Enjoy Medieval Denbighshire

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Site 46

Llanynys

Church of St. Saeran

One of the region’s most attractive and fascinating churches, St. Saeran’s stands in a quiet hamlet, with only a pub and a few houses for company. Yet it was once the mother church of southern Dyffryn Clwyd, the home of a ‘clas’ (or Welsh religious community) founded perhaps in the 6th century and dedicated to the now obscure Celtic bishop-saint Saeran (see also Ffynnon Sarah Site 7).

The oldest feature of the present church, however, is the disused ivy-grown 13th century west doorway, visible as you enter the pretty churchyard with its ancient yew trees. They form an avenue to the imposing and intricately carved timber Tudor porch, dated (in Latin) 1544 above the slightly earlier entrance door.

The interior is large and spacious, as befits the church’s former importance and its close links with the Bishops of Bangor, long its ‘rectors’ or owners. Double-naved like so many Denbighshire churches, it has a fine pair of the characteristically local late-medieval ‘hammer beamed’ roofs. The fluted timber pillars between the naves are more unusual, and much later, dating from a restoration in 1768.

Directly opposite the door is St. Saeran’s greatest glory, a huge 15th century wall painting of St. Christopher. Rediscovered under plaster in 1967, this rare survival is much the finest medieval wall painting in North Wales. The saint - according to legend a giant who served as a ferryman - is shown carrying the infant Christ across a river, with a flowering staff in his hand and a shoal of fish round his feet. The patron saint of travellers, Christopher (‘Christ-bearer’) was often painted opposite church doorways, where wayfarers could easily glimpse his image and thus (it was believed) be preserved from ‘fainting or falling’ all that day. The belief lives on in the St. Christopher’s of modern key-rings and car dashboards.

Near the painting are two more medieval treasures. The battered tomb effigy of a priest may be Bishop ap Richard of Bangor (who died here in 1267) while the figure of a mitred bishop on the hexagonal stone may represent St. Saeran himself. Crozier in hand, the little figure is apparently standing on a muzzled bear, and on the stone’s reverse is a crucifixion scene. It stood until recently in the churchyard, and perhaps marked the saint’s tomb or shrine: said to be 14th century, it could be much older.

There are many more delights here. Among them are the charming Elizabethan panels near the altar, carved with fantastic beasts and strange plants: they come from nearby Bachymbyd Fawr, home of the Cavalier Colonel William Salesbury, ‘Old Blue Stockings’ (Hosanau Gleision Hen’) of Rug Chapel (Site 11) and Denbigh Castle (Site 32). More carved woodwork from old pews is set into the choir stalls, and there are three chandeliers, two of Georgian timber and one of Victorian brass. There are bilingual charity boards in Welsh and English, a big painted Royal Arms of Charles II, and even (in a glass case) a rare set of telescopic dog tongs, used to seize and expel unruly hounds.

The guide book will help visitors to explore and enjoy this wonderful church. Church generally open morning to late afternoon.

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Mitred bishop, Llanynys