Picturesquely set between the foot of the Berwyn Hills and the fast-flowing River Dee, Corwen is known as the ‘Crossroads of North Wales’. Here for many centuries travelers along the A5 London-Holyhead road and the route from Bala to Chester have halted, among them invading or defending armies, Welsh drovers, stage-coach passengers and visitors to the town’s once-famous fairs. As its name indicates – Corwen means ‘the white church’ – the ton’s origins date back to the 6th century, when it grew up around a religious community founded by the Breton-Welsh saints Mael and Sulien. Corwen’s medieval treasures are still concentrated around the parish church which bears heir name.
Church of Saints Mael & Sulien
Begun in the 13th century, the church stands back from the main street, in a yew-grown churchyard beneath a wooded hill-slope. Built into its entrance porch is a prehistoric sanding stone – ‘Carreg y big yn y fach rhewllyd’, ‘the pointed stone in the icy corner’ – perhaps indicating that this was already a pagan sacred site when Mael and Sulien came here. To the right of the porch stands the tall shaft of a preaching cross, its broken head displaying carved interlacing: it may date from the 9th century. Another ancient stone forms he lintel of the south door, at the opposite corner of the church. This stone is incised with a dagger-like cross, supposedly cut by the weapon of Owain Glyndwr, hurled in rage from his ‘Seat’ on Pen-y-pigyn hill behind the church. The Dee Valley was this great Welsh hero’s ancestral homeland, and he is well remembered in Corwen, most recently by a statue in the market square.
The church’s interior was drastically remodeled in Victorian times. Medieval survivals include the ancient 12th-century font, a massive dug-out chest and in a niche by the altar) the splendidly carved memorial to a 14th century vicar. Iorwerth Sulien lies in his mass vestments, holding a communion chalice, beneath an inscription requesting our prayers.
The Iron Age hill-fort of Caer Drewyn, incorporating the remains of medieval dwellings. Commands a hill to the north-east of the town, beyond the Dee. The fort can be reached by a signposted path starting near the Swimming Pool and Leisure Centre.
The church is usually open daylight hours April – October
Early 19th-century engraving, Corwen Denbighshire Record Office
Preaching Cross, Corwen