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The Carmarthenshire Historian


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Looking at Carmarthenshire Churches

By D. L. BAKER-JONES, M.A. Llandysul Grammar School

Very few of our ancient churches have survived intact in their original form. Those that have not known sudden change have responded to a process of gradual evolution which has hardly finished at the present day. All of them owe their preservation in some degree to the generations of parishioners who guarded them against the slow decay of time and the ravages of wind and weather. Individually they represent such a range of types, sizes, materials, plans and arrangement that it is almost impossible to group them in any tidy system. Looking at a large town church or a small hamlet church there is such a wide variety. Each has its architectural 'personality', and each combines with its surroundings to produce its familiar 'local' picture.

To appreciate fully the beauty of our ancient churches and the significance of the many traces of antiquity found in them, it is essential to keep in mind the position they occupied and the purposes they have served throughout the centuries. Our parish churches were not built only for worship at regular intervals, with occasional services such as baptisms, marriages and burials, remaining empty more often than not. On the contrary, the parish church was the centre of community life. It was supported by all; it relieved the sick and needy; it was used as a parish hall; the church house was a meeting place of medieval guilds. Sometimes ale was brewed on the premises, sold for church funds and drunk during dances and fairs in the churchyard. It was the focal point of the parish, which may be defined as the community of a fixed area, organised for Church purposes and recognising as its communal and spiritual centre the church fabric. Its elements were thus three fold: the building, the people and the priest's office of the cure of souls.

The first partitioning of the country into parishes is a subject of much obscurity. Tradition maintains that England was divided into parishes in the time of Theodore of Tarsus, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 668. This is open to doubt, but it is probable that in the beginning the manor or township was usually the determining unit. Their extent, of course, varied enormously, as it does today — from a few acres to many square miles. A parish might embrace a whole chain of manors, and where habitation was more concentrated, it might equally well follow the boundaries of a single demesne. Parish officials were the sexton, parish clerks and church wardens who were far more important people in those days. The sexton acted as a kind of town-crier proclaiming the obits and masses for the morrow. The parish clerk assisted the parish priest, when Mass was said daily. He rang the bell, prepared the altar, led the responses, and preceded the procession with holy water. When the priest visited the sick the parish clerk led the way and carried the bell and candle. On Sundays and great Feast Days he went round the parish, entered the houses and sprinkled the people with holy water.

Church wardens were entrusted with more varied duties than today. They had to keep accounts of everything connected with church funds, collect rents of lands and houses left to the church, farm the church stock of cattle, sell wool and cheese and gifts in kind made to the church, organise "Church Ales" and administer the funds for the relief of the needy. They supervised Church repairs and prosecuted such offenders against the ecclesiastical law as adulterers and Sabbath-breakers. They also acted as bankers and pawn-brokers, the valuables entrusted to them being stored in the church chest. They were responsible for the safe custody of the Maypole and of bells and coats used in country dancing. After the Reformation they had many civil duties to carry out, such as the provision of arms for the militia, relief of the families of soldiers, provision of pounds, stocks and pillories, and the destruction of vermin.

It must be remembered, too, that the church was often a place of refuge against marauders. This may, in part, account for the thickness of the walls and the smallness of the windows — but there were also structural reasons, of course — and the position of the church on the highest ground. Sometimes too, it served as a shelter from the blast of storms.

Facts such as these, as will be seen later, reveal the significance of many features of a church which would otherwise be of no interest and might often be unnoticed.

Lost Beauty
Medieval churches were full of colour. They contained brilliantly painted murals, brightly coloured stained glass windows, gilded carvings, impressive effigies of knights and their ladies — all these forming a background to an elaborate ritual with images, candles, banners and priests with their splendid vestments, providing an experience of moving beauty. Compared with their original state, our churches appear cold and bare after the ravages of time and man. Stone has crumbled, the living form of the creators has often been renovated tastelessly or replaced by incongruous substitutes. With the coming of the Renaissance and its intellectual, religious and political upheavals the Church lost much of its ascendancy and the buildings were denuded of much of their beauty. It is true that the Church, more particularly the greater monasteries, had accumulated much wealth, chiefly in the form of landed estates. Again the higher clergy, often appointed by the secular authority on political grounds, were frequently pluralists and absentees. There was some slackness and self indulgence, and many superstitious usages had grown up. Payments to the Papacy became burdensome and the interference of the clerical courts in the lives of the people was resented. The Protestant Reformers objected to the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Henry VIII repudiated the authority of the Pope in this country and assumed the position of Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England. He suppressed the monasteries and confiscated their wealth. During the reign of his successor, Edward VI, the Reformers grew in power, they abolished the Latin Mass and introduced an English Prayer Book. Chantries were dissolved and the churches plundered of much of their wealth in ornaments, vestments and sacred vessels. Next came Queen Mary, who restored the Papal authority and the Mass, and ordered the burning of Protestant heretics. Queen Elizabeth I reversed Mary's policy and established the Church of England much as it exists today. She in turn persecuted Catholics, and the final severance from Rome came in 1570, when she was excommunicated by Pope Pius V.

During these tumultuous times our churches were denuded and everything savouring of "Popery" was wantonly destroyed. A few decades later the Puritans became powerful. They were earnest reformers who aimed at combining a stricter morality with a simpler form of worship. They objected to the rule of 'bishops' and to the term 'priest'; to the use of set prayers and the wearing of vestments. They also disapproved of church paintings, pipe organs and ornaments as tending towards superstition and idolatry. All who love good architecture are grieved and indignant at the vandalism which defaced statuary, burned the carved woodwork and smashed the exquisite stained glass of our old churches. During the last century many churches were restored or sometimes entirely rebuilt by generous and zealous benefactors. In many cases, unfortunately, they were misguided and the last surviving examples of ancient fonts, family armorials, water stoups, gargoyles, cresset stones, dog-tongs, misericords and rood screens disappeared for ever.

