Early History of St Michael's Church
Llanfihangel Rhos Y Corn

 

Taken from notes by Canon Patrick Thomas.

Beginnings The Hermit of Gwernogle

It is generally agreed that the earliest church in Llanfihangel Rhos-y-Corn Parish was a chapel-of-ease in what is now Gwernogle, built on the site of a sixth or seventh century hermit's cell. The hermit's name was Silyn, Silin or Sulien, and he may well also have lived in Cribyn, where a Capel St Silyn still survives as a daughter church of Llanfihangel Ystrad parish. It is thought that Gwernogle's Capel Sant Silyn probably fell into disuse after the Reformation, but the name remains, and it was in a weaver's cottage on the site of the old church that Gwernogle's most famous son, the Unitarian preacher and Welsh radical leader Thomas Evans (better known as Tomos Glyn Cothi or, locally, Twm Penpistyll) was born in June 1764.

A Lost Church and a Hammer-Throw

There is a very old tradition in the Parish that an attempt was made, before Llanfihangel Church was built, to construct a church at Penygarreg, right on the top of the mountain. However,much to his dismay, the stonemason in charge of the work discovered that whatever he built up by day was mysteriously torn down in the night. In the end, overcome by rage and frustration, he threw his hammer high in the air, declaring that he would abandon Penygarreg and build the church wherever the hammer landed. The throw was a powerful one: the legend tells us that the hammer flew like a dove right across Brithdir and Esgairfynwent and landed on the spot where LlanfihangelChurch now stands.

A Sanctuary for 'Mihangel- Mawr'

Setting legends aside, until 1900 Llanfihangel Church had a ring-shaped churchyard of very great antiquity. The shape and nature of the site would seem to indicate that this was older than the church, and was probably originally a pre-Christian cemetery. The custom in the Celtic lands in early medieval times was to dedicate churches on such sites (often on mountains or in remote places) to the Archangel St Michael (Sant Mihangel in Welsh) . Michael was regarded as a supernatural warrior who had the power to counteract or defeat any evil influences remaining from the past. 'Mihangel mawr' ('great Michael') is frequently called upon as a patron and protector in medieval Welsh poems.

The Medieval Foundation

Llanfihangel Church has two naves (a characteristic of many medieval churches in Carmarthenshire). The main nave is thought to date from the thirteenth century, while the second navewas added as a Lady Chapel (where presumably the Blessed Sacrament was reserved) in about 15OO. It is difficult to know whether there was a church on the site Before thethirteenth century. The church stands in 'Pant-yr-Eglwys' ('ChurchHollow'), but nearby is 'Pant-y-Bettws' , which also means 'Church Hollow'. 'Bettws' or 'Betws'  'Bede-House' = 'House of Prayer' is a word which was borrowed into Welsh from the Anglo-Saxon to describe a tiny church or a chapel-of-ease. A 'Bettws is thus early Norman or pre-Norman, so it may be that the church moved a few hundred yards in the thirteenth century (I'm not sure how that effects the legend of the stonemason's hammer'.).

A Place of Pilgrimage

One thing that is certain is that by late medieval times the Church had become a place of pilgrimage. At the top of 'Rhipyn Seimon', the steep hill that rises up above Pantyceubal, there is a field from which pilgrims could catch their first glimpse of their destination. They would then kneel on a large stone (still visible at the time of the Second World War) and offer up prayers of thanks for their arrival. The field is still known as 'Cae'r Paderau Bach' ('the field of the little prayers' - 'pader' comes from 'Pater', the first word of the Lord's Prayer in Latin). There is a tradition that these pilgrims would be welcomed and receive lodging for the night at Pant-y-Bettws (which may be another explanation of how that farm got its name).

Outside Connections

Although there is a tradition that at one time there was a link between the Church and Talley Abbey, documentary evidence shows that from 1291 part of the tithes, and from 13O8 all the tithes (together with those of Llanllwni) were given to St John's Priory, Carmarthen. The Priory was then responsible for appointing a vicar to the parish, and it may be that even in medieval times the church was linked with Llanllwni (as it certainly was from the Reformation until 1885). At the Reformation, with the dissolution of the Priory, the patronage of the parish seems to have passed to the Bishop of Lincoln.

The Local Gentry

The Local Gentry It is said that the then inhabitants of Pwllcymbyd paid for the building of the thirteenth century Church. This may establish some sort of link between the Church and the great fifteenth century Welsh poet Lewys Glyn Cothi, who was born in Pwllcymbyd. Lewys was an outlaw for much of his chequered career, which meant he was always having to seek sanctuary in churches (perhaps Rhos-y-corn was one of them). He shows a soft spot for Mihangel in his poems, saying that 'Mihangel uchel ei liw/Ar adain o aur ydyw' ('Bright-coloured Michael/is on a wing of gold') in one of his poems, while in another Mihangel ranks next after Jesus, Mary and God (the Father presumably) in his personal view of the heavenly hierarchy. In post-medieval times the principal family in the parish were the Rudds of Forest. They were direct descendants of the Bishop Rudd of St Davids who was tipped to become Archbishop of Canterbury until he rashly told Queen Elizabeth I off from the pulpit for wearing too much make-up in church. She silenced him with a cutting comment, the expected promotion never came, and his descendants settled in the large house above Brechfa, from which they would drive in their carriage across to Llanfihangel every Sunday. Much of their route has now vanished beneath the trees.

Next Page 17th to 19th Century History