A good week on Anglesey over the New Year, walking the coast path when it was fine and visiting old churches when it was wet. There’s an excellent leaflet on churches within reach of the coast path but alas most were locked – the winter is clearly out of season. Our friend Neil Fairlamb keeps Beaumaris and Penmon open with the aid of a squad of helpers, and all four of the churches cared for by the Friends of Friendless Churches are open – and they are all little gems in their different ways. Here is Llantrisant, set in a little cluster of ruined cottages.
Main purpose of visit was to get to Penmynydd, partly to look again at the magnificent alabaster tomb to the ancestors of the Tudor dynasty and partly to meet Susan Booth of the DAC and Andrew Davidson of the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust and discuss the fate of the church. It has now been closed for some time and rain is getting in through a defective skylight and dripping on the monument. The Friends of Friendless Churches probably can’t take it on: apart from the tomb there’s nothing spectacular there, just an average nice medieval church with a dodgy roof.
I can’t help feeling we’ve missed a trick with this one. The last heir of the Tudor line was of course stationed nearby at RAF Valley until recently. Surely he could have done something about the ancestral tomb? But he’s now moved away (cue wailing and gnashing of teeth at Menai Bridge Waitrose) and it will be more difficult to tap into his family loyalty.
The tomb is truly spectacular – here it is
with some detail of the angels at the head
(I love the little bare feet.)
The shields under the heads of the effigies are incised with the outline of the Instruments of the Passion, presumably to guide the painters
and the shields on the sides have chevrons for the outline of the Tudor arms (Gules a chevron between three helmets argent, since you ask).
The odd thing is the graffiti – the tomb is covered with names, some of them very carefully carved.
What could have motivated John Smith and Meilir Mon?
The good news is that Susan Booth and Andrew Davidson have both independently come up with an idea for using the church as a centre for courses in conservation and heritage. There is a clear need to train local volunteers in basic management techniques and the church would certainly present them with plenty of interesting challenges.
The project might also be able to do something about the Penmynydd almshouses. These are a row of lovely little cottages, endowed by a local landowner in the early seventeenth century. They were obviously lived in until recently but they are now falling into disrepair. They would make accommodation for people on short courses and might be attractive holiday lets.
My file of photos from an earlier visit to Penmynydd also included this one
the nearest I’ve seen in the north to those puzzling post-Reformation cross slabs in the south. But it was nowhere to be found in the church. I eventually realised it was actually in Beaumaris. Filing photographs away neatly on the computer isn’t enough. You do have to caption them properly and file them in the right place as well. Finding it was a great relief – it’s a fascinating piece of carving, clearly seventeenth century from the lettering but covered with the very ‘Catholic’ imagery of the Instruments of the Passion as well as that IHS trigram. The name is no longer legible but the Royal Commission read it as Richard Brice. I need to do more work on this but I suspect he was not a Catholic but one of those stubborn traditionalists who saw nothing wrong with things like rosaries and religious imagery on their tombs.
We went to Llandygai as well to see the third of the great medieval alabaster tombs of north-west Wales. Here are a couple from the Griffith family of Penrhyn in their Christmas finery
The local tradition is that this tomb, like the Bulkeley tomb in Beaumaris and the Tudor tomb in Penmynydd, came from the Franciscan friary at Llanfaes at the Dissolution. I’m sceptical about this for a number of reasons. William Bulkeley clearly wanted to be buried in Beaumaris, and his son said that was what had happened. It seems much more likely that all these tombs were always in the parish churches at the centre of the estates of the people they commemorate. We have an awful tendency in Wales to think that we couldn’t produce anything good at parish level in the Middle Ages so any high-quality art work must have come from a monastic site – even things like rood screens which are clearly constructed in situ, and the roof at Llanidloes which has now been conclusively dendro dated to the 1540s. You do get elite burial on monastic sites in the later middle ages but it’s much more common by the late C15 for the local elite to go for burial in the parish church. That way the tomb would really stand out and attract more intercessory prayer (which is really what it’s all about).
We tried hard to find some post-medieval cross slabs in the north but they just don’t seem to be there. This is if anything even more puzzling than their popularity in the south. all the explanations for the survival of the cross slab tradition in south Wales work equally well in the north – so why are there no cross slabs in the north?
Or is it just that I haven’t found them yet? Watch this space …