St Sadwrnen’s Church, Llansadwrnen, near Laugharne
The footpath crossing this ancient churchyard may once have linked the Roman Coygan Camp to the south with Cymbrwyn Roman villa, 3.2km (two miles) to the north west.
Itinerant early Christian preachers spoke from the churchyard’s preaching cross when churches were too tiny to hold everyone. The cross is long lost but its stepped base survives, now supporting an 1805 sundial (upper photo).
The oldest artefact here is the huge standing stone formerly built into the churchyard’s south wall. Inscribed in Latin, it’s a memorial to Totovali son of Dothorantus. These are names of Irish origin, indicating overlordship here by an Irish elite in the 6th century. Several other sites in the area have ancient inscribed stones.
The name Sadwrnen is also early. There was a bishop of St Davids of that name in the 9th century – he may be the church’s dedicatee.
When the church was rebuilt in the 19th century, the piscina (lower photo) and 15th-century east window were rescued from the predecessor church. They and the steps of the preaching cross suggest local wealth was invested in the medieval church.
Sailors used the church as a navigation aid when they needed to find Laugharne harbour. Trading from Cornwall, Devon and Bristol, they may well have carried pilgrims bound for St Davids. The pilgrims could have given thanks in Laugharne’s former Mariners’ Chapel and prayed at the cross on the Grist, before heading up Stoneway and past Roche Castle on ancient tracks before reaching here. Two visits to St Davids came to be rated equivalent to one to Rome.
Peter Williams, born in the parish at West Marsh Farm, was baptised at St Sadwrnen’s Church on 15 January 1723. He went on to produce an annotated edition of the Welsh Bible, the first to be printed in Wales. Issued in affordable one-shilling parts, over 18,000 copies were printed in his lifetime, helping to revive the Welsh language.
The church building was totally reconstructed in 1859-60 in just four months by Thomas David of Laugharne, using local red or green Old Red Sandstone plus some decorative small blocks of Coygan limestone for voussoirs over the window arches. The new design. by Edward Morton Goodwin, combined the porch and tower with a tiny vestry at the base of the tower (into which is inserted, unusually, a rose window). The design was unique, attractive and low-cost.
Mary Curtis, writing in 1880, recorded an earlier local custom of ‘Whitsun Ale’. Locals would brew ale ready for Whitsun when crowds would arrive at church to start partaking of the brews. Drinking continued in local houses for the rest of the day until a comfortable state of intoxication had been reached!
In the words of Glyn Bryan, the rector’s warden in 2006: “Right up to the latter years of the 20th century, when it was still used as a navigation point for ships and aircraft, Llansadwrnen Church has been a physical and spiritual beacon of hope.”
With thanks to Peter Stopp, of Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society
Postcode: SA33 4RJ View Location Map