A look at St. Melangell’s Church, North Wales.

Favourite Graves contributor Lora Jones recently visited St. Melangell’s Church, often named as one of Britain’s most attractive remote churches, at Pennant Melangell in North Wales. The Shrine Church of Pennant Melangell is a beautiful mediaeval church ensconced in tranquil rural countryside at the end of the Tanat Valley. There is now no longer a village at Pennant Melangell, although the Shrine Church is open to and used by the public, and is easily reached by travelling two miles down a narrow lane from nearby Llangynog.

St. Melangell’s Church
Pennant Melangell Chapel, Wales.

History of St. Melangell’s church, taken from their website.

“Melangell was a female saint of the 7th century. According to tradition she came here from Ireland and lived as a hermit in the valley. One day Brochwel, Prince of Powys, was hunting and pursued a hare which took refuge under Melangell’s cloak. The Prince’s hounds fled, and he was moved by her courage and sanctity. He gave her the valley as a place of sanctuary, and Melangell became Abbess of a small religious community. After her death her memory continued to be honoured, and Pennant Melangell has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries. Melangell remains the patron saint of hares.

There has been a Christian Church here for over 1200 years. Its setting, in a place of great beauty deep in the Berwyn Mountains, is peaceful and unspoilt. The church stands in a round churchyard, once a Bronze Age site, ringed by ancient yew trees estimated to be two thousand years old. Parts of the building date from the 12th Century though the most recent, a rebuilding of the apse on its original foundations, was completed only in 1990. The impression is still that of a simple Norman church, well loved and beautified over the years.

The church contains a fine 15th Century oak screen with carvings that tell the story of Melangell and Prince Brochwel. There are also two medieval effigies, one of which is thought to represent the saint; a Norman font, a Georgian pulpit, chandelier and commandment board, a series of stone carvings of the hare by the sculptor Meical Watts, and the mysterious Giant’s Rib.”

Meical Watts stone carving of a hare

“The church’s greatest treasure is the 12th Century shrine of Saint Melangell. This was dismantled after the Reformation and its stones, carved with a strange blend of Romanesque and Celtic motifs, were built into the walls of the church and lych-gate. They were reassembled in the last century and have now been re-erected in the chancel. The result is an impressive monument, unique in Britain and recently described by a leading scholar as ‘of pan-European significance’. Bones said to be those of the saint have been deposited within the shrine. The church is listed Grade 1: an illustrated history and guide is available.”

Bones of St. Melangell buried within shrine?

Lora recorded many interesting images (below), but my favourite of all has to be the intact immortelle shrine found in the church yard. I have seen many modern (post 1970) immortelles on my travels but never a Victorian one. I suspect this one isn’t from the date of death on the stone but it well could be (judging by the rusted metal guard, although weather damage to metal can take effect very quickly). Anyway, the bell dome glass looks nice and thick so I hope it remains intact for many years to come!

Finally, here is some more information on the Saints of North Wales, in particular the abbess and patron saint of rabbits, hares and small animals, St. Melangell. More images by Lora can be seen on the Favourite Graves Flickr photostream.

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