Historic Chapels in Wales
Welsh Chapels and Churches
I have always wanted to create my own article on these beautiful old buildings. They are so deeply part of the landscape and they are often nestled in the most unlikely of places. Any trip to Wales must include a visit to a few of them. The variety is enormous; many are of Victorian origin, the age when every Welshman went to church and Mary Jones walked to Bala barefoot to buy her first bible. Some are merely shell-like ruins. But some survive from the middle ages albeit often with substantial Victorian refurbishment. Whatever form they take, the history of these little treasures is fascinating and I hope you enjoy reading about them.
Picture is St Mary's in Builth Wells.
But you are welcome to use them under creative commons.
First of all I entirely admit that which is the best chapel is very subjective but this chapel has to be near the top of any list. Nestled in the Dysynni Valley with Cader Idris as a backdrop this chapel is lovingly cared for even though services are no more than once per month. It has several claims to fame. First it has a slanted window on the north side that gives a view of the pulpit. The story is that this window was made for lepers so that they could watch the preacher without having to be in the church and 'spread' the disease. Second it is the closest chapel to where Mary Jones lived. Mary heard about the bible being printed in Welsh and walked all the way to Bala to get her copy. This voyage of destiny resulted in the bible of Wales going into full print production for everyone.
I should also mention the setting deep within the Dysynni valley the location is truly awesome and there is even an Edward VII wall post box mounted outside. The only one of this type that I have seen. Finally inside the chapel there is a knitted quilt that is a map of the Dysynni Valley and all the features of the valley are picked out in fabric. Quite remarkable. Closeby are the ruins of Castelle y Bere, a true Weslh castle built by Dafydd ap LLewelyn back in the times of Edward I of England.
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Can you identify this church?
I have many photos of Welsh chapels collected over the years of visiting Wales and now living in Wales. I have been able to identify all of my old photographs except for this one. I know it is in North Wales possibly Bangor or Conway but on searching Google I have not been able to pin it down. Any help my readers can give me would be appreciated. Enjoy the search !
St Micheal in Betws-y-Coed dates from the 14th century and is the oldest surviving building in Betws-y-Coed. It is located close to the River Conwy in a large graveyard close to the railway station from which there is easy access. In 1873 a new church of St Mary's was built on the main street of the town. This was a larger building and more accessible but it also meant St Michael went into decline. Through the 20th century it went into steady decline and services were reduced until eventually the church closed. By 1990 the church was in a very poor condition. The roof leaked and there was plaster damage inside. So in 1994 the friends of St Michael was formed to raise awareness of the building and raise funds to make repairs.
Since the Church of Wales had no further use for the building, it was leased to St Michael Trust (Charity Number 1081038 and is now run by the friends as a tourist attraction but not as a functioning church. Although the odd service takes place and it is rented out for weddings. The architecture is studied inside and out by students and there is an ancient stone effigy to Gruffydd ap Dafydd Goch. Little is known of this son of Wales but he is related to the Welsh Royal line of princes and the 'Goch'may be a reference to his flaming red hair.
St Cybi was a widely traveled monk who founded churches in Cornwall, Wales and Ireland. He founded a monastery on Holy Island within the walls of the old Roman Fort. The current church stands on this site today. While a church has stood on this site since 554, the current churches earliest parts are 13th century for the chancel and 15th century for the rest. Nevertheless the walls that surround the church are Roman and form a beautiful peaceful enclave within the busy port of Holyhead.
The church was sacked several times, by the vikings and then during Henry IV's reign and the Glyndwr rebeliion. Finally the church was occupied as a watchtower by Cromwell's troops in 1650 at which time the height of the tower was raised to give a better view! Recently the church was awarded a lottery grant to help renovate the venerable structure. It remains a popular tourist attraction for Anglesey and the town of Holyhead.
Welsh Chapels - Further Reading for the serious tourist !
A guide to sites that provide in depth knowledge and information of Welsh Chapels.
