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Current Aberaeron/Aberarth Church Site
A SHORT HISTORY OF LLANDDEWI ABERARTH CHURCH
(pictures at end of document)
Since the ninth century the people of Llanddewi Aberarth have worshipped on this spot. Evidence of this was provided from the carved stones (one fragment in Latin) which were recovered from the old walls of the Church when, with the exception of the Tower, it was rebuilt in 1860. The first written record of the Church, then referred to as Aberaith (aith, eithin = gorse) is in the Taxation Record of 1291, when the Church was valued at £4. Was this a misspelling of Aberarth (arth = bear)? No information has been found from that date until the Reformation, but we can safely assume that services were provided before 1291 as well as in the period up to the sixteenth century. No doubt the light of faith must have shone brightly at times, and more dimly at other times during these early centuries. Over the early years, the Church suffered periods of poverty like all other small churches in poor rural parishes. In 1740 the stipend of the curate was still only £6. a year. Financial help was obtained from the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty and this enabled the Church to purchase farms and cottages, the rents of which helped to support the Church and improve the incumbent's stipend.
The Church Tower (crenellated and with three slits) at the West end is 60 feet high and is almost certainly a medieval structure. In the very early days churches near the coast did not have towers as this would have drawn the attention of raiders to the settlements. The Tower is locally believed to be Norman. The entrance to the Church is through the Tower, inside which, fastened to the wall, can be seen three very ancient carved stones. Two have key shaped markings on a diagonal pattern (believed by experts to be good examples of early Christian art); the other coped stone of boat shape is of a hogsback (i.e. with sloping sides) design of Viking origin. These stones (and that at Silian near Lampeter, not a hogsback) are the only ones of their kind recorded in Wales(vide the Archaelogia Cambrensis 1896-8; also mentioned by George Thomas, MA, of the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments, Aberystwyth, in a lecture given in March 1986). The Viking hogsback stone is of particular interest. Further light on these stones is thrown in my hitherto unpublished notes: "The Early Christian Monuments of Wales" borrowed from the RCAHM office in Aberystwyth refers to the stone in the porch of Llanddewi Aberarth Church: "The end portion of a recumbent hog backed stone, height 10", length 24½ and width 10¼". The upper faces are decorated with longitudinal ribs, recalling the regulated decoration of the earliest hogsbacks. The surviving gable end is plain with moulded edges. The hogsback is a characteristic Northumberland type, found also in Scotland and occasionally in Cornwall. In Northumberland the vogue lasted from the ninth to the early eleventh century "Viking Age Sculpture" by Richard Bailey, from RCAHM office: "When Brompton Church in N. Yorkshire was rebuilt in 1867 the restorer signed a contract giving him the rights to all he found.A considerable amount of pre-Norman sculpture re-used in the foundations was recovered. The Church had to buy them back but could not afford to buy them all. The rest were sold to the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral for the monks' dormitory. There were eleven hogsback stones (now in the Cathedral), and one known as the Brompton type hogsback." Hogsbacks generally dated after 920 AD. "These were stone shrines covering the body of a Saint." They were of a house type construction. In a lecture in March 1986, on the subject of "Ancient Christian Monuments in Ceredigion" given by George Thomas, MA, of the RCAHM, Aberystwyth, he discussed , towards the end of his talk, the hogsback stone in the porch of Aberarth Church. This was a Viking stone of the tenth century and this type of stone was used as a gravestone. The hogsback is similar in design to the roof of a house and was laid horizontally over the grave to protect it. (The stone is fastened to the wall of the entrance to the Church.) The "top" part of the stone is at an angle which was part of the "house roof effect". The "bottom" of the stone is flat on the porch wall. This area of the stone, when laid horizontally over the grave, was the part which joined up with the memorial cross. We know that the Vikings raided Aberarth in 908 AD and fought a battle with the Welsh for possession of Castell Dineirth (near Lloegr Fach). I have no evidence to support this suggestion, but could the hogsback stone in Aberarth Church be the gravestone of a Viking who died during this raid? I visited Brompton Church on 12.10.1986. Three Brompton-type hogsbacks are situated up front of the Church and are bedded in concrete. Two of the stones have bear's head at both ends, and the sides slope like a house roof. The third stone is a little larger and has a bear at each end, lying on its back. There is another broken hogsback near the North wall. The Tower houses the Church's one bell. The entrance to the Tower is inside the Church, fairly high up on the left. However it is not possible to get to the very top and enjoy the wide view over Cardigan Bay (in by-gone days this must have been an excellent look-out) for there is no interior staircase. This feature is found in East Anglian churches where the defenders took refuge at the top of the tower, access to which was provided by ladders which were then drawn up. There is now a pitched roof (not visible from the ground) for protection from the elements. The Nave and Chancel were rebuilt in 1860 to replace the previous ancient and deteriorating structure. The font, of white bathstone with marble stem, was installed in 1888. The Church furniture is all of oak and, together with the electronic organ, has been given during this century by faithful members, often in memory of relatives. The new vestry on the right was a