Before passing to an examination of some of the more interesting architectural features of the churches in Carmarthenshire, one must bear in mind that Wales in general and Carmarthenshire in particular cannot be regarded as very rich in ecclesiastical remains. But in the comparative insignificance of its architectual monuments Wales resembles mountainous districts elsewhere. When nature itself is on a grand and awe-inspiring scale, men everywhere seem to have felt that they could not presume to compete with the handiwork of God. In Westmoreland and Cumberland, on the high moorlands of Inverness and Argyle, amid the mountains of Auvergne or amongst the snow-clad peaks of Switzerland the story is the same. The masterpieces of architecture in many lands are found in the fens and in the plains, where the soaring spire or the cloud-capped tower was reared that it might take the place of the majestic mountain in bidding men lift their hearts to God.

Several causes have combined to render anything like magnificent architecture out of the question. Firstly, Wales is rugged and mountainous and its inhabitants were the victims of conquest from early times so that their resources were very limited. Moreover, tithes and ecclesiastical revenues were paid to English or continental overlords, thus depriving local churches of much needed funds. Geologically speaking, too, we find that native building material, especially in the North and West, was unsuitable for refined and sophisticated tracery and carving by the most skilled craftsmen. Lastly, the politically unstable and disturbed pattern of Welsh history in medieval times prevented the practice by its people of any but the necessary arts of life.

Norman Fragments
Even so there are many interesting and unique features in the churches of Carmarthenshire. A few traces of Norman architecture have survived, and here we find a signpost to some major political events in the history of the county. The strictly Norman period in Carmarthenshire commenced early.

On the occasion of his visit to St. Davids in 1081, William the Conqueror doubtless travelled along the old Roman road to Carmarthen. Whatever pious interludes may have enlivened the journey there is little doubt that it was primarily intended by William both to demonstrate and strengthen his power. Before the close of the 11th century Norman barons had established themselves at strategic points within the county. Although traces of Norman architecture remain as well as details of Norman craftsmanship in the form of fonts and other relics, it can be said at the outset that Norman architecture did not take root in the county. The Norman lord was a settler in a half conquered country. His style of building was foreign and never became the living expression of Welsh church builders. The church of St. Mary Magdalen at St. Clears contains the one unmistakable fragment of Norman architecture in Carmarthenshire, which consists of the chancel arch and pier capitals. It reminds one of similar Romanesque features in another Cluniac church at Malpas in Monmouthshire. At St. Clears the arch itself has been reset in a rather clumsy fashion. Nevertheless it is typical of Norman work — thick and massive columns, supporting a series of concentric semi-circular arches with cushion capitals which change the square shape of the arch spring into the round shape of the columns. In addition there are zigzags and spirals, simple patterns mixed with stiff formal foliage as well as intertwining basket work designs of Celtic origin. The unusual width of the church is doubtless due to its monastic origin and to the necessity in a small church of having as much space as possible for processions. The priory of St. Clears may be dated early in the 12th century, and at the outset the church was a plain chamber without aisles which terminated at its western end by a wall in which were probably a round headed doorway and a window above it. As such the church would conform to the earliest type of parochial church in the county, of which Eglwys Cymyn may be regarded as another good example — a single chambered building divided into nave and chancel. The church of St. Clears appears to have terminated at the west end with a flat wall and gable. In the 13th century a massive unbuttressed military looking tower was placed symmetrically in the centre of the west front.

As much as possible of the original walling was used in making this addition, and as the west wall was as a rule occupied by only one or at most two narrow lancet openings, it easily became the eastern wall of the new tower as is the case at Cilycwm. Where the parish was sufficiently wealthy to afford it, an altogether new structure was built to the north or south of the original church, and the much coveted tower was placed at the west end of the new chamber. When this addition was completed the intervening wall was pierced. This course was followed at Cyffig, Penbre, St. Peter's, Carmarthen, Cynwyl Gaeo and elsewhere. As the new aisle was often more commodious and better lighted, the altar was usually transferred to it.

Sentinel Towers
Typical Welsh churches were towerless, as are the great majority of churches in Anglesey, Caernarvonshire, Merioneth, Cardiganshire and North Pembrokeshire. Welshmen in their own homes, in the mountainous and more remote parts built simple rectangular churches after the old Celtic fashion, without structural chancel, and having only a small gable or turret to contain the bell. Near the English border, and in the richer districts where Welshmen and foreign settlers came in contact, towers are much more common. At times, no doubt, they were needed for defence against marauding bands. They stood like giant sentinels watching over the people. They housed the bells, called the people to worship and spread tidings both joyful and sad. At night a lamp or beacon fire was lit in the windows to warn of danger and plague, or guide the unwary traveller by land and sea. On examination one finds that an effect of great stability was obtained by the width of the tower receding to the top either by "battering", stepped upper storeys or buttresses projecting less and less the higher they went. Many towers had spires added to them and these impressive landmarks were often adorned with weather cocks, coats of arms, emblems of saints and so on.

In Carmarthenshire there are out of fifty-eight churches altogether, approximately thirty-four ancient churches (including the ruins of Talley abbey) with towers. Although it is impossible to speak with certainty of the age of many of these towers, it would seem that some of them were renovated in the 15th century. In some cases they are massive battlemented structures as at Llanstephan, Llangyndeyrn, Llanfair-ar-y-bryn, Penbre, Cyffig, Cynwyl Gaeo, Llanddowror, Llanllwni and others. Their military style long continued after their original use had passed away. Some of them rise to about 50 or 60 feet and they contain such interesting features as corbel courses or tables i.e. projections usually of stone, built into the wall and supporting the remainder of the tower. String courses (consisting of a moulding or a projecting course of stone) were added for decoration and ran horizontally across the faces of the tower.

