During the nineteenth century, Betws y Coed grew from being a stage point on the London to Holyhead Road to become a popular holiday resort. As a result, the old church of Saint Michael (near the station) became too small for the growing community. In 1873 this new church, initially known as Christ Church, but later with Saint Mary as patron, was built at a cost of £5,000 on an open site in the centre of the village. This was a field previously used for fairs, cockfighting, eisteddfodau, and open-air preaching: it was given by the Gwydir Estate.
The growing village of Betws y Coed was already a varied and progressive community, and this outlook is displayed in the church they built. The architects were the Lancaster partnership of Paley and Austin, and Saint Mary’s is among the finest of the churches they designed: the actual building work was carried out by local builder Owen Gethin Jones, who built the railway station and numerous other local buildings. The tower, however, was not completed until 1907 – this contains the church clock and a set of tubular bells which can be played from a keyboard in the vestry.
A walk round Saint Mary’s
The PORCH which is the main entrance also gives access to our church hall, built in 1977, and a centre for many church and community activities. Opening the main door brings the visitor into the NORTH AISLE of the church. The body of the church is built of a mixture of a blue stone quarried locally, and sandstone from Ancaster in Lincolnshire. Near the entrance stands the massive font, made of Serpentine stone, brought from Cornwall.
Saint Mary’s has many stained glass windows of varying quality, illustrating a variety of people, events and themes of the Christian faith. As you look up the aisle, the window behind you portrays Jesus as ‘Salvator Mundi’ (Saviour of the world), below which is the biblical scene of Jesus blessing the little children (Matthew 19.13-15). This lower part of the window was carefully restored in 1996 following damage. Walking up the aisle, the windows portray:
1, A personification of the Peace (one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit – Galatians 5.22-23)
2, The Archangel Raphael (meaning: God has healed) – (The Book of Tobit, in the Apocrypha)
3, The Archangel Gabriel (meaning: man of God) – (Daniel, Luke, Matthew)
4, The Archangel Michael (meaning: Who is like God?) (Daniel 10 & 12, Epistle of Jude & Revelation 12)
The larger window at the end portrays The Three Theological Virtues. (I Corinthians 13.13), Faith, Hope and Charity (or Love). Love stands in the middle with small children, Hope is to the left, depicted holding the anchor (the symbol of hope), and Faith is to the right, holding the Cross of Faith.
On the windowsill is a modern statue of Saint Mary, locally carved by Dorothy Archer in 1994. Above the votive candle stand is another statue of Saint Mary dating from 1962, which formerly stood in Our Lady of the Woods Catholic church in the village, and which was presented to Saint Mary’s when that church closed in 2002. This area of the church is used by visitors for private prayer.
The stone pulpit also includes Cornish stone, and stands at the side of the CHANCEL. This part of the church stands partly under the tower, and has a vaulted stone roof. The elaborate east window portrays the life of Jesus Christ: the two round windows represent The Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel announced, and the Virgin Mary accepted, that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. The inscriptions are taken from the litany, a pray which beseeches the loving mercy of God, recalling Christ’s saving works on our behalf.
Moving from top to bottom, left to right, the long windows show: 1 Jesus’ birth in a stable; 2 His presentation in the Temple; 3 The boy Jesus in the Temple; 4 His baptism by John; 5 Christ in ascended glory; 6 Jesus rising from death; 7 Jesus crucified; 8 Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane; 9 Jesus transfigured in glory; 10 Riding into Jerusalem; 11 Washing the disciples’ feet; 12 Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples.
Below the window is a reredos of Italian alabaster given in 1929. Until the 1970’s the High Altar stood against this, but the whole chancel area was redesigned at that time to move the main Altar nearer to the congregation to give a greater sense of involvement in the main service, which is the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper. The choir stalls were moved from near the organ to the former sanctuary area: the altar which stands in this position now was brought from the closed church of Saint Elizabeth’s, Dolwyddelan. On it, is an aumbry which was presented in 2003, and is used to keep consecrated bread and wine.
The organ is the original instrument, of two manuals and twenty stops: it was rebuilt in 1969, and is used to accompany both our services and the choir concerts which are a popular part of our summer ministry to visitors.
Standing at the altar step and looking down the NAVE, the full size of the building becomes apparent. The stonework of the nave pillars is elaborately carved, and there is a beautiful timber roof.
The huge round rose window which dominates the West end of the church is filled with glass depicting the symbols of the four Gospel writers: the angel (St Matthew), the winged lion (St Mark), the winged ox (St Luke), and the eagle (St John). The window above is of the Archangel Gabriel.
The door at the head of the SOUTH AISLE gives access to the vestry area: this part of the church is private. The banner here is a fine piece of local craftsmanship, and depicts local flora. St Mary’s is fortunate to have a number of pieces of fine embroidery locally made or inspired, including some distinctive altar frontals for the different seasons of the church year.
Walking down the South Aisle there is another series of stained glass windows. These show;
1, Jesus knocking at the door of the human heart (Revelation 3.20).
2, Jesus, The Good Shepherd (John 10).
3, St. Edmund (King of East Anglia, martyred in 869AD).
4, St John the Evangelist, the beloved Disciple of Christ, who wrote the fourth Gospel.
5, Mary of Magdala meets the Risen Christ (John 20. 1-18).
6, A second personification of Hope, holding her anchor.
The final window, in the corner, shows Jesus as The Sower (Mark 4.1-20), and below it, a depiction of Saint Paul preaching to the Athenians at the altar of the unknown god (Acts 17.22-34).