St Mary's Church, Gwaenysgor

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St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Gwaenysgor

A dilapidated church existed in Wenescol (Gwaenysgor) when the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086. The Normans built a new church, parts of which may be incorporated in the church we see today – for example the stonework of the wide doorway into the church. The unusual wooden doorframe there is possibly from the early 16th century. Carvings on it include a bird and perhaps its nest.

The churchyard’s rounded shape suggests the site was a Romano-British cemetery. Finds from that era include a miniature bronze horse figure and a milestone, and legend has it that Queen Boudica fought her last battle against the Romans at Gop Hill, about 1.5km south east of the church. She and her daughters drank poison after the battle, and it’s said that the ghosts of Boudica and a Roman general on horseback roam this area.

In 1538 King Henry VIII ordered all parishes to keep registers of events such as marriages, burials and baptisms. Gwaenysgor’s register is the only one in Wales which has survived since that year.

The church’s large porch dates from the 16th or 17th century. Non-religious community activities would take place there, such as inquests, readings of wills and trials of people accused of minor offences.

The font, copying the one in Lincoln Cathedral, was made in the early 13th century. Marks on the edge of the bowl may have been etched by youths sharpening their swords and arrow-heads during Sunday-afternoon archery practice in the churchyard.

In the north wall is a blocked 14th-century doorway, said to have been the “Devil’s Door” (Drws y Cythraul). People who had not been baptised could enter the church here, as could people who had been excommunicated from the church. Whenever a baby entered for baptism, the door was quickly slammed to stop the devil following the infant.

The church also has a “leper’s squint”, a small window giving a view of the altar so that lepers could follow the service from outside.

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