History of the church

St. Cyngar’s Church – Llangefni

Deanery of Malltreath

Anglesey

SH458759

 

Circa – 6th century – St. Cyngar

 

The original cell or church was founded on this site during the 6th century by St. Cyngar (Cungar) ab Geraint who was both an abbot and a Confessor. His life story is difficult to write accurately because there was another saint by the name of Cyngar, this was St. Cyngar ab Garthog ab Ceredig ab Cunedda Wledig; he was the father of St. Gwynlleu and St. Cyndern (not Kentigern). Their life stories have often been confused and mixed up into one but the version below is the latest interpretation from “Lives of the British Saints,” by S Baring-Gould and John Fisher published in 2000.

 

St. Cyngar

Our St. Cyngar, who was also known as Docwin and Dochau, was a son of Geraint ab Erbin, King of Domnonia (Devon and Cornwall), he was also a brother of Cador, (Duke of Cornwall), Caw, (also known as King Caw of Pictland), Selyf and St. Iestyn. His mother’s name was Gwyar and she was a daughter of Amlawdd Wledig, this means that the mother of SS. Cyngar and Iestyn, and the mother of St. Sadwrn of Llansadwrn were both sisters. St. Cyngar through his brother Selyf, was an uncle of St. Cybi, and through Cador, he was the uncle of St. Constantine, but through his brother Caw, he was also the uncle of 18 other saints such as, SS. Gildas, Eugrad, Gallgo, Peithian, Caffo (the martyr), Ceidio ab Caw, Maelog, Caian, Peirio and Samson of Caldey Island, to name but a few. One of his nieces was St. Cwyllog (Cywyllog) of Llangwyllog who was originally the wife of Medrod the traitorous nephew of King Arthur.1

 

St. Cyngar’s father, Geraint ab Erbin is said, in the Third or latest series of the Triads, to have been one of three Llyngesog, or fleet-owners of the Isle of Britain, each of whom formed a part of a fleet of six score ships each manned with six score men to patrol the coast against the Saxons and Irish. The enemy entered the river Parret and reached as far as Llongborth or Langport where they encountered the armies of King Arthur and Geraint ab Erbin. Geraint died in the ensuing battle, this happened some time between 475AD and 522AD. Selyf was also killed in battle at about the same time. There is a poem which appears in the Black Book of Carmarthen and also in the Red Book of Hergest, about the battle, which was written by Llywarch Hen, he wrote as an eye-witness:-

 

In Llongborth I saw a rage of slaughter,

And biers beyond all count,

And red-stained men from the assault of Geraint.

 

In Llongborth I saw the edges of blades meet

Men in terror, with blood on their pate,

Before Geraint, the great son of his father.

 

* * * * *

 

In Llongborth Geraint was slain,

A brave man from the region of Dyfnaint (Devon),

And before they were overpowered, they committed slaughter.

 

One conjecture locates the Battle of Llongborth in the parish of Penbryn, Cardiganshire where there is a farm called Perth Geraint.2

 

Some sources say that Cyngar was born in Llanwngar, near to St. David’s, other sources say it was in south west England i.e. Devon or Cornwall. In his early life, he left home and embarked on a monastic life living and working in south west England before settling in what is now Somerset where he founded a monastery at Congresbury on the river Yeo, this would be where he acquired the status of abbot. It may also be where he was accredited with turning marsh land into good agricultural land. This abbey was later destroyed probably by the Saxons but re-established in 711AD by King Ina who dedicated it to the Holy Trinity.

 

From there he moved to Morganwg,3 an ancient kingdom in South Wales where, under the name of Dochau, he founded two churches at Llandocha Fawr (near Cardiff) and Llandocha Fach (near Cowbridge), these are now known as Llandough. He must have travelled more widely than his life story mentions because there are other dedications to St. Cyngar, there is one at Badgworth also in Somerset, there was a Chapel and Holy Well dedicated to him at Lanivet in Cornwall, also at Kewe in Cornwall there is a dedication to him under the name of Docwin. He is also the patron of the parish of Hope in Flintshire formerly known as Llangyngar or Plwyf Cyngar. It is not known in what order these churches were founded.

