Canwyll y Cymry

(the Candle of the Welsh)

The Welsh Stone Forum is a loose-knit association of people with an interest in – yes – stone in Wales. Any kind of stone, any kind of interest – geologists, architects, builders, stone wallers, quarry workers. They nobly accommodate historians like me, who can’t tell Doulting from Dundry but are interested in how the stone ends up, in sculpture and tombstones. Their field visits are informal and highly informative.

We had a day looking at stone in some of the churches west of Cardiff: St Fagan’s, Sully and Michaelston-le-pit. All are complex buildings with a range of local stones and a lot of Victorian restoration using stones brought from outside (Bath stone, Doulting, Ham Hill, all quarries with railway access).  There was also some interesting use of varied decorative stones, especially in things like war memorials.

By the time we got to Sully the discussion of the different features of Jurassic, Triassic and Liassic limestone had gone some way above my head and I did wander off to look at the tombstones in the graveyard. It’s a very Anglicised area but there were a couple with Welsh inscriptions. The first I spotted was this


– virtually indecipherable though you can make out in the first line

…mae dyn … (‘Man is …’)

And a bit further on

… O’r carchar  (‘from the grave …’)

And at the end

Dan erlyn trwy …  (under prosecution …)

… yn dull draw’r bedd  (on the way to the grave)

– cheerful stuff! A good Welsh speaker could probably read more – in fact, Gwen Awbery has probably got the whole thing in her database.

Now adjoining the south wall of the church is a very odd slab.


It’s slate (not a local stone) with a lovely death’s head and hour glass.


In the scroll is a badly-written inscription in mixed upper and lower case … DEAth is GON Ye LIFE IS DUN

It commemorates a Mary Tanner wife of Walter who died in 1694 aged 74. There are other names lower down the stone but I couldn’t make them out.

Just west of this is another with a Welsh inscription.


It’s badly worn but a bit of googling when I got home identified it as a quote from Canwyll y Cymry, the Welshman’s Candle.

Nyn dy lamp, a gwisg dy drwsiad,
Cyn del angeu’n agos attad ;
Gwna dy gownt a’th gyfri’n barod,
Cyn dy alw o flaen y Drindod

(another warning – Trim your lamp and dress before death comes near to you;  make your account ready before you are called before the Trinity)

Canwyll y Cymry  was a collection of simple poems on religion and morality by the famous Rhys Prichard (c 1579-1644), vicar of Llandovery. The slab commemorates William Thomas, who died 21 March 1777 aged 61. It’s interesting to find that Canwyll y Cymry was sufficiently well-known in south-east Glamorgan at that date to feature on a tombstone. Inscribed round the bottom of the slab is


Yr udgorn a gân a’r meirw yng Ngrist gyfodant yn gyntaf

( a mixture of 1 Corinthians 15, ‘The trumpet shall sound’, and 1 Thessalonians 4, ‘The dead in Christ shall rise first’). These rather mixed-up Bible quotes also crop up in wall paintings and make one wonder about the design process. Did people ask for something they could remember, and did they remember it wrong, or did they deliberately mesh two or more quotes to get the exact message they wanted?

We had a good dither about this one near the priest’s door – might it be medieval?


No inscription – but it’s clearly made of 3 slabs, so we decided it was Victorian, presumably part of a bigger monument with the inscription on the headstone.

The south door is medieval, made of rough Sutton stone, with a lot of crosses scratched in it.


And there were some cute cherubs at Michaelston. This one


inside the church, on a wall memorial to a small child and this one with huge fairy-like wings


outside, also one a wall memorial.

All in all, a good day. And I am starting to get the hang of the simpler aspects of lithology as well.


A doorstep in the house of God

Continuing to work our way round the churches of the Vale of Glamorgan, photographing and measuring as we go. I thought I knew all about Colwinston,  Rhianydd Biebrach has written in detail about the effigy there, I’ve written about the wall paintings,


10 years ago I made a television programme there with Trevor Fishlock …

And when we got to the door, there was this,


bit more detail


clearly a medieval tombstone, those double branches near the foot suggest earlier rather than later, probably late 13th century. Not in its original location. People did ask for burial in the porch and in other places where they would be walked over, partly as a gesture of humility and partly so people would actually notice their tombs and pray for them. But this one has clearly been relocated because the head is to the east. Gravestones just make good doorsteps – there are similar examples at nearby Llanfrynach and at Llanover in north Monmouthshire.

And the effigy:


possibly a priest but more likely a civilian. It’s so worn it’s hard to tell, and it could even have been placed outside, as a monument to someone whose family had aspirations but weren’t sufficiently eminent to qualify for burial inside.

