Llangiwg is a symbol of our community's continuity over 1,500 years. It is our heritage. It is irreplaceable.
Llangiwg is situated at a cross roads on an ancient mountain route along which the Celtic saints travelled
during the 6th century in the footsteps of far earlier people. Later, the agricultural community would have used these routes
before industry opened up the valley. Llangiwg Church is of Celtic origin and is named after Ciwg the Confessor, a 6th Century
saint who introduced Christianity into the area between AD 542 and 568.
The first church on
the site was probably constructed in the 6th century but was not as we see it today, as churches at that time were built from
wattle and daub. The first stone churches were built about four centuries later, following the Norman conquest of Britain
church one sees today was substantially rebuilt in 1812 (as demonstrated by the plaque on the southern external wall), but
there are remains of the Norman church on the site. Part of the tower is Norman, dating back to the 13th century. The tower
was much higher but had to be reduced in height as it was learning precariously. The belfry originally contained two bells.
Only one currently survives. The aisle section dates back to Tudor times (16th century), but this structure was refurbished
in 1812. During the refurbishment, the stone slates were replaced by Caernarfon slates. The roof was again replaced in 1997.
walls of the church are built from local sandstone with occasional old red sandstone boulders included, originating from the
Brecon area. The red boulders were transported by ice movement during the last Ice Age and deposited in glacial moraines (the
debris picked up and carried at the base of glaciers). They were gathered locally and incorporated when the building was commenced.
church was closed and it was put up for sale in 2004. It was purchased by the Friends of Llangiwg in 2007 as a voluntary organisation
comprising members of the local community.
remnant of the earliest Norman stone work can be seen in an old archway between the tower and west wall of the 19th. century
Vestry. On the outside of the West wall to the north is a blocked archway, possibly the original entrance to the church. It
is said to have been the largest parish in Wales. Llangiwg is of architectural interest as an example of a particular style,
structural form and historical method of construction and as a redundant church would be under threat of disappearance unless
preservation was assured.
The porch covering the doorway exhibits a relic of the church’s early Catholic origins,
the stoup or basin for holy water. This has been carved from a solid block of conglomerate and dates to Norman times. It is
a rare survivor from the time of the reformation under Henry VIII, when much of the Catholic symbolism was destroyed or confiscated.
The stone benches on either side of the porch are also remains of the 16th century building.
Also in the porch is the
top of a stone cross. This is part of an early Christian Monument, a round headed primitive Celtic incised cross, which dates
to between the 7th and 9th century. It may have been a preaching cross. It was the tradition that preaching took place out
of doors. The rarity and continuing existence of this stone in the porch of Llangiwg is evidence that it merits protection.
Local tradition has it that this formed part of the “Gellionnen Stone” (now in the Royal Institution in Swansea
Museum) and research is ongoing to establish whether the two stones are linked.
The so called “leper’s window”
is another rare feature, which gives a further clue to the date of the east wall as being pre-Norman. Like the bricked-up
doorway the design of this window reminds us of features we would expect in a Celtic church, giving us an idea of the size
of the original church prior to the Norman invasion of Wales.
Llangiwg was originally a Roman Catholic Church and paid
homage to the Pope until the Reformation during Henry VIII’s reign in the 16th century. In the 12th century Bernard,
the Bishop of St David’s (Pembrokeshire) and Urban, the Bishop of Llandaff were involved in a dispute over the boundaries
of their diocese. In 1119, and again in 1128, the Lordship of Gower, in which Llangiwg is situated, was considered to be in
the diocese of Llandaff. Bishop Bernard produced new and convincing evidence that the church was in the diocese of St David’s
and the Pope reconsidered his position and reversed his previous edict.
The development of industry in the valleys
tended to concentrate the population on the valley floor and the trek to the services in Llangiwg Church, up the steep valley
sides, focussed the minds on the creation of another church more conveniently located on the valley floor. This was the church
of St Peter’s in Pontardawe. Work on its construction began in 1858 and it was completed in 1860.
epidemic of 1866 saw the graveyard at Llangiwg being used to bury victims from as far afield as Ystalyfera. Other churches
refused to bury them. The poor who died in the Pontardawe Workhouse were also buried as paupers in the graveyard at Llangiwg.