 

As an old man, St. Cyngar finally became associated with his nephew St. Cybi. When St. Cybi was obliged to leave South Wales (see write-up on St. Cybi’s Church, Holyhead), he took his ageing uncle Cyngar with him along with nine other disciples to Ireland, and amongst this group were SS. Maelog, Peulan, Caffo and Llibio. His journey was to the island of Aran mor (Inishmor) on the west coast of Ireland where he met up with his former friend, St. Enda.

 

Enda had obtained a grant of the island, no earlier than 486AD from Aengus MacNadfraich, King of Munster whose first wife was Dairini, a sister of Enda. St. Cybi remained in Aran with his disciples for four years. His uncle Cyngar was now so frail he could not eat solid food, so Cybi bought a cow and its calf to provide milk for Cyngar’s diet. Maelog had cultivated a patch of land close to the cell of another monk named Fintan the Priest (Crubthir or Cruimther). This led to an angry altercation as Fintan considered it to be an encroachment onto his land. Enda was called upon to adjudicate but the grievance continued on in Fintan’s mind. When Cyngar’s calf strayed into Fintan’s meadow he impounded it and tied it to a tree. This resulted in a lack of milk for Cyngar to drink such that it started to affect his health. After Cyngar prayed to God for help, the calf managed to pull up the tree and return to its mother dragging it with him. Moreover, when Maelog started digging the ground outside the door of Fintan’s cell, Finton in a rage prayed to God that Cybi should be driven out of the island. Cybi was warned by a peace loving angel to leave the island as the quarrel was going to get worse as long as these two saints were close together on such a confined island. Before Cybi left, he prayed to God to remove Crubthir Fintan out of the island, the “Life of St. Endeus” (Enda), confirms these squabbles and puts the cause down to the way Enda had divided up this small island.

 

Cybi moved to Meath with his disciples where he fasted for 40 days and nights in order to secure the area as a foundation for himself, the place was Mochop i.e. Kilmore of St. Mochop, near Artaine. Fintan pursued him and on the basis that the land belonged to him, he managed to drive Cybi away. Cybi then went to Magh-Bregh in Kildare but was allowed to remain for only seven days before Fintan found him and drove him out. Again Cybi had to move with his uncle and his disciples to Vobvun or Uobiun where he stayed for two weeks before he was again driven out by Fintan.

 

Cybi bade his disciples to cut down timber to make a boat by which they could leave Ireland, Fintan even prevented them from getting hides with which to cover it and make it waterproof, such was the local resentment that Fintan had managed to raise against Cybi. This was a gross insult as it was a form of punishment to great criminals to commit them to sea in a coracle with only one covering of hide. Before Cybi left Ireland he again cursed Fintan that all his churches be deserted. His boat was probably made of planks and ribs, his crossing in such a boat with his disciples and his old and infirm uncle Cyngar back to Wales where it ran onto rocks probably on the Lleyn Peninsula, is considered to be miraculous.

 

Black rockAt the southern end of Black Rock Sands near Morfa Bychan at the mouth of the Afon Glaslyn, lies a rocky hill known as Ynys Cyngar SH553365. In the 6th century, just like Ynys on the south side of the river, this would have been a true island but today, due to sand drift, it is connected to the mainland by sand dunes as is the case at Ynys. There is now a private holiday cottage at Ynys Cyngar known as “The Powder House,” it was here that dangerous ingredients for the gunpowder factory at Gwaith Powdur were unloaded rather than allowing

Tabletthese dangerous cargoes into the port of Porthmadog. There was once a plaque on the wall of the Powder House commemorating the fact that St. Cyngar once lived on this site. The plaque is presently in the house and the owner intends to refit the plaque on the wall. The inscription on the slate plaque which measures 26ins. by 18ins. by 3ins. reads:-

 

 

plaqueMap

This may be the spot, or near to, where St. Cybi and his disciples landed on their return from Ireland. There is a present church of St. Cyngar at Borth-y-Gest nearby at SH565373, but this was a new build, constructed in 1912 on new land and did not replace any previous church. It is therefore likely that St. Cyngar’s Cell on Ynys Cyngar may never have developed into a permanent church. There was at one time a spring near to the house but this has now disappeared.