Then on to Marcross, where there is a nice 14th century floriated cross in a niche –


again, I don’t think this is the original location, and I think this is the base


– and the grave of a priest in the chancel.


‘War’s annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die’

Cross slabs under the carpet, under the altar, under the cupboards …

The great referendum result seem to be that we are leaving Europe.


‘Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles, it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an Empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one Supreme Head and King having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial Crown of the same, unto whom a body politic compact of all sorts and degrees of people divided in terms and by names of Spirituality and Temporalty, be bounden and owe to bear next to God a natural and humble obedience: he being also institute and furnished, by the goodness and sufferance of Almighty God, with plenary, whole, and entire power, pre-eminence, authority, …’

(the beginning bit was a lie, but what the hey, let’s call it a mistake and move on)

So we Googled for Hardy’s ‘At the Breaking of Nations’  and decided to go off looking for tombstones instead.

First up was Llantrithyd. I just wanted to measure the effigy in the nave – slightly less than life size, rather crudely carved but full of character.


I knew there were what the 1897 architect described as ‘ancient memorial stone slabs’ in the sanctuary floor but they were covered by the carpet. To our great delight the carpet had been taken up in preparation for restoration work on this seriously hulking late C16 monument to members of the Basset and Mansell families of Llantrithyd Place.


The sanctuary floor is covered with cross slabs, none of them medieval, mostly  late C16 and several implicitly or explicitly asking for prayer for the souls of the deceased. This was of course quite non-PC in the late sixteenth century, and the more so after the bull Regnans in Excelsis which excommunicated Elizabeth and declared open season on her.

The crosses are in a characteristic style, with short thick splayed arms, stepped bases, the inscription round the border and dates on the base. Most commemorate identifiable members of the Bassett, Mansell and Aubrey families who owned the manor of Llantrithyd and lived in the big house whose ruins you can still see next door to the church. Anthony Mansell was the younger son of the great Sir Rhys Mansell of Penrice and Margam: the family had Catholic sympathies but there’s nothing to suggest that any of the people who commissioned these memorials saw themselves as anything other than loyal members of the Established Church.

It’s another example of that combination of traditionalism and loyalism that characterises the Welsh response to the religious changes of the sixteenth century, but a bit more high-profile than most: the idea of the family in the big house asking for prayer for the souls of their children in Armada year is striking to say the least.

It also throws light on the old debate over people’s feelings for their children. The open requests for prayer for the soul are on the memorials of children. On the one hand even babies were seen as in need of prayer. On the other hand the willingness of the parents to make such public and challenging requests, defying church teaching,  suggests really deep grief and a determination to commemorate the children in the way they felt was appropriate.

From the south the inscriptions read

      (with a design which could be a very worn coat of arms)
      This is presumably Elizabeth Norton, second wife of John Thomas Bassett: see Arch. Camb.
      13, 1867, though she is also commemorated on the great monument in the north of the chancel.postmed1+2_compressed
    2. … GRAVE ∙ THE ∙ BODY ∙ OF ∙ … 1586 ∙ GOD ∙ HATH ∙ HIS ∙ SOULE ∙ TO ∙ H…
      (According to an article by T. M. Price of Boverton in the Glamorgan Gazette for Friday 28 May 1915 this could then be read as ‘God hath his soul to his mercy the body of John Bassett’ and the date 1586: . This is presumably the John William Bassett who was buried on 10 January of that year, still 1585 in the old-style dating of the register: . Not sure where he fits in with the family pedigree – a bit more work needed here)
    3. HERE ∙ LI
      ETH ∙ IN ∙ GR
      AVE ∙ THE
      BODY ∙ OF
      RYCE ∙ HAW
      ARD ∙ WHO ∙ SO
      LE …
      (according to the Glamorgan Gazette and Camb. 1867 this then had a date of 1580 or possibly 1680. Nothing for that date in the parish registers but a Rice Havard was buried on  8 March 1571/2)postmed3_compressed
    4. Under the altar table:
      PRAY FOR … ET
      O 1573
      (A small stone: this could commemorate either Edward or William Mansell, sons of Elizabeth Bassett and Anthony Mansell, who both died in that year: )postmed4_compressed
    5. ?RSWIE
      OF IOHN
      AETATIS 48
      ANNO 1552
      (I need to look at this one again – I can’t find a name anything like that in any of the family pedigrees and it’s too early for the parish registers)
    6. postmed5_compressed


  1. …?AUBREY … 1594
    (another small stone. According to the 1915 Glamorgan Gazette article this could then be read as Willeford Aubrey. The parish registers record the burial of Wilsiford daughter of Mr Thomas Aubrey on Tuesday 2 July: .)postmed7_compressed
    (this is Rice, oldest son of Elizabeth Bassett and Anthony Mansell. Like most of their children he predeceased his parents and the estate went to his sister Mary and her husband Thomas Aubrey, ancestors of the Aubreys of Llantrithyd. His memorial has the arms of Mansell impaling Bassett.)postmed8_compressedpostmed8detail_compressed

The Glamorgan Gazette article records other wall monuments to children of the Aubrey family which do not seem to have survived.

