IT WAS the last afternoon of the old year. A break in the clouds tempted us, and as is usual, we let the car decide our direction.

As we reached Clarence Place we espied a rainbow north-eastwards, and, of course, the car thereupon made for it. We lost the rainbow near Llangibby, and the sky became overcast.

Even the river alongside the road as we left Usk looked old and grey, and the fields which the week before had sparkled with frost now seemed sad and sodden.

Then came the rain, and we drew up at the great viewpoint beyond Bettws Newydd, and waited, and talked of the old year and the rain, and of marzipan and electrically-driven toy trains and summer holidays in the New Year.

Gold in the west heralded the last light of the day—and the year. The Blorenge, the Sugar Loaf, and the mutilated Skirrid came through, and the river sparkled.

The dear little church, so perfectly right in its setting, so decorous in its colouring, sanctified this scene on the left, just as the Holy Mountain, rent in twain when Christ was crucified, sancti-fied it on the right.

Llanfair Kilgeddin-the church of St. Mary, built on the site of a hermit's cell beckoned to us, but the day was far spent, and we turned homewards into the sunset, while the river alongside the road glowed and flickered in violet and gold.

Three days later we set out again, an arrived at Llanfair Kilgeddin just a the Vicar (who is Vicar also of Llanfi hangel Gobion and Llangattock) was about to depart.

While Robert engaged him in animate conversation about Foxhunter, who was not far away, I entered the beautiful church to inspect the sgraffito work.

When Mrs. Rosamund Lindsay died in 1885, her husband, the Vicar of Lianfair, commissioned Mr. Heywood Sumner to decorate the walls of his church in sgraffito, as a memorial to his wife, using as his inspiration selected passages from the Benedicite.

The method used in the ancient Italian process of sgraffito is to place on the well-damped surface a layer of white plaster about three-quarters of an inch in thickness, over which almost im-mediately is imposed another layer of coloured plaster. When all is set, a third layer of white plaster is applied, into which the outlines of the objects are deeply cut. The final effect, whether at Llanfair, or at Worcester, or St. Paul's is chaste and impressive.

Mr. Sumner has used the Monmouthshire scene for the Benedicite just as the Italian Renaissance artists used their villages for their immortal Nativities and Annunciations, and as Gauguin for similar subjects used the people of Tahiti.

In the lovely scene which I have copied below, you may see the Blorenge, the Sugar Loaf and the Skirrid, and the tiny tower of Llanfihangel Gobion Church, stylised for his purpose beneath the clouds and rainbow of a Gwent sky, while the Usk swirls between the flat meadows:

"O ye mountains and hills,

Bless ye the Lord

Praise Him and magnify him for ever."

My illustration in black-and-white gives but a poor impression of the quiet beauty of these mural pictures, and I can assure my readers that the decorations, planned and executed in a mood of spiritual exaltation, are not out of scale in a small country church.

This church, like so many in this island and on the Continent, has the axis of the chancel slewed away from the navel axis, symbolising the head of our Saviour, fallen sideways in death.

As we made our homeward way towards Chain Bridge, with the crimson sun setting behind some hilltop pines, we were thrilled to see on this third day of January, seven newly-born lambs.

It was as if Nature was conspiring with ecclesiastical art to fill our souls with heavenly beauty.

l Fred Hando's work is published courtesy of Chris Barber.