 

Whilst on the Lleyn Peninsula, St. Cybi founded another church nearby at Cyndaf which is probably Llangybi near to Pwllheli. When Maelgwn, King of Gwynedd was hunting in the area, a goat he was pursuing found refuge with St. Cybi. Maelgwn demanded the goat’s return, but Cybi was able to negotiate an area of land in return for the beast. A later controversy arose between Maelgwn and Cybi about having Caffo with him; Caffo was the brother of Gildas who had grossly insulted him in his recent book. Caffo therefore left the group for Rhosyr (Newborough) where he was eventually murdered by the shepherds. It is believed that in appeasement for the death of Caffo, Maelgwn Gwynedd granted Cybi the fortress on Anglesey, Caer Gybi (Holyhead) where Cybi founded his final church with his disciples; Maelgwn Gwynedd is also regarded as its co-founder and endowerer.

 

It is the ‘Clas’ (a cross between a college and a monastery) at Holyhead that St. Cybi is best remembered for. St. Cybi died on 8 November, certainly after 547AD, the date of Maelgwn’s disease, the yellow plague; it is believed to have been 554AD at the age of 84. He left behind a legacy of the Celtic Clas which controlled most of west Anglesey until the Reformation. St. Enda who was slightly his senior died in about 540AD, St. Cyngar would have been about 90. St. Llibio founded the church at Llanllibio on Anglesey; St. Peulan founded the church at Llanbeulan, Maelog the church at Llanfaelog, Cyngar founded this church at Llangefni, Caffo having already founded a church at Llangaffo. Whether St. Mochop was a disciple of Cybi is not known. It is not possible to determine the identity of Cybi’s adversary Crubthir Fintan but he certainly left behind no cult in Ireland.

It is said that when St. Cyngar came to the area of Llangefni, he would have been an extremely old man. It is therefore likely that by then, his brother St. Iestyn would have already been established at Llaniestyn near Llandonna. His nephews and nieces may also have had their churches established by then i.e. SS. Gallgo at Llanallgo, St. Eugrad at Llaneugrad and their sister Piethian who had a cell between their two churches, Ceidio ab Caw at Rhodogeidio near Llanerchymedd, Maelog at Llanfaelog, Caian at Tregaian, Peirio at Rhosbeirio, and Cwyllog at Llangwyllog. St. Caffo of Llangaffo may have already been martyred by that time.

 

It is believed that St. Cyngar may not have stayed for very long in Anglesey, whether he had to leave because of unpleasantness caused by the publication of the letter of Gildas his nephew, with its attack on Maelgwn is not known. He is said to have started on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, some reports say that he died whilst in Jerusalem and his body was brought back to Congresbury where he was buried. Other reports say he died at St. Congard, in Morbihan in Brittany on his way to Jerusalem. More than 12 Welsh Calendars quote St. Cyngar’s Feast Day as being on the 7th November.

 

Very close to the church in a wooded valley known locally as “The Dingle,” can be seen St. Cyngar’s Well, SH458758. This is a natural cavity at the base of a rock face with a stone wall structure built up on two sides. The water stands to a depth of several inches.

 

LayoutThe present church was completely rebuilt in 1824 and consists of a nave, chancel, north vestry and west tower and porch. The church was lengthened in 1889 when the chancel was added. The following year 1890 saw the addition of the arched gateway. There are only two items remaining from the original structure, these being the stonework of the west doorway which was reset into the new building, this dates from the 15th century, and a stone stoup for holy water which was preserved from the old church and built into the south wall of the porch. Although the stained glass windows on the east and south walls are 19th century, they are of a particularly fine quality. The east window depicts Jesus as the Good Shepherd with the Apostles, James and John.

 

Bowl

There are three bells in the Belfry which were made by Blems and Sons of Birmingham in 1868. The modern font consists of a marble bowl in an octagonal stone receptacle and was presented to the church in 1964. In the porch can be seen the original 12th century font, this is a tapering cylindrical bowl 17 1/2ins high by 22ins diameter and has a fillet round the rim on which is a band of irregular chevrons. There is also a bronze sundial in the porch which is dated 1673 and is inscribed Rich. Williams, Rich. Hughes, Wardens, Llangefni, along with an oak chest dating from 1811. There are several memorials in the church, the oldest of these is dated 1760.