Well, that was all very exciting. We had a good lunch in the White Hart at Llanilltud and ploughed on to Llanmihangel via Wick, where we had to collect the key from the vicar.

Main purpose of visit to Llanmihangel was this


the late C16 monument to Griffith Grant. It shows him in semi-effigy with the lower part of his body covered by a cross very similar in design to those at Llantrithyd – this effigy was clearly the work of the same firm of stonemasons, probably working a bit above their level of skill. The complicated inscription runs in two lines round the chamfer and along the edges:

‘Heare lyeth in grave the body of Grifithe Grante, sone to Richard Grant & Marget Vch Rees Ab John deceased the X4 Daye of May, Anno Domini 1591. He lyved 67 Yeares in the end thereof departed his life and so departing left his wedded wife Blainch’

(difficult to translate – Orrin says ‘God  renews the souls of those in his mercy’ but I think it’s more likely that resipit is a mis-spelling for recipit and it’s ’God accepts (or regains) their souls in mercy’ – this has a hint of a concealed prayer for their souls)

But the real excitement was this


found under a cupboard in the tower by my clever French cousin Amy. It doesn’t seem to be recorded anywhere. We had to do some serious furniture removing and it was still very difficult to photograph but it’s another early C14 floriated cross.

And is that a scallop shell at the top?

My friend Sara said ‘Weithie ma angen perspectif ewropeaidd arnom ni i weld be sy dan ein trwyne 😉 ‘

Painted knights and triple crosses

After lunch on Tuesday (the White Hart, Llantwit, excellent vegan curry) we went back to St Athan – where I had been with the Church Monuments Society in 2012. A stunning example of what not to do with a pot of paint.


(This well-meaning attempt to replicate medieval colouring dates from 1934 and it would be too difficult and dangerous to remove it.) Under all that are two good effigy chest tombs, both from the fourteenth century. The earlier one commemorates Sir William de Berkerolles (d.1327) and his wife Phelice de Vere.


This one is Sir Roger de Berkerolles (d.1351) and Katherine de Turbeville.


Rhianydd Biebrach has discussed them in great detail in her Ph D thesis so I’m not going into detail here. The church also has some good wall monuments and ledgerstones including this record of family tragedy


and a fragment of another post-Reformation cross slab built into the chapel steps.



St Mary Hill was supposed to be a quick postscript. Geoffrey Orrin said in Medieval Churches of the Vale of Glamorgan  ‘In the base of the tower are stored two tombstones with foliated crosses. One of them has been turned upside down and used a second time and thus bears two inscriptions with widely-separated dates’. We thought  this would be a quick in, photograph, out, but we found it was rather more complicated.

There were no foliated crosses that we could see. In the tower, fastened to the west wall and behind a lot of clutter, were two slabs with C18 inscriptions and no evidence of earlier carving (we did look hard, with a good raking light that picks up all sorts of things).


Then, in the corner, behind the fixed  ladder to the belfry and virtually unphotographable, not a foliated cross but a triple cross,


all 3 very plain with thick arms


and multi-step calvary base,


very similar to the ones in Laleston and Llangynwyd. This stone has been recut twice, with C17 and C18 inscriptions to the local Hopkin and Watkin families –

HERE : LYETH : IN : GRAVE : THE : BODY : OF : HOPKIN : WATKIN : OF : ST : MARY : HILL : DECEASED : THE : 22 : DAY : OF : AUGUST : ANNO (the rest of the date is frustratingly along the floor edge and illegible); and

Nest Hopkin dyed Feb ye 4th 1722 Aged 76

(the church has several more nice wall memorials to the Hopkin and Watkin families)

This discovery is both exciting and frustrating – not least because I’ve already written something on the Llangynwyd and Laleston triple crosses and a slightly different one in Margam suggesting they relate to the design of the famous rood at Llangynwyd (in theWelsh Journal of Religious History  vols 7 and 8, 2102-13). . But I can’t see how that would connect to St Mary Hill which seems to be on the road to nowhere in particular. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that someone from St Mary Hill went on pilgrimage to Llangynwyd and was inspired to ask for a triple cross slab, for themselves or for a family member.
But what about the floriated crosses – was Orrin wool-gathering? Or have they been moved? A previous rector says the ladder is fairly recent: a lot of work was done on the tower when the bells were rehung as part of the celebration of the millennium. The local bellringers may know more – we shall see.

