Brief history of St. Derfel Church

Details of historical events and features of St. Derfel’s Church.

The church is first recorded in the Taxatio of 1291 as the ‘Eccl’ia de Landervael.  The present church is an early Tudor rebuilding, probably of the early C16 and takes the form of a single chamber parish church.

This parish church is dedicated to Derfel Gadarn (Derfel the Mighty) a warrior-saint of the sixth century.  A shrine was also dedicated to him on the slopes of Mynydd Maen in Gwent.  This shrine belonged to the religious house of Llantarnam.

Two medieval wooden sculptures associated with his cult were made.   Hundreds of pilgrims came to Llandderfel in the middle ages to pray to the huge wooden image of Derfel and to offer gifts in return for a blessing on their animals and for other favours.

In 1538 on the orders of Thomas Cromwell, Henry V111’s Vicar-General, the image of Derfel was taken to be burnt at the Smithfield London, along with a Frier Forest of Greenwich who was accused of high treason in denying the King’s supremacy.

An eminent Welsh historian has suggested that the deep cuts in the old sandstone archway, now enclosed by a more modern porch, represent the flames destroying the image of Derfel.

The other image is that of a red stag known as the “Horse of Derfel” which survived and is situated in the church porch.  In 1730 it was removed from the church and decapitated on the orders of the Rural Dean.

 A most interesting feature of the church is a fine oak rood screen said to date from about 1500.  About the end of the eighteenth century the rood loft above it was taken down.  One side of it was placed as a front to a gallery at the west end, but in 1870 when the church was restored by S Pountney Smith of Shrewsbury at a cost of £1200, it was put back in its old place.  Parts of the other side were used as the finials to the alter reredos.

The south wall easternmost (nave) window has stained glass of 1889 to the Sheriff family; Adoration of the Magi.

The fine oak roof was damaged by fire in 1758.  A small portion of it was made into a chair which is situated in the sanctuary but the greatest part of it went to Plas Newydd, Llangollen.

Some old oak beams of unknown origin with Tudor motifs were incorporated into the Lychgate when the hearse house was demolished.

The church yard contains some interesting gravestones:-

– Lloyds of old Pale.

– The family of Mr Henry Robertson the   famed railway engineer and contractor who built the present Pale Hall in1868.

– Geunor Hughs of Bodelith who died in 1780 after refusing food for a number of years. 

Records dating back to 1599 are housed in the Area Archive Office, Dollgellau. The earlier records are recorded in Latin.

The church was given a Grade 1 listing in January 2001.