 

StoneThe stone of Culidorus was discovered underneath the foundations of the old church of St. Cyngar in Llangefni when it was demolished in 1824 in order to build the larger present church. At the present time, it is not known for certain who Culidorus was but there is the possibility that he may have been an early Christian Priest possibly from the Roman Christian Church of Britain especially as the stone was originally found inside the church.

The stone is a crude slab of granite and measures 4ft 3ins x 2ft 8 ½ins x 6ins and it is believed that the Latin inscription would have been engraved using a “poking tool”. The whole inscription is encased in a border which is single at the base but at the top of the stone, there are two horizontal lines with a zigzag pattern in between each and this represents a rare example of decoration Inscriptionfor a stone of this kind. The stone was found in a mutilated condition and as a result of this, only a part of the inscription can be easily read.

 

The stone has been inscribed horizontally with six lines of Latin text written in Roman capitals in an uneven form suggesting that lines three and four may have been added at a later date. The inscription reads:-

 

CVLIDOR[I(?)] / IACIT / ET ORVVIT(a)E /

MVLIERI(s) / SECVNDI / [FILIVS(?)]

 

This can be translated to read:-

 

(The stone) of Culidor (or Culidorix), and his wife Oruvita.

(Here) he lies, (son) of Secundus.

Below the lower border it is possible to feel the letters FILIVS marked on the stone but never cut, this starts under the “S” of SECVNDI.

 

Between the R and V there are fainter scratchings which may possibly represent the letter I or V. It may be possible that ORVVITA was the widow of Culidorus and that these words would have been added when she died. The position of this insertion upsets the sense of the inscription and must therefore be read separately.

 

The stone was originally built into the inside of the north wall of the vestry, it was however suggested by Mr. Edward Owen, Secretary of Ancient Monuments Commission for Wales, that it should be removed and is now erected in the church porch with the inscription facing towards the west door. The stone has been mounted to stand clear of the wall so that both the back and the front of the stone can be examined. It is believed that this stone dates from the 5th/early 6th century.

 

There are a number of elegant memorials in the church, (i) a brass plaque which reads, Underneath lieth the body of Owen Owen of Glyn Afon, Gent. youngest son of Robert Owen of Pencraid Esq. who departed this life the 9th day of June, 1760, aged 38; (ii) brass plaque, To the glory of God and in loving memory of our beloved parents Thomas Nicholls-Jones, of Penrhos 1848-1914, and Anna Sculthorpe, his wife 1849-1929; (iii) marble plaque to, Rev. Evan Williams M.A. rural dean for 28 years, died 24th December, 1849, aged 71. Also Maria Dorothea, relict of the above Rev. Evan Williams, eldest daughter of the late Herbert Jones Esqr. of Llynon, died 2 March, 1861, aged 83.

 

(iv) Marble plaque to, Samuel James Evans, O.B.E. M.A., first headmaster of Llangefni County School, 1897-1936, born at Llandyssul, 1870, buried at Llandysilio, 1938; (v) brass plaque, in loving memory of Jane, wife of the Rev. Harry Owen M.A. rector of this parish died May 13th, 1876, aged 75; (vi) brass plaque, in memory of the Rev. Henry Owen M.A. for 27 years rector of this parish who was interred to rest May 2nd, 1890, aged 93; (vii) marble plaque, sacred to the memory of Anne Poole, widow of Richard Poole of Pencraig Esquire who died the 11th day of July, 1815, aged 74 years; (viii) marble plaque, sacred to the memory of Jane Hill who died Jan. 15th, 1851, aged 65.

 

(ix) Marble plaque, sacred to the memory of Richard Poole Esquire and Mary his wife only daughter of Robert Owen of Pencraig Esquire and their family whose remains lie interred near to this place. Jane Poole daughter died 6 March, 1765, aged 4 months, Richard their son died 7 Sept. 1768, aged 3 months, Robert Hugh another son died in 1771, aged 1 year, Mary the mother died 26 March, 1771, aged 38 years, Martha Poole, sister of the above named Robert Owen and widow of Anthony Pool surgeon died 22 March, 1794, aged 76 years, and Richard Poole the father died 3 Oct. 1799, aged 63 years.

