Llanddeusant Parish Church
St. Simon and St. Jude : Open daily form 9:00am to dusk
‘Having received his master’s blessing and kiss of peace, and leave to depart, he went forth and sought the seclusion of a certain desert place which adjoined his father’s possessions. There he built some cells and a little oratory, which they say, is now a monastic settlement containing numerous buildings bearing the name of his two brothers already mentioned. Here he received from the bishop the dignity of the priesthood and lived for some time with twelve presbyters who desired to obey his precepts in everything relating to the monastic life.’ 1
Wrmonoc, a monk from Brittany, wrote the above in 884. He is referring to St. Paulinus, a sixth century monk who left his religious community in Llantwit Major to come to this wild and beautiful hamlet of Llanddeusant with his twin brothers to found a new monastery. It is thought that although the Llanddeusant Church is now dedicated to St. Simon and St. Jude, the name, Llanddeusant is originally derived from these two brothers.
In 1983, Diane Brook noted a previously unrecorded cross slab purportedly dating from between the sixth and eighth centuries. The slab had the unceremonious use as a doorstep to a store shed belonging to the neighbouring Youth Hostel. Diane Brook wrote that it is ‘of coarse, gritty sandstone’ and has a ‘simple equal-armed cross’ 2 inscribed on its upper surface. The stone has since been examined by other experts, all of whom have identified its material as concrete but probably of a more recent origin, perhaps the turn of the twentieth century. However, there may still be other stones on the site worthy of investigation. The outer ‘Llan’, incorporating the old graveyard and Vicarage walls, is oval in shape and dates from between the sixth and eighth centuries, a time when such walls were built with no corners in which the devil could hide.
It is thought that here was the monastic settlement to which St David went for his early education.
Origins of the Present Building
It is said that building of the present-day church began under the auspices of the Lady Anne in the fourteenth century. Legend tells us that initial building was started at Twynllanan some two miles away, where indeed there are now more houses, but at night the stones that had been laid that day were moved to the present site. Thus the building continued at this remote place, a continuous chain of workers bringing further stones up from the River Sawdde some half-mile away to complete the southern aisle.
The northern chamber with its low door was added in the fifteenth century along with the oak beamed barrel ceiling. In the sixteenth century a tower was added at the southwest end of the Church. This was hit by lightening during the late eighteenth century. An extensive restoration in 1830 saw the tower walls partially rebuilt, the bell turret raised and chancel and nave roof repaired.
The Oak Barrel Ceiling
The 1885 Renovation
Hywel Gwyn, a local landowner and MP for Neath, married the Lord Lieutenant’s daughter who lived at Blaensawdde in the valley south of the Church. Gwyn, honorary treasurer of the Church, instigated the 1885 renovation. The floor, having been previously raised in 1836 to prevent flooding, now, flagged in limestone, incorporated a coal fired central heating system. Ancient pews were replaced with the present pitch pine ones.
Apart from giving funds to the Church and having the bell recast in one of his foundries over the mountain, Gwyn also donated a brass plate. The plate, similar to one displayed in Brecon Cathedral, was dug up in the grounds of Brecon Priory.
The 1913 Renovation
A further renovation was carried out in 1913 with nave, aisle and porch windows and door rebuilt . Although Hywel Gwyn had died by this time, this renovation was still carried out under his name. Large black memorial tablets, commemorating Gwyn’s family and other families of note in the parish were erected by the altar and around the northern aisle.
During the following years, various alterations were made to the Church, in particular to the heating, a constant problem in such a remote and exposed location. Electricity was installed in the mid-nineteen sixties and a large faithful coal stove was removed from beneath the central valley. The latter had served the congregations well, but involved the necessity of someone to constantly stoke it. The chimney hole was sealed, but proved a continuing difficulty. By the mid-nineteen eighties, the congregation had dwindled to a dozen people who huddled around ineffective electric fires, whose singing was interspersed with continual dripping of rain into buckets under the now leaking sealed hole. During one service a jackdaw flapped across the altar, flew across the polite congregation before disappearing at the back of the Church through a gap between the ceiling and wall.
The 1987 Renovation
In 1985, a renovation fund was set up to repair the leaking valley. By 1987, enough money had been raised to enable the then current Manpower Services Commission to embark on replacing the two inner slopes of the roof tiles. Removing the old tile stones, thick with tar and cement, vestiges of previous attempts to eliminate the rain, revealed beneath a horror of rotting roof timbers. The financial target doubled and it was too late to turn back. Fortunately, CADW agreed to help with the costs and work continued. The interior walls were stripped down and re-plastered. This last renovation was completed during the summer of 1988.
Other Items of Note
Llanddeusant Church owns the last remaining Pre-reformation Church plate, now in the safety of Carmarthen Museum. The silver paten dates from 1525.
The lead lined font, although set on a twentieth century base, has an octagonal basin fashioned from a glacial conglomerate from the surrounding hills, during the fourteenth century.
14th Century Font
This church, one of the oldest religious buildings in Wales, obviously requires a heavy responsibility of upkeep, which falls mostly on the shoulders of a very small, but faithful congregation. We are planning to repair the window glass, bell and boundary walls, a major undertaking.
The Church is open 9:00am until dusk daily. Why not visit this beautiful Church as part of a day’s walking up to the Black Mountain and legendary Llyn y Fan Fach.
Services are usually:
Second Sunday in the month at 2pm
Fourth Sunday in the month at 11.15am
If you would like to find out more, contact
Rev. Michael Cottam
Tel: 01550 777604
1Saints, Seaways and Settlements. E.G.Bowen 1977
2Archaelogia Cambrensis, Nov. 1985