Thus at Llanddowror the tower rises about 50 feet to a bold corbel table above which is a deep battlement. Mr. W. D. Caroe, F.S.A. described the tower of Llanfair-ar-y-bryn as "possessing striking peculiarities not shared by its more immediate neighbours in the same style". Here the original entrance to the church was beneath the tower and this was vaulted, acting as a porch. It has a corbel course, a rather feeble string course and several fine gargoyles at the roof level. At Llangathen the tower is one of the finest examples in the county of the regular type of 13th century quasi-military tower, while at Llanstephan there is "one of those embattled towers so common in South Wales, which are of an early military type, but run on until the 16th century". Rising to about 65 feet, it has an effective corbel table and battlements. The tower at Marros may well date from the 13th century. It is of local type and rises to about 70 feet with a regular corbel table and battlements. The situation of this church on high ground has always made the tower a fine landmark from the sea and possibly because of this the tower was heightened at one of the restorations so that as a result its symmetry has been destroyed. It is interesting to note in passing that the upper chamber of the tower was fitted with a fire place and was at one time the schoolroom of the village.

English Intrusions
From the purely architectural point of view two of the most interesting Carmarthenshire churches are St. Mary's, Kidwelly and St. Martin's, Laugharne. The former is the church of a Benedictine priory, which also appears to have been parochial from its start. It was doubtless erected by craftsmen brought for the purpose from the Abbey of Sherborne in Dorset to which it belonged. St. Martin's, Laugharne, is a good example of a small cross church of the early 14th century. It has a central tower which had been brought into closer conformity with the general type of the neighbourhood than it may have originally displayed. Both Kidwelly and Laugharne are to all intents and purposes English parish churches, and are good examples of their different styles. They have been described as "sojourners in a strange land", they mark a stage in the English conquest, and as such are of interest both to the historian and the antiquary.

No vestige remains of the first Norman church of Kidwelly and the plan of the present church is unusual amongst the monastic churches of Wales. Its position on the bank of a tidal river led to a peculiar arrangement of the monastic buildings. The church consists of an aisleless nave, a transeptal chapel on either side of the nave and a long aisleless chancel. The pre-Reformation nave extended considerably further to the west, but probably after the Dissolution it was shortened and the eastern limb preserved in its entirety. Unusual, too, amongst the monastic churches of Wales is the tower finished off with a tall and well proportioned spire, placed on the north side of the church, the base forming a porch which is immediately opposite to the south entrance of the church. The nave is very wide — 33 feet in all — and the chancel is plain and dignified. Several of the windows appear to belong to the latter part of the 13th century. Here at Kidwelly the tower is the principal architectural feature of the church. It is a 25 foot square, with a very decided batter to the lower 6 feet. It is buttressed to the parapet, which has almost disappeared. Internally the lower storey is vaulted with plain quadripartite vaulting. On several occasions it has been struck by lightning. When the tower was rebuilt in 1658 the work was so badly executed that its symmetry was destroyed. The transeptal chapels were doubtless built for tombs and chantry altars. The church wardens' presentment of 1720 affords interesting information on this subject — "We present the two chapels adjoyning to the church of Kidwelly, — one whereof belongs to the estate of Mudluscome, and the other to the estate of Llechdouney, to be out of repaire, and ought to be repaired by the proprietors of the sayd estates, viz by Mr. Dean Jones and Doctor Bentham, and the other by Owen Brigstocke, Esq.—Arnold Hopkins, church warden". The arches opening into the transepts are plain and without capitals. The south transept contains a tablet stating that it was rebuilt in 1767, which suggests a thorough renovation.

An interesting relic at Kidwelly is the alabaster figure of the Virgin and Child dating from the 14th century. The font is modern, taking the place of that destroyed in the last fall of the spire in 1884. The tombs comprise one of great interest in memory of a lady Ysolda, traditionally identified with the lady Hawys who married Patrick de Chaworth and died in 1274. In the south or Mansel chapel is an effigy of a 14th century civilian, and there is also a slab bearing a 15th century cross.

Tradition maintains that the original church of St. Martin at Laugharne was erected by Sir Guido de Brian, who served in the French wars of Edward III. De Brian's arms, together with the head of the King, are displayed in one of the nave windows. The church as it is today consists of nave and chancel, both without aisles; north and south transepts, and over the crossing a fine tower which has been shortened. Although the main architectural features of the building belong to the 15th century, it is difficult to ascertain how far various restorations have affected the building. The present edifice was restored in 1873-4 in the Perpendicular style, but the original was probably in the Early English style. The transepts appear to be part of the original plan, there being in the north transept a recessed tomb containing an effigy. This may well be that of a palmer belonging to the de Brian family. The south transept has a piscina and a credence table, a plain squint to the chancel, while the chancel retains both its sedilia and piscina. All the windows are Perpendicular, much restored. The arches at the crossing and perhaps the lower part of the tower belong to the earlier church. There are a few interesting objects of antiquarian interest, including a slab in the south transept bearing a cross of unusual design. This cross, which may show Viking influence, has a knotted pattern with a continuous sequence along the edge forming a rope design to the shaft and circular top. It may be dated from the 9th or 10th centuries. The earliest dated tombstone is apparently one to "J.H. 1690". On the floor of the south porch is a plain circular stone vessel. A treasured possession is an embroidered cope of Italian origin dating back to pre-Reformation days. Altogether the church is an architectural and antiquarian gem which possesses the charm of a miniature cathedral.

