St Martin’s Church, Eglwysbach
The earliest written record of St Martin’s Church dates from 1254, when the church belonged to the diocese of St Asaph. In 1284 it transferred to Maenan Abbey as part of the resettlement agreement which allowed King Edward I to build the walled town of Conwy on the site of Aberconwy Abbey. The church reverted to the diocese in 1540. The church was rebuilt in c.1782, after the previous one became dilapidated.
The church is dedicated to St Martin, a fourth-century Roman soldier who converted to Christianity after dreaming of Christ wearing the half of his cloak which he had given to a beggar. He became Bishop of Tours, France. In the Middle Ages, a garment said to be Martin’s cappa (cloak) was taken around Europe. Shacks known as capelli were erected to house the cloak on its travels, and the word chapel (capel in Welsh) comes from this.
St Martin is depicted in the church’s east window, installed in 1950 by public subscription in thanksgiving for deliverance after the Second World War. The village’s war memorial consists of plaques at the church entrance.
Near the altar are a table and marble tablet in memory of John Forbes of Bodnod (later renamed Bodnant), who died in 1821. He had distinguished himself during the American War of Independence, notably in the British victory at Germantown against soldiers led by George Washington.
There are numerous memorials, in the church and churchyard, to the Holland family which resided at Pennant Hall from the 15th to 19th centuries. The family claimed descent from one of Owain Glyndŵr’s lieutenants.
King George III’s coat of arms adorns the church’s west wall. Llanrwst painter Robert Roberts was commissioned to paint it and other objects in 1810 but evidently had some difficulty painting a lion’s face, perhaps because he had never seen a lion!
The weathervane on the tower was made in the local smithy.
The jawbone of radical writer Thomas Paine, author of Rights of Man, was probably buried in the churchyard. He had died in the USA in 1809. His bones were exhumed 10 years later and taken to Liverpool where they were refused entry to Britain, according to a letter (written in 1909) by a relative of one of the port’s excise officers. The ship’s captain took the bones back onto his ship but gave the excise officer the jawbone “as a relic”. The officer’s widow later married Richard Beverley, who became master of Eglwysbach school. His daughter thought it was sacrilege to have a human body part in the house. She dropped it into a newly dug grave shortly before a youth was buried there. Nobody knows which grave it was.
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