Renowned for its International Musical Eisteddfod, Llangollen occupies a supremely picturesque setting by the Dee, sheltered to the south by the Berwyns and to the north by Ruabon Mountain, and overlooked by Castell Dinas Bran (Site 18). The town has been a magnet for travelers and visitors since the early 19th century, many of them initially attracted by the publicity surrounding the romantic ‘Ladies of Llangollen’. In medieval times, however, Llangollen was little more than a large village, chiefly known for its (still surviving) stone bridge – probably begun in about 1400 – and its famous church of St. Collen.
Church of St. Collen
The first church here was founded in the 6th century by the Welsh-Irish Saint Collen, the subject of many tales and legends.
A warrior-champion of Christianity and later a hermit on Glastonbury Tor, he is said o have retired here after vanquishing a local man-eating giantess. Until the mid-18th century – when it was demolished to provide stone for the present tower – his tomb-shrine (or ‘Old Church’) survive in the churchyard. The present building was begun in the 13th century but drastically remodeled in 1864 – 7, when it was altered from the local double-naved form into a conventional three-aisled church – a rare thing in these parts. Thankfully, however, the fabulous pair of hammer-beam roofs were spared: they remain among the greatest medieval treasures of Denbighshire.
Erected in about 1530 after a disastrous fire, these amazing works of art are sometimes (wrongly) said to have come from Valle Crucis Abbey: in fact, they were made for the church, a striking testament to local pride and craftsmanship. Most elaborate is the roof of the central aisle: it is bedecked with choirs of angels – blowing trumpets, holding shields, swords, hooks, and spears. Towards the east end (where it is paneled-in as a ‘canopy of honor’ over the original altar-space) the carving grows richer still: the roof members themselves are embellished, and the angels are interspersed with pious or comic figures. (Many of these carvings are illustrated in a special guide pamphlet).
Early 19th-century engraving, Dinas Bran and Llangollen Denbighshire Record Office
The roof of the north aisle is plainer; but this too is adorned with angels and carvings of beasts, birds, fish and flowers and an old Welsh inscription (‘Y nav i ti, Mair, vydd barod bob awr’) meaning ‘For thee, Mary, heaven will be open every hour’.
There is much else to see here, including a finely carved 14th-century‘ founder’s tomb’ in the north aisle and many later features. Among the most remarkable is the south aisle’s plaque to the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’, given in 1937 by Dr. Mary Gordon: curiously, the figures are modeled not on ‘the Ladies’ but on the donor and her sculptress, Violet Labouchere. The Ladies themselves lie beneath a triangular monument outside the entrance door, along with their beloved housekeeper Mary Carryl.
Plas Newydd. The Ladies’ amazing ‘Romantic Cottage’ stands (well signposted) to the south-east of the town. Among the curiosities, they collected there are the shaft of Chester’s medieval High Cross and the font from Valle Crucis Abbey.
Church open May – September
Mon – Fri 1.30 pm – late
Plas Newydd open April – October daily at 10.00 am – 5.00 pm. Last recommended admission at 4.15pm. Entrance charge.
Carved roof, Church of St. Collen, Llangollen
Plas Newydd, Llangollen