But the most important church in the county is St. Peter's at Carmarthen, which has been for a long time the venue of important religious and civic celebrations. It consists of chancel, nave, south aisle, transeptal chapel on the north side, south porch, now a chapel of rest, and west tower. As compared with the parochial churches of the county it is a large and dignified edifice befitting an ancient historic town. Architecturally speaking, however, it is rather disappointing. With the exception of the mouldings to the windows and west door, it is bare of decorative features. The tower, nave and chancel may be of 13th century origin while the south aisle possibly dates from the end of the 14th century. In 1394 a licence was granted for the foundation of a service to the honour of the "Blessed Mary in a chantry within the church of the blessed Peter of Kermerdyn" (charter Rolls, Ric II). The east end of the aisle was known at one time as "the town chancel" and was used as the consistory court of the diocese. The transept is called in the Corporation records "the Mayors Chapel" and adjoining it was a bone hole or charnel house. The tower has been repaired from time to time and in 1776 the battlements were renewed. It contained a priests chamber lit by a single lancet with trefoiled head, the only original window remaining. The font is a plain hexagon, which has been retooled. The church was re-ceiled and roofed by John Nash in 1785. Until 1836 the Mayor and Corporation occupied the north transept, when their seat was removed to the nave. There are four sepulchral recesses in the north wall of the nave. A 13th century slab is inscribed RICAR : ROSB(U)R : CIT : ICI : DEV : DE : LALME : EIT : MERCI. A second slab bears a recumbent figure without an inscription. On the north wall of the chancel is a broken slab with a carved figure. The splendid tomb of Rhys ap Thomas and his wife will be considered later. Amongst the other items of interest is the brass tablet commemorating Sir Richard Steele, who was buried in the south aisle on 4 September 1729. In the west porch is a Roman altar, and on the walls of the church are several interesting memorial tablets with the heraldic devices of many important families. These have been described in detail by the late H. M. Vaughan, and they record Carmarthenshire personalities such as John Jones, M.P. of Ystrad, Anne Lady Vaughan of Derwydd, General Nott, the Rev. Edmund Meyrick and others. There is also in stone, the Royal escutcheon of France and England quarterly, dating from the 15th century.

Churchyard Lore
Although special mention has been made of the three outstanding churches of Carmarthenshire, it is well to remember that all sorts of curious remains are scattered over the county. It is often worth while looking around a country churchyard for interesting traces of ancient customs. Thus, for example, pillories, stocks and whipping posts, ducking stools, mounting steps, tithe barns, clergy houses and lych gates were a familiar sight. In most cases they have disappeared although the stocks complete with its padlock and seat survive in the church of Llywel in the neighbouring county of Brecon. In the cobbled yard outside Llanegwad churchyard one may still see the mounting steps once used by parishioners who came to church on horseback.

In former times churchyards were very busy places. On Feast days there was dancing and games such as 'fives' and 'cnappan' or kicking 'y bel ddu' as in Llandysul during the ancient jollifications of Calan Hen. Fairs were held at specified times and travelling merchants set up their booths and plied a busy trade. Churchyards were not so full of graves and gravestones in those days. In some cases the church was built on an old heathen burial ground, and the churchyard would be older than the church. Yew trees exist in many churchyards, some going back to antiquity, and are vestiges of the groves in which pagans worshipped. They symbolised immortality, were allegedly a protection against roving cattle, and used for decorating the church at Easter and major feasts.

Church marks consisted of the names of nearby mansions or farms carved on old churchyard fences and indicated that the tenants were responsible for keeping that part of the fence in a good state of repair. They are reminders of the time when the actual repair of the fabric of the church fell upon all parishioners, e.g. at Marros an interesting feature of the churchyard is a number of inscribed initials, denoting the length of walling contributed by various parishioners from 1786-1799.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, when surgical science was beginning to develop, the prejudice against the dissection of bodies was so great that medical students were driven to what was known as "body snatching". To prevent this a small building called a watch box was erected in the churchyard wherein armed men were on guard to foil the activities of the "resurrection men" — as they were called.

Crosses were freguently set up in a number of churchyards to commemorate an early saint, or for outdoor preaching. The cross was also an important "station" in the Palm Sunday processions and could be used for public proclamations. Some had a niche in the shaft for the pyx (a receptacle containing the Host). Some crosses had a 'lantern' top or arms and were enriched with sculptured figures. Only traces of churchyard crosses remain in this county. Shafts and stems, pedestals and bases are scattered in the parishes of Eglwys Cymyn, Llandeilo Fawr, Llanelli, Llanglydwen, Llangynnor, Llansadyrnin, Llanwinio, Marros and Pendine.

The extent of the original limits of the borough of Kidwelly were marked by four crosses, and according to a charter of 22 Henry VI (1444) the hounds of the borough and foreignry (forensica) are said to lie within "the four ancient crosses that compose the said town". A survey of the lordship taken in 1609 re-affirmed this tradition and no doubt these crosses had an important religious significance as well in medieval times. In the corporation minutes of Laugharne for 1751 reference is made to "the cross of the Church". Again a cross was thought to exist on a small open space immediately north of the Mariners Chapel and known as "The Grist" or Cross Square. Although there is some confusion as to the actual site of the original cross at Laugharne it is interesting that up to the middle of the last century it was customary for funerals to walk three times round the cross on the Grist. In Carmarthen town a cross known as the Market Cross stood originally near St. Mary's Church and not far from where General Nott's monument stands today. The Cross was moved to Lammas Street in 1783 to make room for a small roofed market place. In 1843 the stone fragment forming the pediment to this cross (and traditionally regarded as part of the stake at which Bishop Ferrar was martyred) was again removed to Abergwili Church where it now forms the finial of the spire. According to some authorities the fragment of carved stonework at Ystrad, Johnstown was a portion of a beautiful cross that stood near the market precincts and the church of St. Mary. Three sides of the fragment contained a carved figure beneath a trifoliated head, the fourth had an ogee shaped crocketed canopy. The figures may signify the Father in Majesty, a bishop, St. John the Baptist and the founder carrying a sword of state and a model of a church. Llwyd's Parochialia refers to "fragments of a popish cross in ye churchyard; of another in ye town near ye churchyard and a third now wholly ruined, by ye Ostry".

Maypoles have completely disappeared along with the traditional ceremonies and customs associated with them. The first of May was kept as a festival to celebrate the return of Spring. The Queen of May was crowned with a garland of flowers. There was a procession to the village green, dancing round the Maypole and general merry making. These celebrations were suppressed by the Puritans and revived after the Restoration of 1660. Then they gradually declined in importance with the Methodist revival in the 18th century. There are frequent references in Welsh poetry to the Maypole or "Bedwen Fai". It was also known as "pawl haf", a decorated birch pole used also for the celebration of St. John Baptist day or Midsummer day e.g. Dafydd ap Gwilym says -

"Y Fedwen las anfadwallt, Hir yr wyd ar herw o'r alit".

and in an early 17th century carol we read

"Digwyl Ifan fedyddiwr glan, I bydd llawen gwilio bedwen".

