".
It appears that by 1851 the state of the fabric of the Church made a complete restoration essential, although the building had been carefully maintained until only a few years before. In 1851 John Frederick, first Earl Cawdor, engaged Sir George Gilbert Scott, the most respected English Church architect of the day, to direct the work of restoration.
The result, it is generally agreed, is the typical sound, workmanlike building that Scott produced in his renovations, with a typical tall, narrow chancel arch, colourful Minton tiles on the chancel floor and sanctuary walls, and the typical Middle English or Decorated style of tracery in the main windows. The transepts retain their 14th century vaulting, and the Lort chapel its rib vaulting. There were originally matching squints or hagioscopes on each side of the chancel arch, though the north squint was later blocked by the organ installed in 1874. In the south transept there is a small piscina, probably of the 14th century, which indicates there was probably a side altar there at the time.
In the chancel there are two striking effigies on tomb chests, traditionally identified with the founder of the Church, Sir Elidor de Stackpole and his wife, the Lady Elspeth. The style of the two effigies is considered to be considerably later than their period, but it was not uncommon for descendents to erect monuments to long dead forebears in contemporary style, as many church brasses bear witness. The legs of the knight's effigy are crossed, commonly interpreted as showing that the knight had been to the crusades. According to tradition, Sir Elidor de Stackpole went to the Crusades with Richard I, though Henry Owen discounts the story.
High up over the organ on the north wall of the chancel there is a marble memorial in the Italian Gothic style to Rear Admiral the Honourable George Pryse Campbell, and in the south transept there is a memorial to Ronald Elidor Campbell, killed in the Zulu war in 1879.
One of the two large hatchments on the north wall of the nave is that of the first Earl Cawdor, whose arms also appear in the tiling of the chancel floor, impaled with those of his wife. The other is the arms of Sarah Mary, Countess Cawdor, wife of John Frederick Vaughan, second Earl Cawdor.
The Lort Chapel
On the south side of the chancel there is a small chapel, known as the Lort Chapel, which contains a number of interesting monuments. Under the east window there is a rough pillar stone with a damaged Latin inscription, CAMULORIC -/- FILIFANNUC, Camulorix, son of Fannucus. Nothing more is known about the stone or its original location, but it may be that of an early chieftain of the district.
The most imposing tomb in the Lort Chapel is that of John first Earl Cawdor, by John Forsyth.
One of the most striking monuments in the chapel is that to Roger Lort, Lord of the Manor of Stackpole, who died in 1613. The figures of Roger Lort and his wife Abertha face each other, and underneath are depicted their seven sons and five daughters, all in deep mourning.
The East Window depicting the Crucifixion is also in memory of the same Sarah Mary, Countess Cawdor of the hatchment mentioned above. The glass in the small window in the tower was presented in memory of Frederick Archibald Vaughan, third Earl Cawdor, who died in 1911 and was Lord Lieutenant of Pembrokeshire, MP for Carmarthenshire from 1874 to 1885 and First Lord of the Admiralty in 1905. The glass in the south transept, depicting Lord Cawdor as Solomon directing the building of the Temple, was designed by O'Connor and presented to the Church by the inhabitants of the Stackpole estate in recognition of the first Earl's generosity in restoring the six Churches on the estate. The glass in the west window portrays the Law contrasted with the New Law of "as you do it to the least of these my brethren", but it is not known when it was installed or by whom.
The tower contains three bells, dating originally back to the 17th and 18th centuries, and recast in 1971. They are no longer mounted on wheels and are rung by a simple chiming system.
The lychgate was designed by Christopher Hatton Turnor (1873 -1940) in memory of John Frederick Vaughan, second Earl Cawdor, who died in 1881. Along the ridge are lead representations of the Galley of Lorne from the Cawdor arms.
The designer was the nephew of the wife of the third Earl, and was a much respected architect of his day, responsible, amongst other things, for designs for the Cairo museum. The gate is generally considered to be a significant example of art nouveau.