I am very very proud of St Cadfan because it is my hometown church and it has the tomb of a knight who fought at the battle of Agincourt! The church dates from the 12th century but contains a stone with writing that dates to the 8th or 9th century. The transepts and chancel are all Victorian rebuilds but the knave is pure 12th century. The tower fell down in 1693 and the current tower is Victorian also. The knight within the church is Gruffudd ab Adda who is supposed to have fought at the battle of Agincourt with Henry V. There is a damp patch by his eye where moisture forms in cold weather and thus gives him the name of the crying knight. He died in 1350 so he obviously made it back to live a relatively long medieval life. Today St Cadfan's is a thriving church and a strong central presence in the community of Tywyn. I can personally recommend the strawberry teas in spring, the carol services and the cherry bloosoms in spring give the church a fairy tale quality.
If I am allowed a personal request, start your trek at St Cadfan's. You will not be disappointed. :-)
St Fagans, Near Cardiff
A beautiful church located in the small village of St Fagan's north west of Cardiff, the church dates from 1300, was added to in the 14th century, the tower was built in the 18th century but everything was extensively renovated in Victorian times to the extent that it is now virtually a Victorian church. Nevertheless it is quite stunning and beautiful for what it is. St Fagans is particularly famous for a battle in 1648 that took place closeby in the civil war. The nearby farm of Lower Stockland was the in the thick of the fighting at which the roundheads were victorious.
Builth Wells (Llanfair-ym-Muallt)
St Mary's holds a prominent position at the centre of the town of Builth Wells however it may be missed from the main road as the main bridge crosses the River Wye and heads east away from the town. The site dates from Norman times but as with most churches little if anything remains of the early building. The tower dates from the 14th century while the main body of the church including the nave, aisles and chancels date from Victorian reconstruction. Close examination has revealed that a few older features such as windows may have been inserted into the Victorian matrix but none of this is certain. St Mary's tower is massive for a church this size and shows some signs of being heightened some time in its past but it is still mostly the intact 13th century tower.
St Peter ad Vincula
Known in English as St Peter in Chains this small village church is steeped in history. Today's church is basically a 16th century church heavily restored in the 19th century. But this does not belie its rich history. Pennal is the site of a Roman Fort and the church itself was founded in the 6th century by Celtic missionaries. It is particularly famous for a visit by Owain Glyndwr in 1406 when the Pennal letter was written and signed by him at the church. The church has connections with a church in Jerusalem and a chapel in the Tower of London of a similar name. The graveyard is a traditional circular form that suggests prehistoric connections but a recent widening of the main A493 has resulted in modifications to the south side. I took this photo in March 2011 when the roof was being re slated.
A beautiful chapel, this is an example of what happens when the use of a church falls and the congregation is no more. Llanuwchllyn chapel is a superb example of a Victorian Welsh Chapel but in recent years the attendance collapsed so that today the church is closed and is looking for a buyer who will probably convert it into a building with a secular function. It is sad but a worse fate would be for the building to be torn down. The church is built on the site of an older church that was dedicated to St Deiniol who was a 6th century monk. Inside the chapel is an effigy of a 14th century knight and an ancient communion plate depicting the last temptation of Christ. Whatever happens to the chapel I hope these artifacts are still available to to the public to see.
West Wales went through a considerable population increase in the 19th century especially with the improvement of roads and later, the coming of the railways. This created pressure on the local churches to provide sufficient space to accommodate the growing congregations. Rector T G Roberts applied for permission to build a new church in Barmouth and this was granted on the condition that the money to build it were raised by subscription. This proved to be a popular method of finding funds for building projects and the result in this case was the handsome church of St Davids, designed in 1830 and built in the succeeding years. St Davids stands at the south end of the town in an area that was subject to sand drifts and this caused some resistance to the plans at the time. Today the sand is no longer a threat and the church continues in its role of serving the town even with the subsequent building of St John's in 1895.
I would love to know if you like this sample of chapels. I will add more as I visit them so please check back at a later date.