St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin

Sloping down to the seashore and pointing towards distant Bardsey Island, which appears as a smudge of shadow shaped like a jockey’s cap on the far horizon, is the medieval St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin, north of Towyn. The slope of the land shows sufficiently inside this atmospheric church to force the slate floor to lower the congregation a couple of meters below their minister, adding materially to the accepted status of the time. Behind their backs, the blue-green light of the waters of Cardigan Bay illuminates the reveals of the window in the church’s west wall. West of the churchyard’s plunging perimeter, the modern mainline coastal railway hugs the shoreline beneath, the distance between church and open waters being no more than 50 meters. Rock of ages indeed.

St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin, perched above Cardigan Bay
St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin, perched above Cardigan Bay

St. Celynin’s Church (not to be confused with the similarly-named Llangelynin Old Church with its St. Celynin’s Holy Well, which is to be found near the village of Henryd near Conwy in the shelter of Tal y Fan) is first mentioned in documents in 1254. On these shores, St. Celynin landed in the 6th century and is said to be buried on Bardsey Island. Westerly gales would have rung the church’s bell all winter, so it was built into a more sheltered bellcote above the south-facing porch. Its roof timbers date from the 15th century; the bell is inscribed with the date 1660. Tudor wall paintings, including a stern momento mori, were uncovered in 1660. Pale, open-backed pews dated to 1823 are inscribed in white lettering with the names of those who rented them each Sunday, specifying their property and their occupations. The churchyard wall and lych gate were rebuilt from public subscription in 1884. The church was restored and reopened in 1917. It is a Grade I listed building. Today, this medieval church is used for occasional “old church” services in Welsh.

In 2009 a medieval V-shaped fish trap was discovered on the shoreline beneath the church, its stone arms extending approximately 140 meters out into the sea beyond the low water mark.

St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin. Visible on the right is the end of the two-horse bier used for carrying coffins to the church.

On the south wall of the chancel hangs what looks like a wide ladder. It’s a two-horse bier, used to carry a coffin between two horses from the deceased’s hill farm to their final resting place in this shore-side church’s small graveyard. The People’s Collection of Wales website has an atmospheric photograph of the bier rigged between two horses.

St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin, facing Bardsey Island
St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin, facing Bardsey Island
The south-facing bellcote of St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
The south-facing bellcote of St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
Early 16th century roof timbers of St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
Early 16th century roof timbers of St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
Carved ten commandments in Welsh at St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
Carved ten commandments in Welsh at St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
The blue-green of Cardigan Bay waters illuminate the interior of St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
The blue-green of Cardigan Bay waters illuminate the interior of St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin
Tudor momento mori wall painting at St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin, discovered in 2003
Tudor momento mori wall painting at St. Celynin‘s Church at Llangelynnin, discovered in 2003