Earlier in this century a Carmarthenshire antiquary recorded some of the traditional customs in the Kidwelly area which survived up to the last century. He describes the practice of placing mountain ash over the doors and windows on the Calends of May even as late as 1845. Some regarded this rite as an ancient custom to drive out trouble from the house or counteract the evil influence of witches who were mischievously active on the first day of May. On the same day, a pole from twelve to fourteen feet in length, made gay with evergreens, flowers and ribbons, was carried by the young people along the chief streets of the borough with much singing and merriment. The procession then returned to the 'vacance' within the Barbican walls, the pole was fixed in the ground and around it dancing went on till the evening. The inhabitants of Kidwelly observed many other customs, too, which are largely traceable to ecclesiastical origin or sanction and to the conservative spirit of the inhabitants long after the original religious significance of the rites were forgotten or little understood.

Tombs, Demons and Dials
In Carmarthenshire a few interesting lychgates deserve examination. The term lych or lich is derived from an old English word for a dead body. At the lychgate or corpse gate the funeral procession stopped and the coffin was placed on a wooden or stone table, while the priest read part of the burial service. In Medieval days only rich people were buried in coffins; the poor were brought in the parish coffin usually carried on the parish bier (a few of which still remain). Then they were taken out, wrapped in a sheet and interred in the ground. To give impetus to the wool trade of the country, an act was passed in 1678 forbidding anyone under a penalty of £5 to bury a corpse unless it was wrapped in woollen material. Parish vestry books contain frequent references to burial costs, and in the mid 18th century when a pauper, one Nell Abermorwydd died in the parish of Penboyr the vestry paid out two shillings for a flannel shroud. After the repeal of the Act in 1814 the custom seems to have died out. But lychgates continued to be erected. The one at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn has been described as an interesting example, while at Llanfynydd there is a plain structure of the 18th century. Replicas of Gothic lychgates in wood or stone have been erected in modern times, for example at Laugharne, St. Peter's Carmarthen and at Holy Trinity Church in Llanegwad parish. When Archdeacon Thomas Beynon built (at his own expense) a completely new church at Penboyr in 1808-9, he also enclosed the churchyard with a high wall and erected an impressive lychgate. This still survives and is an exceedingly good example of a stone lychgate in strictly classical Georgian style.

Looking around country churchyards one can sometimes find further evidence of the social customs and beliefs of a bygone era. Sepulchral monuments developed in their own way and have a special history. Few gravestones earlier than the 17th century remain. Ordinary folk had no mark to denote their graves. The earliest headstones were very thick and low above ground level, with perhaps only the deceased's initials and the year of death. Later on, table tombs were set up in churchyards similar in design to altar tombs within, and sufficiently above ground as not to be smothered with weeds. They were used for distributing ale and bread provided for the poor in the wills of many charitably disposed persons. In the 18th and 19th centuries it became fashionable to construct vaults under the church or outside wherein the gentry were buried. They follow the same general pattern — a rectangular subterranean room vaulted over and firmly constructed of brick or stone and marked off at the top by strong iron railings. Many vaults exist but in this connection one need only mention the vaults of the Abadams of Middleton Hall at Llanarthney, the Lloyds of Waunifor at Llanllwni and the Jones-Mansel family vault also in the same churchyard.

Before entering our ancient churches the keen observer would do well to examine the exterior walls of the church for such features as buttresses, corbel tables, gargoyles, sundials and consecration crosses. Buttresses were used to bear the thrust of a heavy roof against walls of slim proportions. A corbel course was used to support a projecting roof or upper storey, especially in church towers, as we have already noticed. Many of these corbels were carved with quaint heads and figures, representing builders, craftsmen and benefactors; sometimes they provide some such humour as a fat monk sucking his thumb. Thus when St. Barnabas Church, Penboyr was built by Earl Cawdor in 1862-3 for the growing village of Velindre both he and his lady were depicted on corbels supporting the drip-stone of one of the windows.

Gargoyles can be very interesting too. In effect they are stone water spouts representing dragons, demons and other fearsome creatures. The common belief was that these monsters tried to infest the church. Therefore carved forms of them were used as gargoyles, so that through some form of imitative magic they were made to protect the church they wished to destroy. Other gargoyles represented human vices as a warning to all who entered the church to leave their evil passions outside. When churches were consecrated twelve crosses carved or painted or of metal were fixed outside and inside the church. They were anointed by the bishop with holy oil, and their position was usually about seven or eight feet above ground. Few of these crosses have remained, but during the rebuilding of Llangadog Church in 1889 a consecration cross was discovered but the plain side of the slab had been used by the church wardens in 1694 to note the date. In Llansawel Church is a stone on which is incised a small equal armed cross with trident arms.

Sundials are rarely seen nowadays. In the burial ground of Capel Henllan — the Congregational Chapel in the parish of Henllan Amgoed there used to be the well preserved base and shaft of a sundial originally set up in 1777. But early in this century the inscribed dial plate and gnomon disappeared. In Llansadyrnin is part of a cross supporting a sundail dated 1805. Another sundail may be seen on the south wall of Holy Trinity Church, Newcastle Emlyn and on the south side of Penbre Church too. The use of sundials goes back to very early times and in the Middle Ages "Mass" or "scratch" dials were very common. They told the times of church services but later they were developed to mark the hours of the day.

