It’s thought that the original Llanrhos church was built and dedicated to St Mary by Prince Maelgwn of Gwynedd in the sixth century. In 546AD he was elected by the Welsh Chiefs as their head and thus became, at least nominally, King of all the Britons.
He clashed with St Padarn, who had founded a monastery at Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth, and sought to convert heathen rulers to Christianity. Maelgwn resided in Deganwy Castle but eventually took refuge in Llanrhos church from a dreadful plague, Fad Felen or yellow pestilence. One story says that he looked through the window and saw the “Yellow Lady” approaching. He fell ill and died. It’s said that he was buried under the south door.
The church, now known as St Hilary’s, was rebuilt by the Cistercian monks of Aberconwy abbey in about 1282. The Church in Wales’ records still identify it as the Church of St Mary & St Eleri. Some say Hilary is the anglicised Eleri, others say the name Hilary, 4th-century Bishop of Poitiers in France, came with the Cistercians.
The Cistercians built a religious house nearby, it’s believed. Ancient tombstones were found during the Second World War in the field across the main road. This area is still known as Gardd-y-Mynachdy, the monastery garden.
One of the interesting objects in the church is an inscribed Roman-British stone, found in a wall at Bodafon (east of Llandudno) and installed in the church in 1908 (see photo above right). The inscription appears to be a memorial to a local Christian. It reads: SANCT ANUS SACER ---S. Various scholars have achieved no meaningful translation.
The church has one of the earliest parochial lending libraries (pictured left), installed by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in 1712. The books are gone but the original catalogue of the books and their costs is still fixed to the door.
The church was extensively restored between 1820 and 1865 with donations from the Mostyn family, the local landowners who lived at nearby Gloddaeth Hall . They still use the family burial plot in the churchyard. Inside the church, on the west wall, are memorials to the Wynne family of Plas Mawr, Conwy, into which the Mostyns married.
The stained-glass windows are of interest. In the Mostyn Chapel it’s thought that the green painted centre pieces are German and much older than the window itself. The east window, above the altar, is said to be of high quality and contains a great deal of rare pink glass – made by mixing gold and urine!
Why not visit the churchyard to view some interesting gravestones?
St Mary’s Well, rediscovered in 1993, is west of the church.With thanks to John Lawson-Reay, of the Llandudno & Colwyn Bay History Society, and the Rev Robert Griffiths
Postcode: LL30 1RW