St Rhychwyn’s Church, Llanrhychwyn

Link to French translationSt Rhychwyn’s Church, Llanrhychwyn

This remote location above the Conwy Valley may have been used for Christian worship since the 6th century. Rhychwyn, or Rhochwyn, was one of the 12 sons of Helig ap Glannog, who lost his court, known as Llys Helig, when the sea inundated it. As a result of this loss, the sons lived devout lives, some as monks.

Llanrhychwyn denotes the walled enclosure (llan) of Rhychwyn. To hear how to pronounce Llanrhychwyn, press play: Or, download mp3(20KB)

The current church was originally a one-room chapel, probably built in the 12th century. Part of the south wall by the doorway may date from the 11th century. It is said to be the oldest surviving church structure in Wales. It allows us to see what Welsh churches looked like before the Normans’ influence.

Llywelyn Fawr, Prince of Wales, and his wife Joan worshipped here in the early 13th century when they stayed at their Trefriw lodge. Joan complained that the walk to church was tiring – 2km uphill from Trefriw followed by 2km downhill. It’s said that Llywelyn founded St Mary’s Church in Trefriw to save her this effort.

Photo of Llanrhychwyn east windowSt Rhychwyn’s Church was extended in the 14th century and the 16th, suggesting that the old church continued to flourish long after St Mary’s was established.

Ancient artefacts here include the font from the 11th century and pulpit from the 17th. The bell dates from the 13th century and may once have hung in Maenan Abbey. The east window (pictured right) has coloured images of the Virgin Mary and of the Holy Trinity. This type of colouring is rare, and this example is probably the oldest of its kind in Wales.

The church is still used for occasional services – see the parish website for times.

A well dedicated to St Rhychwyn is located in the woods south of the church, accessible on foot but via a circuitous route which crosses some uneven terrain.

With thanks to Tom Clifton

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Parish website