THE loss of a "crumbling" medieval church would leave an "abyss" in the heart of Chepstow according to a conservation group aiming to save the structure.

St Mary’s Priory has been at the heart of the town for more than 950 years, after being built by William Fitzosbourne, second cousin to William the Conqueror, around the same time he built Chepstow Castle.

But now, as is the case for many churches built centuries ago, the historic building could face having to close its doors unless it can raise enough cash to keep afloat.

A local group, the Friends of St Mary’s Priory Church has decided that they will not stand by and let this happen.

(Video: Ollie Barnes)

"There's not been anything spent on the building for decades," said Karen Barthram, a member of the Friends.

"Upkeep costs are supposed to fall to the congregation, which is now elderly and dwindling.

"It’s an icon and we don’t want to see it go."

The group say that an initial figure of around £1 million is required to begin sorting out all the structural issues which currently plague the church.

The Friends' Paul Goldfinch said that some of the major issues facing the church structurally were damp and the age of the stone.

"Some of the stonework is just falling away," he explained.

"Fortunately, the roof isn’t too bad.

"Inside the towers are inaccessible due to the state of the stonework."

He said such a job required specialist craftsmen due to the Grade I-listed status of the building.

"A five-year survey of the building, done nearly four years ago said that half a million pounds were needed for essential works," he said.

"We’re due for another survey next year."

The group have already begun fundraising, but say that the campaign "needs to be bigger and better".

"In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a drop in the ocean so far," said Helen Sjoberg.

"It’s just gorgeous, what more can I say. It would be like an abyss if it wasn’t here.

"It would have been the centre of the town. We want to restore it to a useful and purposeful building."

Mr Goldfinch said the loss would be architectural as well as social.

"People still wish to be married, baptised and have memorial services here," he said.

"It’s also a quiet place for people to come if they are feeling low and in need of prayer or social contact. Help is also given at the church to people suffering with alcohol and drug addiction."

The Friends say that they have contacted Monmouth MP David Davies for his support and received a positive reply.

As well as Mr Davies, the prime minister, the local lord lieutenant and even Prince Charles have been called upon to help save St Mary’s.

"Not everyone understands the severity of the problem," Ms Sjoberg said.

Future fundraising events include a rock concert, to be held in the church in May.

There is also to be an art exhibition for a week from Easter Monday, with all the pieces being sold to raise extra funds.

Details of how to join the Friends of St Mary’s Priory are available at the church, near the town centre.