The origin of the placename Llandenny is lost in the mists of time but there is a little evidence to enlighten us. A charter from about A.D. 781 records a land transaction associated with the placename Mathenny, which has been interpreted as Maes Tenni, the field of Tenni. Alas then, there is no Saint Denny, nor is the church dedicated to anyone with this name.
Llandenny Church appears in the charter of Usk Priory, in 1330, where it, together with the tithes and rents from the parish and lands there, is granted to the nuns serving the Church of St Mary. Between 1895 and 1953, Llandenny had its own Vicar, who lived next door to the church. It is now grouped with the parishes of Raglan (as it was in former times) and Bryngwyn to the north and north-west.
The church is approached through a fine lych-gate, restored by Lord Raglan. It is said that there are on it several mason's marks that also appear on stones at Raglan Castle. There is also a restored Preaching Cross. There are a number of young yew trees, and part of the enclosure is kept as a Nature reserve.
Although there is relatively little to see now of the Norman church, that it was a Norman church is without doubt. As you enter the south door, you cannot fail to notice the semi-circular archway. It does not seem that Llandenny ever possessed a richly carved doorway, such as we see in many Norman churches, but we can speculate that above the door there would have been a richly carved tympanum, perhaps depicting a tree of life, but the local sandstone has not lasted well.
Inside, almost opposite the entrance, you will see a perfectly preserved Norman window, with its small glass panes flush with the outside wall and with a deeply splayed recess. That this window is undoubtedly old is attested to by the way the buttress outside is butted away so as to avoid the window opening.
The proportions of the building indicate its early Norman origin, as it seems certain that during the later alterations, such as the insertion of more modern windows, the main structure of the walls, doors and so on would have been preserved. It is difficult to imagine how the Church would have looked then because it would have been plastered throughout (the plaster was only removed about a hundred years ago) and brightly painted with religious and secular decorations. There survive some slight indications of the positions of other windows.
By the pulpit there are two recesses of unknown purpose. They may have been an aumbry where altar vessels, linen and service books were stored.
At the western end there is a three-staged castellated tower, with a steep spiral staircase of oak in the north-east corner. This emerges via a small castellated turret onto the roof, from which fine views of the Olway Valley and the surrounding district may be observed. In the tower is a ring of six bells, originally given to Raglan Church by Miss Bosenquet in 1860. The story is that she later decided that they were too noisy, and had them sent here! They are in need of substantial restoration and cannot be rung.
The church was restored in Victorian times with the addition of a vestry which contains a plain wooden parish chest dating from 1749, a porch (which served as the school for a period) and a series of steps leading up to the altar.
The Rood Screen
In the south wall is all that remains of the rood loft; a short spiral staircase lit by a small window, that would have led to the top of a carved screen that served to separate the secular nave from the consecrated chancel. Above the screen there would have been the Holy Rood; a carving of Christ on the cross, waited upon by Mary and St John, the Apostle and Evangelist (to whom the church is now dedicated). Rood screens mostly date from the 14th century, and were almost all destroyed after a decree issued in 1560. Three surviving examples in the area well worth a visit are at Llangwm, Bettws Newydd and Partrishow.
Traditionally, the font would have been by the main entrance, symbolising the entry into the Church of the person being baptised.
In Llandenny, it is still possible to see where it was before being moved to its present position in the tower.
It has an ornamented octagonal bowl, and is dated 1661. On the font the names, "Morgan Perkins and Thomas Williams, Churchwardens" are inscribed alongside the date of 1661. Hando suggests that the font was presented by two old oryalists who rejoiced in the end of puritan austerity and the return of Stuart. (ref. Llandenny04 Hando001.tif)
On the window ledge by the font there is what may be the remains of a piscina and stoup, supposedly dug up in a field called Church Field.
This is a single stone slab, as were all altars in pre-Reformation times. We can find no trace of the usual five incised consecration crosses that symbolise the five wounds of Christ.
The visitor will be struck by the large, carved oak memorial panels in the chancel. These were made by a former vicar, Joshua Stansfield, earlier this century. Other work of his can be seen in Whitebrook Chapel.
(source: @G.K. Russell. M.O. Russell, 1996)