Porches and Fonts
So far we have looked at relics outside our churches. As we enter through the porch it is well to remember that most churches have one on the south side, and became fashionable in the 14th century. Here penitents received absolution, those who broke their marriage vows stood wrapped in a white sheet; women knelt to be 'churched' after the birth of their child. Here too, baptismal services commenced and marriage banns were called. A great deal of civil business was carried out here — executors of wills made payments of legacies, coroners held their courts and public notices were exhibited. The porch was one of the 'stations' during church processions and many of them had a niche for a figure of a patron saint. Some had an upper room which could be used to store books and documents. Gruffydd Jones of Llanddowror started many of his circulating schools in church porches, and it is not unknown for them to be used also as the armoury for the local militia.

In many porches there are the remains of holy water stoups. All the worshippers dipped their fingers in it and made the sign of the Cross on their forehead and breast to remind themselves of their baptismal vows and the frailty of human life which is "unstable as water". About a dozen examples of holy water stoups survive in the county — Betws (Ammanford), Castell Dwyran, Cynwyl Elfed, Llanfair-ar-y-bryn, Llanfynydd, Llanpumsaint, Llansadwrn, Llansawel, Llanstephan, Llanwrda and Llanybydder. Many of them bear the marks of time and are sadly mutilated. There is no certainty of their exact original position. In Llanfynydd Church the stoup, with beautiful trifoliated head, is in unusually good condition and is still 'in situ'. Again in the south doorway of Llansadwrn Church, which dates from the 13th century the stoup is in its original position, but has been damaged.

Inside our churches the first object which draws attention is the font. Throughout the centuries the font was used to receive men and women into the Christian fold. In design fonts followed the prevailing type of architecture. Most fonts are made of stone, some of lead and in the 13th century a number were of marble. Early fonts were tub-shaped, large and deeply hollowed. In early times adults stood in the font and water was poured over them. Later, when the baptised were mostly children, they were immersed and so the fonts were smaller and raised on a low stand. When sprinkling became the custom, the bowls were made still smaller and raised on a pedestal. Weird beasts and figures carved on some fonts probably symbolise the escape of the soul from evil through baptism, while the corners of square fonts held candles and the vessels of oil and salt used at the ceremony. Some fonts have carvings representing the seven cardinal virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance as well as the seven sacraments — Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist or Mass, Penance, Ordination, Matrimony and Extreme Unction. Other favourite subjects were symbols of the four Evangelists and heraldic devices. Covers were added to the fonts and they were kept locked because people thought the consecrated water contained some magic power and tried to steal it. None of these early covers has come down to us. A number of Carmarthenshire fonts are of special interest. In some churches along the coast there used to be many Norman fonts which had characteristics of their own and showed the advance of the invader into these parts. Thus in the churches of St. Mary, Kidwelly, Penbre, St. Ishmael's and Llanstephan the original fonts were of the square Norman type, having shallow bowls and ornamented with plain cushion capitals. The first three have disappeared but sketches of them still exist. The plain but massive Norman font in the so called "Pilgrims' Church" of Llanfihangel Abercywyn (now in ruins) has been removed to the modern parish church. It is of one piece resting on the floor without a base block or pedestal. The upper half has carving in slight relief depicting Romanesque arcading. The fonts at Cynwyl Gaeo, Marros, Llandawke, Eglwys Cymyn, St. Clears and Llangynnor have been singled out for their rude workmanship and their style presumes considerable antiquity. Their general square shape and low cylindrical pillars approximate them to the style of Norman fonts, and they may perhaps represent the local Welsh craftsman's attempts to follow the fashion brought by the invader. Recently the basin of the Norman font of St. Llawddog's Church, Penboyr, was recovered from Llysnewydd where it had been used as a garden ornament. It had been thrown out of the church during the resoration carried out by Archdeacon Thomas Beynon. Two extremely interesting fonts are those of Cenarth and Pencarreg. In the former the font is ornamented with human masks, the heads being at four equal distances, enclosed with a serpentine moulding; in one of the divisions there is a pair of heads, making five in all around the bowl. The workmanship is extremely rude and its execution may have taken place in the 13th century. The shaft and base are modern. At Pencarreg there is a unique font. The bowl consists of a plain circular limestone block. Standing out from the otherwise plain surface of the basin, and at equal distances from each other, are four human faces. The features are in rather low relief, doubtless because of the lack of skill in the sculptor and the hardness of the material. All the masks are of the same type, and probably represent Our Lord as a youth (without a beard), as a man (bearded) as the Crucified One (bearded, with head falling towards the left) and the Christ in Glory (crowned). At Pendine the font is seven sided and may originally have represented the Seven Virtues or the Seven Sacraments.

Behind the Screens
As one looks from the font towards the east end of the church and the altar, one will sometimes find a rood screen dividing the chancel from the nave. Because of the paucity of remains of this kind in Carmarthenshire it has been argued that they were not common and that the county was not well wooded. Another possible explanation is that Protestant and Puritan reformers carried out their work so zealously and destroyed what they regarded as "Popish" remains. Ignorant restoration during the last century completed the process. Consequently few traces remain in this county. There is a modern screen at Laugharne, and in the old church of Llanfihangel Abercywyn are steps leading to the former rood screen. At Myddfai, late in the 15th century, a south aisle was added to both nave and chancel, and the altar was moved to the new south chamber, which was divided from its nave by a rood screen. Rood screens were often finely carved. They separated the nave and the ordinary people from the choir where the priest and his assistants officiated at the altar. In the great churches and cathedrals screens were massive constructions of stone as at St. Davids. Over the screen was the Rood Beam on which was fixed the Rood (an image of Christ on the Cross with figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John). The top of the screen was in the form of a loft, the Gospel was read from it and in the morality plays the throne of God stood here. Screens were enriched with beautiful carvings, coloured and gilded images of apostles and saints.

Squints or hagioscopes were openings cut at an angle through the wall at the side of the chancel arch to give people in the side aisles a view of the high altar. Again, if a priest was officiating at a side altar, he could use the squint to view what was going on at the high altar and thus synchronise the two services.