Wimpled ladies and defiant clergy

An unexpectedly exciting day going round churches in the Vale of Glamorgan. We started in Flemingston, where I’d looked at the effigy tombs before but wanted to rephotograph them and look again at the inscriptions. There’s an early 14th century incised effigy slab in a niche in the north wall commemorating an ‘Elizabet’, possibly one of the local de Fleming family.


The body of the slab is just incised lines


but there’s a hollow where the head would have been,


suggesting it was a separate piece of inlaid stone. Sally Badham thought the slab might not be in its original location but from the inscription it seems to have been designed to sit somewhere against the north wall.

In the south chapel is a much more accomplished piece of carving, an early 14th century effigy to Joan le Fleming.


She is wearing a wimple and an elegantly flowing dress.


The effigy is in a niche in the south wall – clearly not its original location as the inscription is on the dexter side (into the wall) and as a result requires some quite tricky contortions to read it. But here it is



(quite a good offer. I did pray.)

The south chapel was built on by the Fleming family in the early 14th century but the niche looks a bit earlier and may be recycled.

But where did the effigy sit if not there (and it clearly wasn’t there – apart from the inscription, the slab doesn’t fit in the alcove). There’s no north wall in the chapel for it to lie against. Was it originally in the main body of the church – or although there’s no inscription on the sinister side, was it originally on a chest tomb?

Mulling this over we went on to Llanmaes. The Llanilltud rectorial benefice is doing a sterling job in keeping these little village churches open, for visitors during the week and services at the weekends. We were there mainly to check up on a slab which T. H. Thomas drew over 100 years ago. Orrin thought it was medieval but from Thomas’s drawing it’s one of those very characteristic post-Reformation Glamorgan cross slabs with heavy plain crosses and billets down the side, and plenty of space at the bottom for an inscription.

OK, so we found that one in two pieces and hiding under several layers of carpet at the back.

llanmaes_thomas1 llanmaes_thomas2

We had a look around and found another, on the north side of the chancel.


This is an unusually large slab for the post-Reformation period but very plain in style. From this I think it is of the same date as the first inscription, which commemorates ‘DNS ALEXANDER PHELEP RECTOR H[UIU]S ECCLESIE’ in an inscription which starts above the cross and finishes on the base.



According to the list of incumbents in the parish guidebook, Alexander Philip was rector in 1530 and he was still there in 1563 when the aged bishop Anthony Kitchin sent in a report on his diocese to the Privy Council. He had however moved on – presumably to Higher Service – by 1581 when a son of William ap Rees Lloyd was appointed.  Like his bishop, Alexander Philip had served through all the religious turmoil of the sixteenth century. I have no idea what the evidence for his being there in 1530 was. The date was recorded by a local antiquarian Augusta Rayer-Jenkins in her list of clergy in the old diocese of Llandaff but without references. He was definitely there in 1536 when he was one of the trustees of the Carne estate (this is in a deed in G. T. Clark’s Cartae pp. 1896-1901). He must have been fairly new in post in 1530. This was before the Acts of Union and people were probably just becoming aware of Henry VIII’s marital problems but with no way of predicting where they would lead. Alexander would have had to take the oaths of Supremacy and Succession, would have seen the great wall painting of St George and all the other decorations of his church painted out, the rood figures removed and the rood screen taken down to the bressumer beam, services in English rather than Latin – and would then have had to get the parish organised to put back as much as they could when Mary came to the throne, only to see it all undone again after 1558. Turbulent times. It’s easy to criticise clergy who served under such conflicting instructions but really what were they to do? Would it have done any good to leave and let their parish be taken over by someone more hard-line?

Alexander Philip was presumably dead by 1581 when his replacement was appointed so the slab must date from about then. It was then  recut in the early seventeenth century to commemorate some members of the Jones family and again in about 1668 to commemorate Richard Swinglehurst, who had been rector since 1642. More resolute than Alexander Philip, he was kicked out by Parliament in 1645 but restored in 1660.

The top of the slab was cut across by the altar rails and hidden under the kneelers. I moved the kneeler and found this – medieval, probably early C14 if the Conwy examples are a guide.


like the C16 slab it’s cut across by the altar rails – here’s the other side (with a rather nice heraldic tomb)


Or is the cross slab a copy – but if so, why no inscription?

Also the church has the remains of a fine wall painting of St George. Much of the paint has faded but you can just make out the princess, the dragon’s head and the horse’s trappings.


After all that excitement we went for lunch. The afternoon’s finds really need a separate blog post.