 

(x) Brass plaque to, Robert John Edwards B.A. Rector of Llangefni, 1907-1918, born 18 Jan. 1847, died 30 Jan. 1918, interred at Llanbeblig, also his son Frank G. de Burgh Edwards Lieut. Royal Horse Artillery 1 Battery, killed in action 12th Oct. 1914, aged 29, buried at the cemetery at Vieux Berquin France; (xi) marble plaque to, Owen Anthony Poole eldest son and heir of Richard Poole of Caenest in the county of Merioneth Esquire, by Mary his wife, only daughter and heiress of Robert Owen of Pencraig Esquire, who departed this life the 4 day of march, 1823, in the 57th year of his age.

 

On the south wall of the nave there is a double memorial to those who lost their lives in both wars, (xii) Er Gogoniant i Dduw ac Er Côf didranc am y Gwyr o’r Eglwys Hon a fu farw dros eu Gwlad yn y Rhyfel mawr 1914-1918. Major Williams Griffith Phibbs, Pencraig, 1st Batt. R.I.F. died Nov. 8th, 1914, after the 1st Battle of Ypres; Lieut. Frank G. de Burgh Edwards, the Rectory 1 Battery R.H.A. killed in action at Vieux Berquin, Oct. 12, 1914; Lieut. Cyril Nicholls Jones, Penrhos, 14th Batt. R.W.F. killed in action at Pilken Ridge, July 31, 1917; Pte. James Harrison Roberts, New Road, 9th Batt. R.W.F. killed in action at La Bassee, July 3, 1915; Pte. Robert Williams, Field Street, 11th Rifle Brigade, died of wounds after the 2nd battle of the Somme, Feb. 14, 1917; Pte. Robert Currie Hughes, Tregarnedd Bagh, 16th Batt. R.W.F. killed in action at Ypres, July 21, 1917; Pte. James Henry Timms, Bulkeley Square, 16th Batt. R.W.F. killed in action at Norvel, Sept. 1, 1918.

 

(xiii) Er Gogoniant i Dduw ac Er Côf didranc am y Gwyr o’r Eglwys Hon a fu farw dros eu Gwlad yn y Rhyfel 1939-1945. Pte. Joseph Gibson 1st Batt. Worcs. Regt. Sig. Arthur Tysilio Jones, R. Corps. of signals; Sgt. Ifor Glyn Jones, R.A.F.; Flt. Sgt. Roy Jones, R.A.F.; B.S.M. Douglas Maurice Kennedy, 69, R.A.; Fus. Gwilym Owen, 1st Batt. R.W.F.; Pte. William Frazer Smith 1st Batt. Devonshire Regt.; Eu Gogoniant ni ddileir; ac y mae eu Henw yn byw byth. Pte. Owen Owens, R.P.C.

 

On the north wall of the church porch, there is an interesting list of former Rectors of St. Cyngar’s Church which extends back as far as 1406.

Rectors

RHEITHORIAID LLANGEFNI RECTORS

 

There have been several churches on this site which have been used as a regular place of worship for 1500 years. The life story of St. Cyngar and members of his family is probably one of the most documented of the Celtic Saints. There is a substantial booklet available which contains more detailed information about the church and its history.

Access – There is ample car parking space including disabled parking available in the car park adjacent to the church in Llangefni at SH458759. This is for pay and display parking but there is free parking allowed on Sundays.

There is some car parking space available outside the church of St. Cyngar at Borth y Gest at SH565373. Ynys Cyngar can best be accessed by parking at the end of the road to the shore at Black Rock Sands at SH543367. From here there is a walk of about half a mile along the beach to Ynys Cyngar. There is a road through the Porthmadog Golf Course but most of this is private.

Footnote

1 “Lives of the British Saints,” vol. 1 p. 94.

2 Theo, Evans, Drych y Prif Oesoedd, 1740, i, c. 4; Arch. Camb., 1905, pp.157-8, and “Lives of the British Saints,” vol. 5, p. 48.

3 There is a contradiction in “Lives of the British Saints,” vol. 4 p. 250, line 31 states that Cyngar left Somerset in about 577AD. He later in old age became a disciple of his nephew St. Cybi, vol. 3 p. 221, line 14 states however that Cybi died in 554AD.