Over the past few weeks I have been visiting some of the small churches and chapels in the Conwy Valley, North Wales to photograph them. Some of the churches are easy to find, others not so, being located down remote country lanes or on the top of mountains.
Claimed to be the oldest church in Wales, Saint Rhychwyn’s at Llanrhychwyn, allegedly marks the site where Rhychwyn established his church in the 6th century. The church is known locally as Llewelyn’s Church, and the oldest part dates from the late 11th century.
Set within an ancient churchyard, the church is a good example of early architecture.
The east aisle was added in the 13th century, and the north aisle dates from the 16th century. It has a very old square font, as old as the church itself, and an early example of stained glass in the east window. The roof beams, some 800 years old, are the earliest example in Wales. The ancient oak door has wooden hinges, and the bell, which dates from the 13th century, possibly came from Maenan Abbey. The altar rails date from 1616, and the pulpit from 1691. The chalice is dated 1614 and is of an ornate design. The registers date from 1594.
Down is the valley at Trefriw is the parish church of Saint Mary’s. Llywelyn Fawr, Prince of Gwynedd and de facto Prince of Wales, had a hunting lodge, known in documents as Y Ty Ddu, near Llyn Geirionydd, close to Llanrhychwyn. Llywelyn married Siwan or Joan a daughter of King John of England in 1205. In about 1230 Llywelyn endowed another church for the local community living on the valley bottom, on the site where St Mary’s, Trefriw now stands.
Heavy remodelling in the 15th and 16th centuries, and again in the 19th century.means none of the original church built by Llywelyn in the 13th century remains, except possibly for part of the wall of the south aisle. A 17th-century altar remains in the church, although the one used is a larger Victorian example. The carved hexagonal pulpit dates from 1633, and the church possesses a “Breeches” Bible of 1589, (another term for the Geneva Bible of 1560). There is also a silver chalice inscribed “the cuppe of Trefriw, 1701”, and registers date from 1594.
Llywelyn and Siwan are portrayed in a remarkable stained glass window in the church.
The simple exterior of the building hides its lavish interior. The chapel is built without a division between chancel and nave, and is very Catholic in its decoration scheme – not too surprising when you consider that Wynn consulted with a Jesuit priest over part of the design.
The interior retains much of its 17th century character. The most interesting feature is the ceiling, painted as a celestial firmament, with angels, doves, cherubs, and other allegorical symbols mixed amid symbols of the sun, moon, and stars.
There are carved and painted wooden cherubs attached to the wall panelling. A royal coat of arms of Charles the Second is set upon the south wall.
This is just a short trip around 3 of the churches I have been visiting in the last few weeks. As you can see some of them have very simple decorations, others are ornate with stained glass or painted ceilings. One thing they have in common; all are steeped in history.
Please remember that churches and chapels are places of worship and contemplation so please respect this should you visit. Many rely on donations to keep them in good repair so if you can please put something in the collection box. Before taking photographs check if it is allowed.