Recent History

Taken from notes by Canon Patrick Thomas

An Independent Parish

For several centuries Llanfihangel had been effectively a daughter church of Llanllwni, but in 1885 the parish once again acquired a Vicar of its own. Herbert Hughes, the new incumbent, built himself a large Vicarage (now Bro Mihangel) for the then substantial sum of £llOO. His successor (S.C.Owen,. Vicar 1898-19O2)'opened a Mission Church (‘Eglwys Zinc) in Gwernogle, not far from where Capel Sant Silyn had once stood (this ancient chapel-of-ease, mentioned earlier, is described as in ruins, with no services being held there, in an official report of 1715). The Mission Church survived until 1960, when it was deconsecrated and sold to the local Young Farmers' Club for £20. William Jones, Owen's successor as Vicar, undertook substantial repair-work to Llanfihangel in 19O7 and 19O8, and the Church was formally re-opened by Bishop John Owen in the latter year.

Destruction of a Community

At the end of the First World War there were over a hundred Easter communicants in Llanfihangel Church. By 1933 the number was down to 45. By 195O there were only 22. Easter communicants, and in 197O there were only 9. The decline reflects the virtual destruction of what had once been a close~knit community with a very rich cultural and folk tradition. As agriculture went into decline between the two World Wars landlords began to sell their land for afforestation, and much of the land that was left was no longer viable for farming. The tenants left and a society was destroyed. Gwenallt summed up the change in one of his most poignant and powerful poems:

Ac erbyn hyn nid oes yno ond coed,
A'u gwreiddiau haerllug yn sugno'r hen bridd:
Coed lle y bu cymdogaeth,
Fforest lle bu ffermydd          

('And now there are only trees,

With their impudent roots sucking the old earth:
Trees where there was a community,
Forest where there were farms

Running Down

Llanfihangel's era as a parish on its own inevitably came to an end as the break-up of the old social fabric of the community took its toll. The last Vicar to have just Rhos-y-corn under his care was the Reverend Ken Evans (Vicar 1954-8). In the 'interregnumbefore his arrival many of the services had been taken by the youthful Curate of Lampeter, the Reverend George Noakes (who became Bishop of St. Davids and Archbishop of Wales). The service register from Ken Evans's time reveals that the Church had dwindled to a tiny handful of faithful worshippers. When he moved to Llanddewi Brefi he was not replaced, and the parish was united with Brechfa in 1959, under the Reverend G.K. Williams, who moved away to Borth in the following year.

An Unexpected Resurrection

1960 was a crucial year for the survival of Llanfihangel Church. The Church itself was in a very dilapidated condition, as was the 'Eglwys Zinc, and it was unclear whether there was any future for the parish at all. In the end it was decided to close the little Mission Church, and the new Vicar, the Reverend Eric Grey, threw himself into the work of restoring Llanfihangel Church with characteristic gusto (tourists visiting Blenheim Palace were on one occasion astonished to find a large notice pinned to the gate advertising a Whist Drive in Gwernogle, in aid of Llanfihangel Church'.). The writer T. Llew Jones came with a camera crew to film –the Church for a television programme. Through the energy enthusiasm and generosity of the church-members, their Vicar  and their friends the Church was restored.

Bishop John Richards, preaching at the re-dedication of the restored Church in July 1965, compared, the Church of God in the Diocese to a dry stone wall, which needs both large and small stones if it is to hold together. He likened Llanfihangel, to one of the small but essential stones in the fabric of the Church. When the Reverend Eric Grey retired in 1983 the future of the Church seemed once again in jeopardy, but the arrival of a new incumbent, committed to keeping the Church open, removed that threat. Under Patrick Thomas the worshipping community in Llanfihangel continued, small but faithful -and on special occasions - Harvest, the Carol Service, Midnight Mass and a Triennial Flower Festival Service - the congregation was swollen by friends and well-wishers from a wide area.

What next?  After so many centuries, as the poet and the singer said ''Rydym yma o hyd' ('We're still here') and our loving God can still find a use and a purpose for this holy and peaceful spot, nestling in its hollow on the mountain of 'Mihangel mawr'.