A History and Description of St Elli’s Church Llanelly

History & Description of
Llanelly Parish Church,
Breconshire, Wales
All photographs copyright 2004 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

Below: General view of the church.
St Elli's Church (2004) Mar 2016
The following history and description of the parish church at Llanelly in (old) Breconshire, is taken from the official guide to the church. The guide pamphlet mentions the church’s foundation and makes note of certain points of interest both inside and outside the church. My wife and I visited and attended services at Llanelly in April of 2004. My great-great grandparents, John J. Thomas and Elizabeth Davis, from Brynmawr, were married here on December 28th, 1844.
Guide to Llanelly Church
1. The church is dedicated to St. Ellyw, or Elli, a daughter or granddaughter of Brychan, who gave his name to Bryncheiniog (Brecon). By some it is said to be dedicated to St. Elli, a Saint of the 6th century (500-550), the second Abbot of Llancarfan.
2. The ancient churchyard, within the magnificent circle of venerable yews, indicates that it was a sacred spot in pre-Christian times. These yews, which cannot easily be equaled in our country, were probably planted when the present church was built between 1200 and 1250, and are therefore 700 years old, but look older than those in Llanyre Churchyard (Radnorshire), mentioned in Doomsday book.
3. Opposite the main entrance is the old preaching cross, which is probably of the same age. The damaged cross which caps it today is not the original, but may have once been on the top of the Church. The shaft was also considerably taller, square at the base, then octagonal up to the cross.
4. The Church: There were two building periods in its history; to the first, 1175-1250, belong the font, the South Aisle, and the tower. The North Aisle was added in 1626, possibly through the influx of wealth following the foundation of the Clydach Iron Works.
5. The Tower, of early English style, is of the fortified type, of which many specimens remain along the Welsh Border. By looking at the windows inside some idea of the width and massive strength of the walls can be gained.
6. Outside, in the South Wall, opposite the Chancel Arch, may be seen the low priests’ door of early 13th century work.
7. On the right of the East Window in the North Aisle, you will see a Piscina in good order. Here was evidently at one time a private chapel.
8. Under this window is an old communion table dated 1624. The present alter is reputed to have been taken out of the cellar of the Aberclydach House. It is the older of the two, and a magnificent specimen of Elizabethan work.
9. The font is without mark or lettering, dating from the time of the building of the Church. It is possibly older and may be Norman.
10. The Registers commence at 1701, and record the baptism of a distinguished parishioner, Sir Bartle Frere, 1815-1884, born at Clydach House, whose family owned the Clydach Iron Works. He later became Governor of Cape Colony and High Commissioner of South Africa. Also of Frederick John Jayne (1842) born at Pantybeiliau, later Bishop of Chester.
11. One interesting entry is: “Ann Lewis was buried according to the late Act of Parliament, in sheep wool only.”
12. In the tower are six bells, one dated 1908, two 1715, and two 1620; but the oldest dates from 1440 and is one of the oldest in Wales. It is inscribed: “S ‘CE ELLINE, THESU CAMPANA (M) SEMPER TIBI PROTIGE SANA (M)” which might be rendered “Ellimus, Saint of Jesus, ever keep thy bell safe and sound.” John Gosselin cast in Bristol.
13. An early tombstone dates from 1636 recording the death of Jennett, wife of William Edwards. On several of the tombstones may be seen the sculpture of an artist (if so he may be called) of the 17th century, in a style peculiar to himself. It consists of mere rude outlines of something like men and women (see figure on south wall in chancel) the latter are distinguished from the former by caps resembling the blind bridles of carriage horses, a ruff around the neck and petticoat. The hands of both are in the supplicating posture. See also inside the Sanctuary along the north side.
14. Welsh services continued to be held here until the opening of the 20th century. In this Church ministered for some years the great Welsh scholar patriot, the Rev. Thomas Price (Carnhuanawe) author of the “History of Wales.” This church has always been a favourite place for weddings, while its many funerals testify to the wish of its sons and daughters to seek their last rest in this sacred and quiet spot in the church.
15. We extend a welcome to all visitors. The Church is open during summer weekends¬† for prayer and meditation. Please sign the Visitor’s book. Contributions placed in the box will be used for the upkeep of this ancient shrine and its services.
This article was originally published on Jeffrey Thomas’ web site and was copyrighted ¬© 2004 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved. Although permission has been requested, no response has been forthcoming from his mailbox (jltbalt1@verizon.net) and it has been edited and updated (March 2016).