The most important object in almost every church is the altar and before the Reformation most altars were of stone with fine crosses carved on them signifying the five wounds of Christ. A piece of the original stone altar slab of Llanarthney church formed part of the threshold of the church until 1917, but it is now within the sanctuary at the base of the cast window; the remaining fragment shows the centre and two corner crosses. At Llanllwni there survives what was probably the stone altar table with three crosses traceable on it. Beneath the communion table at Llanpumsaint is a curious relic in the form of a stone with nine rudely incised equal armed crosses — a group of four crosses around a cross in the centre of the slab and two similar crosses at either end. The wooden communion table at Llangathen is a fine example of Tudor carving, and is regarded as a relic from the days Bishop Anthony Rudd of St. David's resided at nearby Aberglasney. The table is supported on six legs, the centre front leg being formed of a human figure treated as a caryatid and above are Tudor roses. After the Reformation the communion table was placed in the middle of the chancel (as at Maenordeifi in Pembrokeshire) while the congregation sat or stood around it. Some strong minded Puritans placed the table in the nave with the minister facing his congregation, and in this way they anticipated modern liturgical trends. Communion tables in place of altars are interesting reminders of the orders for the destruction of altars in the time of Edward VI and Elizabeth I. It was Archbishop Laud who resolved the controvesy by deciding in favour of altars.

Inside the chancel one may see a piscina, aumbry and Easter sepulchre. The piscina was a basin attached to the south wall. It had a drain hole leading to the consecrated ground outside, and was used by the priest during the ablutions before and after Mass. Some have a shelf or credence on which the sacred elements and vessels - chalice and paten — stood. In a few Carmarthenshire churches piscinas have survived, e.g. Kidwelly, Laugharne, Llandyfeisant, Llangathen (now concealed behind the organ), Llangyndeyrn and Pendine. Aumbries were small containers for storing vessels with holy oil. Most of their wooden doors have disappeared. In the south wall at Llanllwni is a small aumbry and on the north wall are two stone brackets for images. Myddfai, too, still possesses its aumbry.

Openings on the north wall of the chancel in our churches (and otherwise not accounted for) may have been used as Easter sepulchres. It was the custom to place the Host and altar cross in the sepulchre on Good Friday, and there they were under constant surveillance until their removal with great jubilation early on Easter Day. The ceremony signified in dramatic form the burial and resurrection of Christ from the tomb. One of the most ornate features of the chancel was the sedilia. During Mass the priest, deacon and sub-deacon used the sedilia (while the Creed and Gloria were being sung) for a period of rest during the long ceremony. A sedilia consisted of seats in the south wall. They were sometimes separated by pilasters or mullions and often surmounted by crocketed canopies and finials. Examples may be seen at Laugharne, Pendine, Kidwelly; at St. Ishmaels there is a plain low stone seat around three sides of the chancel which might have been used as a sedilia when occasion demanded.

At least two ancient pulpits survived in the county until recent years. In the old church of Llandeilo Abercywyn there was at one time (now demolished) a three-decker pulpit — of rude construction, it must be admitted, but of interesting design — square with unequal panels and comprising a projecting ledge facing the north wall. It was raised on a high platform with steps leading up to it from a very commodious reading desk which looked like a large box-pew. In the angle of the two structures was another box-pew on floor level. An unuusal pulpit at Llansadwrn had steps and a small door leading to it, while on the outside there was a low bench with arms to lean on. Generally speaking few really ancient pulpits exist today, as sermons were delivered before the altar, at the west end of the chancel or sometimes from rood lofts. Pulpits came into more general use in the 17th century especially after 1603 when church wardens were ordered to provide one in every church. Some had large sounding-boards overhead to help the preacher's voice to be carried to the far end of the building.

Church roofs also deserve attention. In general they consisted of roof trusses placed at regular intervals. Long beams or purlins were fixed at right angles to the principal rafters in order to support the common rafters. Thereon a covering of thatch, lead or stone tiles were fixed. As the weight of the roof tended to spread the principal rafters outwards, trusses were strengthened with tie beams, collar beams and braces. The most decorative of all was the hammer beam roof. Most timber roofs are open, but some have been boarded in. One form is called a wagon roof — and resembles the canvas tents once used over carriers wagons. Another interesting type is the barrel roof such as may be seen at Llandybie, Myddfai and Penbre. The roof at Llandybie was at one time ceiled over but during a later restoration the ceiling over the chancel was removed, thus opening out a fine barrel roof. In both aisles of Myddfai church the vaulting has been plastered over. At Eglwys Cymyn the roof is vaulted entirely of stone and this is only one example of the many interesting features of this unique church.

The Remembered Dead
In most churches there are heraldic memorials to the important families who once worshipped in them. They take several forms - crests, arms, mottoes on shields and hatchments, and so on. There are no doubt hundreds altogether and only brief mention of them can be made. Hatchments consist of a painting on a board, four to five feet square, of the armorial devices of a deceased person. The background was black in part or whole, thus defining the distinctions between married persons, widowers, widows, bachelors and spinsters. Hatchments were placed above the front door of the deceased's house, then carried at the head of the funeral procession and hung (sometimes permanently) in the parish church. These memorials are of great interest to the student of heraldry, genealogy and social custom. Frequently they are of a high artistic standard. A few examples may be cited at this point. In Holy Trinity Church, Newcastle Emlyn are hatchments placed therein by the Fitzwilliams family of Cilgwyn. In Myddfai heraldic memorials remind us of the Griffies-Williams family of Llwynywormwood, while at Abergwili the black lion rampant with its golden chain and collar is to be seen on the memorials to the Philippses of Cwmgwili. Many of these memorials date from the 18th and 19th centuries. A few have survived the ravages of time; for example, on a 16th century arch in Penbre Church are the eight shields of arms of the Dukes of Lancaster. In one of the nave windows of Laugharne Church (as we have noted) are the arms of Sir Guido de Brian — or, three piles meeting in point azure. Again on the exterior cast wall of Llanboidy two heraldic shields were placed. It is said that they came originally from Whitland Abbey. On one shield is a chevron between three ravens — the cognizance of Sir Rhys ap Thomas.

