Anglesey has an abundance of ancient churches with histories going back to the early Welsh Saints. Some have interesting features or history and some are just in the most beautiful settings in the landscape. I’ve chosen two lesser known ones here, both redundant except for the occasional service.
St Mary’s, Tall-y-Llyn & the Friends of Friendless Churches
St. Mary’s Church, Tall-y-Llyn sits all on its own in a field along one of the many narrow country lanes in the middle of Anglesey. When we decided to go looking for this small medieval church we realised we’d probably driven past it quite a few times in the past and totally overlooked it.
There are only fields and a few scattered houses nearby. The township of Tall-y-Llyn doesn’t exist anymore as the whole population was wiped out during the Plague and only the church remains. Not much is known of the church’s early history except that there were 22 houses recorded in the township before the Black Death – quite a sizeable village for those times.
There have been some minor changes and additions to the church over the years but it remains relatively unaltered since medieval times and that’s what makes it so special. In the words of its Grade 1 status listing, it is “a very rare example of a virtually unrestored Medieval church of simple, rustic character.”[
Grade 1 status is only given to buildings of exceptional interest and only a very small proportion of Welsh churches have this status.
The internal fittings such as the pulpit, alter rails and pews were added in the 18th century.
The church was declared redundant in the early 1990’s and in 1999 it was taken over by The Friends of Friendless Churches, a charity who save beautiful old churches of historical or architectural value. They carried out some renovations, which included getting a local craftsman to replace the 18th century pews which had been stolen during the time it was unused.
The pews, which are copies of the original ones, are backless planks, laid into a low stone wall at one end and supported by paddle ends at the other. Utilitarian in the extreme and no differentiation between rich and poor in this congregation!
The Friends of Friendless Churches have left a book for visitors to look at, lavishly illustrated with photos and information about the churches they look after. To date, they have about 50 churches in England and Wales, with at least half of them being in Wales.
Old Church of St Nidan, Llanidan
My ‘enchanted ruins’ are the picturesque arches of the Old Church of St Nidan at Llanidan. The church is in the south of Anglesey and quite hidden away at the end of a leafy lane near the Menai Straits.
Arriving at the end of the road you are faced with the churchyard wall and behind it you can see a little of the church and the arches in amongst a profusion of greenery and old yews entwined with ivy.
A church was first established on this site in the 7th century, by St Nidan who was confessor to Penmon monastery, further along the coast. The present church dates back to the 14th century and a second nave was added to it in about 1500, which would have doubled its size. The two naves were separated by arches and these are the arches, or arcade, that you see in the churchyard today.
Much of the church was demolished in the 19th century when a new St Nidan’s church was built nearby but the arches were left standing when the that part of the church around them was demolished. The photo above shows the interior of the present, much shorter church with the arches separating the two naves.
The church and churchyard are locked and only open to the public on occasional open days. Not much of the church can be seen from the roadside but you can look through the iron gate to get a tantalizing view.
The Anglesey Coastal Path goes past the church and the footpath can be followed from the church down to the shore of the Menai Straits.