St Illtud’s Church, Llantwit Major

St Illtud’s Church, Llantwit Major

llantwit_major_samson_pillarThis churchyard is thought to be Britain’s earliest centre of Christian learning. St Illtud founded a religious community here c.500AD. Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major) denotes the llan (enclosure) of Illtud. His pupils travelled as far away as Brittany to preach the Gospel and establish new centres of worship.

Rulers in the region regarded the church as their “Westminster Abbey”. They were commemorated here by large stones, carved with Celtic patterns and Latin inscriptions. Several of the stones have survived. One, known as the Samson Pillar (pictured right), was discovered in the churchyard in 1789 by stonemason Edward Williams, who as “Iolo Morgannwg” founded the Gorsedd of Bards.

St Illtud’s Church is in two connected sections. The western part was built by the Normans on the site of its Celtic predecessor. The eastern part was built in the 13th century for the workers of the local monastic grange, which had been established with land given to Tewkesbury Abbey by Robert Fitzhammon. Local residents worshipped in the western section, where the current roof dates from the 15th century.

The church containllantwit_major_jesse_niches medieval wall paintings and a 13th-century Jesse niche (pictured left), a kind of family tree leading to Jesus Christ at the top. The reredos (carved screen) is also medieval.

The Galilee Chapel, at the far western end of the church, was in ruins until 2013, when it was restored and roofed to form an enclosed space for display and conservation of the Celtic stones.

The church organ was previously in The Ham, a local mansion. It was played by the French composer Gabriel Fauré in 1898 while he was staying at Llandough Castle.

On the south side of the churchyard is a building ruined by a Second World War bomb which, by tradition, was a priest's home before the Reformation.

With thanks to Nigel Williams of Llantwit Major History Society

Postcode: CF61 1SG     View Location Map

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