A few other mural monuments deserve attention. Bishop Richard Davies, one of the translators of the Scriptures into Welsh, is remembered in Abergwili Church. The memorial was erected by Bishop Thirlwall during the last century and it bears an epitaph by the famous literary-cleric the Rev. John Jones (Tegid) -

"Esgob oedd of o ddysg bur-a Duwiol
Diwyd oedd mewn llafur;
Gwelir byth tra'r Ysgrythur
Ol gwiw o'i ofal a'i gur."

Gruffydd Jones is remembered by a very impressive mural tablet at Llanddowror and Richard Steele the essayist is also commemorated as we have seen in St. Peter's, Carmarthen, where there are other interesting examples. From the 17th century onwards mural tablets became increasingly fashionable and illustrate the prevailing taste in architecture with a range of style from Palladian and Baroque to Victorian Gothic. In this way developed the lettered panel describing the life and godly works of the deceased. Memorials were decorated with classical coventions — pilasters, pillars and orders, pediments, draped urns, cartouche complete with cherubs as well as angels, the helm, crest and coat of arms of the departed. In addition there was the inevitable skull, its salutary warning emphasised by means of Latin aphorisms — memento mori, bead morlui and dater omnibus mori. In addition to the mural memorials already mentioned perhaps the most notable example is to be seen in the chancel of Llandybie Church and shows Sir Henry Vaughan of Derwydd — "Knight-Colonel to his late Majesty Charles 1st" — who died in 1676.

In a few churches medieval effigies arouse interest. Thus in the floor close to the south wall of Ahergwili Church is a broken sepulchral slab depicting a cross carved in relief and may be the tomb slab of Bishop Bek who died in 1293 and who was the founder of a college of priests at Abergwili. The tomb of the lady Ysolda in Kidwelly Church has already been mentioned. At Llandawke there is an effigy of a lady wearing a wimple and flowing robe, tight gauntlets with a row of closely placed buttons along the outside seams. Traditionally it has been regarded as depicting "Margaret of Marlos, daughter of Robert Marlos, Knight and of Margaret his wife, sister of Guido de Brian, K.G., Lord of Laugharne 1350 to 1391". At the runied church of Llanfihangel Abercywyn are medieval sepulchral slabs showing distinct patterns — coped or hog backs, twisted rope design, chevrons, equal armed crosses, human figures and animals. But the most well known effigy is that of Sir Rhys ap Thomas at St. Peter's, Carmarthen. Like the table tomb of Edmund Tudor, now at St. Davids, Sir Rhys' effigy was originally at the Grey Friars, Carmarthen until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1535. In 1865 the tomb was restored and in some ways drastically altered at the expense of the Lord Dynevor of the day. Be that as it may, it is gratifying that this worthy memorial has survived. A notable early 17th century tomb is that of Bishop Anthony Rudd. About 1600, Rudd, who had been Bishop of St. Davids since 1594, extended the south aisle of Llangathen Church to contain his own remains. In 1616 a fine monument of hard Italian plaster was erected by the Bishop's widow, and is typical of the period. It shows the recumbent figures of the Bishop and his wife as well as full sized figures of a boy and girl kneeling together at each end of the tomb. It is a distinct product of the Renaissance and contains classical pillars, a Romanesque arch, pediment and obelisks, whilst above the canopy are the arms of the diocese of St. Davids and those of Bishop Rudd, namely an ermine chevron between three silver bells on a blue field.

There are many other relics in our Carmarthenshire churches to which only a passing reference can be made — mural paintings in Eglwys Cymun and Cilycwm; ancient parish chests at Cynwyl Gaeo, Llanfynydd, Llangynnor, Llansadwrn, Llansawel, Llanwrda, Llanycrwys and Penboyr. Two magnificent pipe organs of eighteenth century origin are in St. Peter's, Carmarthen and St. Mary's, Kidwelly. There is a wide variety of stained glass throughout the county, not to mention pews, bench ends and galleries. Church plate in the county has its own fascinating story. Regimental colours tell the story of the local militia and of deeds of valour on distant battlefields. Many other relics have disappeared without trace — the armour of sturdy knights, the hautboys and bassoon, the fiddle and pitch pipe of chorister and minstrel. No longer do we see a 'brank' or 'gossips bridle'. Fire places in family pews as at Manordeifi have given way to more modern warming devices and there is no longer the need for 'dog tongs' to curb unruly quadrupeds. The perceptive visitor will come across curious and exceptional features. No two churches are alike — each represents local fashion and skill, each has its "personality" and contributes in its own distinctive way to our knowledge of the colourful history of Carmarthenshire throughout the centuries.

Daniel E. Jones : Hanes Plwyfi Llangeler a Phenhoyr. Llandysul 1899.
D. Daven Jones : A History of Kidwelly. Carmarthen 1908
Gruffydd Evans : Carmarthenshire Gleanings (Kidwelly), Y Cymmrodor XXV. 1915.
An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire. V — County of Carmarthen 1917.
E. Tyrrell Green : The Ecclesiology of Pembrokeshire. Trans. Cymm. 1921-22.
H. M. Vaughan : Heraldry in St. Peter's Church, Carmarthen. West Wales Historical Records. Vol. XII. 1927.
Robert Richards : Cymru'r Oesau Canal. Wrecsam 1933.
D. Jenkins : Abergwili and its Parish Church. Carmarthen 1936.
J. E. Lloyd (ed) : A History of Carmarthenshire. Vols. I and II. Cardiff 1939.
A. Needham : How to study an Old Church. London 1944.
Cox and Ford : The Parish Churches of England. London 1947.
V. E. Nash Williams : The Early Christian Monuments of Wales. Cardiff 1950.
G. Williams : The Welsh Church from Conquest to Reformation. Cardiff 1962.
The Carmarthen Antiquary : Vol. IV, parts 3 and 4. 1963.
The Bibliography of the History of Wales, University of Wales Press, Cardiff 1962, and Supplements.
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