gift from E. Glyn Davies in 1965. The reading desk is part of the War Memorial; there is a memorial plaque for the 1914-18 War on the North wall and a similar one on the South wall for the 1939-45 War. The carved oak lectern was given in 1915 in memory of Dr. John Davies who was church warden for thirty nine years. The credence table was given in 1950 in memory of David Jones, Drenewydd; the altar in 1968 in memory of Joseph Idris and Catherine Williams, Greenland, and the altar rail in memory of David and Mary Ann Williams, Wenallt, also in 1968. The panelling and reredos was given by the congregation and friends of the Church in 1949. The magnificent East window was given in 1948 by the Ven. Alfred Williams and his wife. This window is well worth detailed study. A door on the right of the Chancel leads into the cemetery but is seldom used. There are several interesting memorials on the walls of the Chancel but they have become difficult to read because of age. The one on the North wall is in memory of the Rev. David Jones who was incumbent from 1747 to 1801. The white marble memorial on the East wall and another on the South wall are in memory of the Jones family of Tyglyn, who contributed much towards the progress of the Church during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There is also a memorial to Mrs. Wigley on the South wall. The Wigley family too contributed well towards the cost of rebuilding the Church in 1860. A couple of the carved/inscribed stones which helped to date the early history of the Church were taken to Mr. Wigley's home at Dol Aeron, Aberaeron, to adorn his rockery. Alas, these have since disappeared, having, together with other available stones, been used to line the river bank to prevent erosion. The significance of these stones was only realised in 1895/6 ( vide the Cambrian Archeological Association Transactions 1896/7/8.) and in the April 1896 issue there is a photograph of the lost stone with its fragmentary Latin inscription. In this article Dr. John Rhys, LL.D., gives two possible versions of this Latin wording, viz.
|locus Sti Nich
res ejus Con
Res filius Con
|The site of the Church of St Nicholas which Griphina dedicated for his soul||The site of the Church of St Paulinus which his son dedicated for his soul|
However, as Dr. John Rhys himself writes, his reconstruction of the Latin is "mere guess-work". During the middle of the nineteenth century the whole of the Church and adjoining buildings were either built, rebuilt or restored with the exception of the Tower. The programme was started in 1837 when a new schoolroom was built on the South side of the churchyard wall. The cost of building this was a little over £80. During its lifetime it has been used as a Sunday School and also a Day School. It is now used for holding meetings and other functions. The churchyard wall was built in 1859 at a cost of 3/- per perch. In a report on the Church in 1833 it was stated to be a very ancient structure which was deteriorating as the years progressed. In 1860 it was decided to demolish the old Church and rebuild it. This was done in the summer of 1860 at a cost of £46.10s., with an additional charge of £15. for the repair of the Tower. The coachhouse and stable were rebuilt in 1862. The stable was for two horses, and precedence was to be given to the clergyman and to the proprietor of Tyglyn to house their horses, Mr. Davies, Tyglyn, having agreed to pay half the cost of rebuilding. The Church required more restoration about 1883 and again in 1931when a new roof was installed. Electricity was connected in 1938 to replace the oil lamp system of lighting. More alterations took place after the 1939-45 War. Outside the Church, the burial ground wall was repaired and repointed. The graveyard has been improved by removing kerb stones and levelling the land to enable the grass to be mown and kept tidy. In 1990 Llanddewi Aberarth received an award from the Archdeacon of Cardigan for "The Best Kept Churchyard in the Deanery of Glyn Aeron". The parsonage was a late addition to the Church's properties. It was built in 1875/6 near the Feathers Hotel in Aberaeron. It was a very substantial building with three reception rooms and six bedrooms. It had a coach-house, a stable for two horses, a goat house, a cow shed and a pig sty. It cost £1,166. When Llanddewi Aberarth was grouped with the Aberaeron and Henfynyw Churches in 1959, the parsonage became superfluous to the needs of the grouped Churches and was sold in 1969. A number of changes in the locality had an influence on the Church. A new chapel-of-ease was built at Tyglyn in 1809; it was closed in 1883. A new chapel was built in Aberaeron in 1838 and was replaced in 1872 by Holy Trinity Church, a large Church designed to cope with the expanding needs of Aberaeron Town. Eventually it became necessary to detach a part of the parish of Llanddewi Aberarth and annex it to Henfynyw and thus to Holy Trinity Church, Aberaeron. A scheme was devised by the Bishop of St. David's, whereby that part of Llanddewi Aberarth parish which lies within the limits of the Urban District of Aberaeron was detached from Llanddewi Aberarth Church and annexed to Henfynyw along with some income and a capital sum. The scheme was approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and an Order in Council was signed by the King on July 19th, 1910, making the scheme a legal requirement forthwith. This was a hard blow for Llanddewi Aberarth Church, but it survived. The ashes of Sir Geraint Evans, one of Wales' most beloved musical sons, are interred here, on the left against the seaward wall. The Church has been scheduled since June 3rd, 1964, under the Town and Country Planning Act, as a building of special architectural and historic interest.
David S. Downey et al. Aberaeron 1984/1993
A fuller account is given in an article by Mr. Downey published in the Journal of the Ceredigion Antiquarian Society in 1984.
Current Aberaeron/Aberarth Church Site
Inside the Church
|Viking Hogsback Stone
||and the other stones
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