St Hywyn’s Church, Aberdaron
Some of this church’s fabric dates from the 12th century, when the King of Gwynedd replaced many wooden churches with sturdy stone structures. The church was a haven where any fugitive could stay for 40 days. From a stone “chair of peace” in the church judgment would be passed to settle local disputes. There was also a clas here, an institution of the Celtic church similar to a monastery but without allegiance to any monastic order.
St Hywyn’s Church was enlarged in the 14th and 15th centuries and needed restoration in the 19th century and 1906 after long neglect. In the 1990s new sea defences were installed to prevent the church being undermined.
The church’s position beside the sea underlines its relationship with Bardsey (Ynys Enlli), the island to the west. Saints Hywyn, Cadfan and Lleuddad travelled from Brittany to Aberdaron in the 6th century. Hywyn stayed put, preaching to the local residents from his basic wooden cell. St Cadfan crossed the water to Bardsey, where he set up a religious house which became a major destination for pilgrims. Legend has it that 20,000 saints are buried on the island. Records show that the churches at Aberdaron and on Bardsey remained intimately connected in the 15th century.
For almost 300 years from 1624, St John's College, Cambridge, was patron of Aberdaron parish. One priest during that period, Rowland Simpson, was expected to take Welsh-language services although he couldn’t speak Welsh.
The poet RS Thomas (1923-2000) was vicar of Aberdaron 1967-1978. He was born in Cardiff, son of a ship’s captain, and ordained in 1936. The landscape and people of Aberdaron provided poetic inspiration, and he continued to live nearby after retiring as vicar. One of his poems is carved on a slate which is displayed inside St Hywyn’s Church.
Postcode: LL53 8BE