Churches were plentiful on the Gower of old. Some have survived if only partially, while others have been lost to the ravages of time.
In this article, we will take a look at three main churches of the Gower peninsula: St. Cyfelach of Llangyfelach; St. Mary’s of Pennard and Penmaen Old Church.
In 1803 a severe gale laid waste to most of St. Cyfelach’s. While the parishioners built a new church nearby, local legend maintained that the old church tower remained isolated like a sentry, because the devil himself couldn’t keep his hand off it.
The old legend says that the devil made off with materials during the rebuilding, and he tried to steal the tower and was stopped by the prayers of a clergyman. The devil let loose of the tower and it dropped to its current solitary position.
The old churchyard with its huge circular boundary, is thought to mark the place of the “Monastrium”, which was said have been built by St. David during the sixth century. Early church origin has been partly confirmed by evidence of Dark Age stonework. A plain cross dating back to between 600-800AD is set in stone above the north tower entrance and nearby is a cross base dated sometime in the tenth century. The newer church also contains a stone cross.
The tower and churchyard can easily be visited, and this is still an active and working parish on the outskirts of Swansea.
St. Mary’s Church, Pennard and Penmaen Old Church
The term lost is truly reflective of these two churches; as not only the churches are missing, but also their villages and castles are all but relegated to the ages, cast offs of the Norman invasions of South Wales.
The churches and villages were left to waste away in the drifting sands and inhospitable climate of the day. Now all that remains are dunes of grass and scrubby hollows.
The church at Penmaen was the worst affected. All that remains is some half buried stonework. The site was excavated in the 1800s and glass fragments were found which seemed to indicate the church location. A number of skeletons that were haphazardly buried cast speculation that the area had been the scene of an outbreak of the plague.
Perhaps the most ‘wondrous’ find at this site was that of an incense burner, modeled after the Holy City of Jerusalem. This piece is on permanent display at the City Museum of Wales.
The village grounds are barren, save bit of earthworks from the Norman castle. However, a prehistoric burial chamber can still be seen near the church remains that predate the site by more than four millennium.
The church of St. Mary’s on Pennard Burrows is a bit more obvious than that of Penmaen. The ruins of Pennard castle are more prevalent and a rather large and craggy mound of masonry marks the site of the old church and is now part of the Pennard Golf Course. There is also a holy well dedicated to St. Mary at the bottom of the hill from the castle.
The demise of the village and church is linked by legend to the destruction of Pennard castle. Legend says that the castle was destroyed by elves that were scorned by those who lived at the castle; the elves created a great sandstorm and buried all of Pennard and her inhabitants in a sandy grave forever.