Llangiwg Church's Norman Tower.
Stained Glass Window by Marilyn Griffiths (2010).
Georgian Pews at Llangiwg Church (c.1812).
Remnant of Llangiwg earliest Norman stone work in an old archway between tower & west wall.
Stone Cross - Early Christian Monument.
Portion of Stone Cross (c.7th / 9th Century) in Llangiwg Porch.
Christianity has played an important role in shaping the history of Wales. The 6th century is known
as the “Age of the Saints” One of those saints, was Ciwg. A letter written in the late 17th century by Thomas
Morgan in 1697 gives the location of his cell “in a rock annex to the churchyard over which rock there is at this day
a little house built for the parish clerk called Y Maendy.” St. Ciwg lived there between 542 AD and 568 AD preaching
and ministering to the community. . He was of a noble family and most likely to have been educated. This site is where the
Christian faith first came to the Swansea Valley. Ciwg would have been a contemporary of the Patron Saint of Wales St. David,
and would have attended the Synod at Llanddewi Brefi when St. David addressed the Welsh clergy in 545 A.D.
The presence of a well in the churchyard – described by CADW (the historic environment service of the Welsh Assembly
Government) – as “holy” and the elevated position on The Barley of this redundant church suggests the presence
of a community stretching back in time long before the coming of Christianity to the area. It suggests the existence of a
pre-Christian original Celtic settlement to whom Ciwg came as a missionary.
The Maendy (“Stone House”)
Next to the churchyard are the remains of the Maendy Arms, built certainly before the 17th century. At one time the home
of the curate, and later, it became the Cilybebyll Arms, an indication of the church’s association with the Herberts
of Cilybebyll and part of the family of the Earl of Pembroke. Later the name was changed to the Maendy Arms but in the late
19th century it was abandoned and allowed to become derelict.
The local area
The ring cairn on Mynydd Carn
Llechart (grid ref.SN 696063) and the remnants of many Neolithic burial sites demonstrates that humans inhabited this area
4,000 years ago and were the ancestral stock of the community that Ciwg came to convert to Christianity.
is recorded in The Chronicle of Wales (Brut y Tywysogion) as the place chosen by Llewlyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd, to
camp after crossing the Black Mountains with his army in 1217 on his way from Brecon to attack the Norman castle at Swansea.
Pilgrimages in mediaeval Wales were very popular and two pilgrimages to St David's equalled one
to Rome. When the building has the necessary amenities it will be possible to join a network called Small Pilgrim Places.
To find out more go to: www.smallpilgrimplaces.org
St Illtyd’s Way
If the church is attributed to
the 6th century, it is likely to be associated with St Illtyd’s Way and the ridgeway pathway. This is the most important
feature of the church’s location, which gives an indication of the date of the site. The path which runs north to south
and leads towards the village of Rhyd-y-fro is certainly the earliest route in that direction and continues towards the known
route of Illtyd’s Way. Southward, it leads towards a ford on the River Tawe through the area known as Ynysmeudwy. Another
path leads towards the site of Carn Llechart, which is a late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age and an important local site.
St Illtyd lived in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, and was held in high veneration in Wales, where many churches
were dedicated to him in Glamorgan. St. Illtyd’s Way also forms part of the modern, St. Illtyd’s Walk - extending
64 miles from Margam (in Glamorgan) to Pembrey (in Carmarthenshire). A section links the Neath Valley with the Swansea Valley.
A public right of way skirts the edge of Rhydyfro School and, from St Illtyd's Way at the back of the school, a path leads
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6th Century Welsh Saint - Stained Glass.
Llangiwg outdoor service with Bishop of Swansea & Brecon.
Llangiwg Church's Holy Well.
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