Friday, 17 January 2014

The new church that is 1400 years old

St Teilo, born in Pembrokeshire circa 500 AD
Way back in the mists of time (so we may imagine), roughly in the 7th Century, a small group of Welsh Catholics gathered around a simple shelter wherein they had laid a sacred stone, carved in a primitive manner.

This shelter was on the banks of the River Llwchr, meaning, 'the old church in the marsh',now called Tal-y-Bont near Pontardulais.

Over the years (we are still imagining) the shelter took on a more structured bearing and was eventually dedicated, as a church, to a local saint, one, St Teilo.

Before long the church had a stone construction and became a building of some substance despite its location being somewhat isolated, but, all parts of Wales were isolated then.

As was the custom in those days, Catholic churches were elaborately furnished and decorated, at least as far as the walls were concerned.

Every inch of space would be given over to paintings (too early for frescoes, see?) depicting scenes from the Bible and the life of Christ.

This was not done by Early Christians so much as Early Catholics, (somehow, we tend to airbrush over the fact that the British Isles were once Catholic, not Baptist, Methodist or Anglican but, Catholic and only Catholic).

A friend bought me a guide book to this church when we visited and I would like to quote a passage from it.
It shows how so very easily a wrong word here and there can create a false impression:-

...."The Church's rich and intricate decoration was representative of the glory that awaited the good Christian (not 'Catholic' note) in heaven, and would serve as a diversion from the latin mass (sic) performed there (what?) every Sunday..."

Quite why our fathers needed a diversion from the Mass is beyond me, but, there we go.

Some ten years after Michaelangelo completed the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, an artist or artists commenced work on the walls of St Teilo's.

We have now arrived, of course, in the 16th Century and we all know what took place half way through that period, do we not?

Henry VIII developed not only a lust for women and power but also for wealth.

He decimated the churches and the monasteries, casting out the religious and breaking their longstanding pact of aiding the poor and the aged and infirm by feeding, educating, nursing and employing them.

And, he destroyed all signs of Catholicism while helping himself to all the sacred precious vessels he could lay his grubby little hands on.

The walls of St Teilo's were subject to limewash thereby covering up all the beautiful scenes and images that Catholics hold so dear.

No longer did chants hang upon the air, no longer was the Latin Mass celebrated there.

Instead, an anglicised and heavily edited form of worship replaced the Latin, much, indeed, like today's Novus Ordo.

Gradually, as the countryside of Wales became even emptier as the folk made their way to the towns and cities in search of gold, St Teilo's fell into disrepair, neglected by its new owners.

The church  of St Teilo in a state of decay c. 1973
It ceased to be a church in 1852 and then it just remained, each year becoming more and more of a ruin just used for the occasional funeral services of those few who remained, until, in 1973, its doors closed for good.

In 1984 the Church of Wales gifted the building to St Fagan's National History Museum of Wales.

Now, St Fagan's (pronounced 'Faggan's) is a place of a most unique and wonderful nature as the site of many acres is famous for the original buildings from around Wales that have been saved, painstakingly and carefully de-constructed, brought to the village of St Fagan's, just outside Cardiff, and lovingly put back together again, as good as the day that they were first built.

Pembrokeshire Longhouses, Victorian miner's cottages, chapels, farmhouses, churches, barns, pig sties, they are all there.

And there, you may view the new St Teilos, looking much as it must have looked in 1520 (the year it was judged, architecturally, to be at its zenith).

The whitewash on the original walls was removed, flake by flake, to reveal the Catholic glories beneath and then the murals were transported, as much as possible in sections, to be restored and the missing parts painted anew using the same sort of vegetable and mineral paints that would have been used by artisans in the 16th Century.

The result is breathtakingly, spectacular. The colours are vibrant to the point of being gaudy.

How much we could learn from the church architecture and art of times past and, how wonderful it would be, to have a special one off Mass celebrated there in the 'new church'.

A Latin Mass, of course.

Do pay St Fagan's a visit, you will not be disappointed and.......entry is free, even for English folk like me!

As it is today


  1. It is beautiful..would love to pay a visit.

    1. Sandy, Cardiff is a great city for a weekend of culture - no Latin Masses though.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Christian, civilised is the word to use.

  3. Saw this a few years ago - absolutely beautiful, well worth a visit!
    I can think of another church which I'd happily consign to St. Fagan's too...

  4. And one may pray in it again - in Latin!

    1. Anonymous, I have nothing against Welsh but only 15% of the population of Wales speak it, still fewer can write it. Masses in Welsh have attendances in single figures, so why not use the language that was used commonly in medieval Wales - Latin.

  5. Effete young mummy 's boys priests who love lace and fiddlebacks would never fit in there. It's too raw and realistic.

    + Albrecht von Brandenburg

  6. Lovely!
    Inspires so many reflections!
    Imagine no parish church but that was full of beauty , no town or village without its monasteries friaries and nunneries, the wayside crosses, the many primesite chantries and chapels some small some as big as a fullsized cathedral , the chapels in public buildings , all full of so much....!
    It's easier to have heaven always present.

  7. I offends my Celtic sensibilities abominably that dirty harry was from a Welsh family, the Tewdwrs.

    Thank you, Richard,for this beautiful post, and a belated happy new year! God bless!

  8. Thanks Chris and a Happy and Blessed New Year to you also.