St Tanwg’s – the church in the sand

A tiny medieval church nestled in the sand dunes at Llandanwg, near Harlech in west Wales. The present building dates back to the 13th Century but it has an ancient history, with the site itself dating  back to about 435AD, making it one of the very earliest Christian sites in Britain.  

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There are possible connections with St Patrick’s missionaries to Wales, as Llandanwg, along with Fishguard, was one of the main points of entry for visitors arriving from across the Irish Sea.

Inside the church, a 5th century inscribed stone refers to Ingenvus who is said to be a contemporary of St Patrick and the interesting thing about this stone is that it is not local stone but probably comes from the Wicklow mountains in Ireland.

The INGENVUS STONE, an 8ft high pillar grave stone

The church is dedicated to St Tanwg who was born on Anglesey and probably arrived here not long after a Christian foundation had been established at the site.

The church started to fall into disrepair after a new St Tanwg’s Church was built 2 miles away in Harlech in 1839, although it continued to be used for burials.
At one stage the roof had fallen in and the church became full of sand and briars and there are even reports of fishermen drying their nets on the nave.
Over the years the church has frequently had to be dug out of the sand and work to protect it from the sea and sand is ongoing.
Most of the graveyard lies underneath the sand dunes

However, no one wanted to lose such a special church and renovations were carried out at various times in the 20th Century, with major work in 1987.

Nowadays the church retains it’s simple medieval character and many of it’s original features. Services are held here again, particularly during the summer months and in 2000 it regained it’s licence to hold weddings again – and what a lovely, special place to get married in!

 The renovations in the 20th century  unearthed some fascinating ancient stones which provide proof that there has been a Christian foundation here since the earliest days of the Christian church in Britain. Below are parts of two inscribed gravestones from the 5th and 6th centuries and a cross from around the 9th century. These are of great historical importance.

The early 6th Century GERONTIUS STONE

The original bell had been removed to the new St Tanwg’s in Harlech but it was replaced in 1922 by this one (below left) which came from Doobeg in Co. Sligo, where it was used to summon farm workers to work.


Small Pilgrim Places

St Tanwg’s is on the Small Pilgrim Places Network .
These are special places in England and Wales that are small and peaceful and away from the madding crowds. Places for pondering, meditating, praying or just being, and they can be churches, wells, gardens , ruins or open spaces.
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