In the 13th century, the Church of St.Mary the Virgin, in Welsh Newton was built, consisting of a nave, chancel and tower, with the porch being added in the 14th century.
St.Mary the Virgin was a Knights Templar Church up until 1312, and with the end of the order passed into the hands of the Knights Hospitaller. In 1540 at the height of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, so ordered by King Henry VIII, the Knights Hospitaller saw their possessions seized, and never be returned.
One of the church’s greatest possessions has to be the 1320 Rood Screen, built from stone, displaying a decorated ball flower. Her roof dates back to the 16th century, and much of its original roof remains to this day.
The churchyard covers two acres, surrounded by a fine stone wall, added in 1866. The preaching cross, comes complete with medieval steps and stone sockets, complete with modern shaft. To the west of the cross, lies the grave of Saint John Kemble. Within the church and graveyard many Templar Knights and Hospitaller graves can be found.
The grave of the martyred Catholic priest can be found within the gravestones. Despite harsh anti-Catholic laws, persecution depended upon sympathies of local landowners. From 1622 a Jesuit College existed in the area, and worshippers at Dingestow observed sixty Catholics marching past on route to Mass.
In 1678 Titus Oates concocted lies that there was a Jesuit conspiracy to murder the king. William Bedloe also laid out false information concerning Catholics living in the area.
One who suffered much from the prevailing hysteria was John Kemble, born a Catholic at St.Weonards, some five miles north of Welsh Newton, and studied for the priesthood at Douai English College.
Ordained in 1625, and served as a Catholic priest for more than fifty years, based at Pembridge Castle, gaining much respect from Protestant admirers.
In 1651, his nephew Richard Kemble saved the life of King Charles II at the ‘Battle of Worcester.’
In 1678 as anti-Catholic furore came to a head, John Kemble dismissed warnings that he could be prosecuted for his beliefs, he just declared to those listening, that he would be prepared to die for his Christ. Father Kemble was staying at Pembridge Castle, when he was arrested on the 7th December 1678.
In 1679 he was sentenced to be hanged for being ordained and a practising Catholic priest, which was seen as an act of treason. The eighty-year old Kemble was strapped backwards upon a horse, and taken to Newgate prison in London to answer. Here he tried to gain his freedom, by disclosing Titus Oates plot to assassinate King Charles II. Then forced to walk back to Hereford.
On the 22nd August 1679, the Catholic priest was dragged to Widemarsh Common, where he declared upon the scaffold, that he be prepared to die for his beliefs, and forgave his enemies. First, he was executed upon the scaffold, before being drawn and quartered.
His body rests in St.Mary the Virgin graveyard in Welsh Newton. One of his hands can be found at St.Francis Xavier Church in Hereford.
John Kemble was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929 and Canonized on the 25th October 1970 by Pope Paul VI.