‘From hence I continued my journey to Llanarmon, a village whose church is dedicated to St. Germanus bishop of Auxerre; who, with St. Lupus, contributed to gain the famous Victoria Alleluiatica over the Picts and Saxons near Mold. He was a most popular patron, and has numbers of other churches in Wales under his protection. An image of an ecclesiastic, still to be seen in the church wall, is called his. In Leland’s days, there was a great resort of pilgrims, and large offerings at this place; and, probably, to this imaginary resemblance of him.’
Thomas Pennant, 'A Tour in Wales' 1778
There can be little doubt that the Church of St Garmon’s in Llanarmon-yn-Ial rests within an ancient Christian landscape. We can be reasonably certain that the village was a llys in the commote of Ial, and that the foundations of the church here was as a clas, the ecclesiatical centre. As such, the first church here would have been a simple affair of wood and stone within a raised and curvilinear enclosure. Of course, nothing of that original building remains, but the circular churchyard within which the current magnificent church rests is a reminder of that ancient past.
There is a tradition that states that it was here that the army of Germanus and Lupus sought baptism before the Alleluia Battle, a tradition that seems to have its roots in Bede (Ecclesiastical History of the English People i.20).
‘Undoubtedly the Church is ancient, and it is believed to commemorate the spot where the Easter Festival was solemnized by St Germanus in a church formed of interwoven branches of trees and flowers of the forest.’
Elias Owen, Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd, p.90
The characteristic double nave, dated to the 15th century, along with the timber colonading by Edward Wettnall in the 18th century.
Little is known of St Garmon’s until the 13th century, when the village is mentioned in the Norwich taxation of 1254 as Sancto Germano and again in 1291 as Thlanharmon in Yal. This in itself is curious, since the name as stated is clearly a fairly simple reference, and suggests perhaps that the fame and standing of the Church was such that this was enough to identify the place. There is evidence that the Church was badly damaged in the Edwardian conquest of 1282, for which compensation was paid to the amount of around £4. Whether the Church was repaired or entirely rebuilt is not known, since what we have today is largely of the 15th century, when the second nave was added, a familiar characteristic of churches in north east Wales. With greater political stability, it seems the Church grew as money returned to the area.
Within the Church, in the south east corner are several memorials and effigies. The much weathered and unnamed priest is of real interest, since both Thomas Pennant and Elias Owen state that local tradition identifies the effigy as that of St Garmon. Owen remains sceptical, though it would make some considerable sense. The Church became popular with pilgrims (undoubtedly another reason for the growing wealth of the Church), both because of its association with Garmon, and also for its location on the Pilgrim route between St Winefride’s at Holywell and St David’s in Pembrokeshire. John Leland makes reference to its importance in the 16th century, stating that Llanarmon, and by inference the Church was the focus of,
‘greate pilgremage and offering was a late to S. Armon’.
A physical representation of the saint would make absolute sense. It is thought that its great weathering was as a result of its placement outside of the Church until it was brought inside, some time before the end of the 18th century, since Pennant mentions it as being in the church wall and Owen, writing at the end of the 19th century, states that it was, ‘erect in the south wall’. He goes on to speculate that the effigy might well be that of John Lloyd, an early 16th century abbot of Valle Crucis Abbey.
The unnamed cleric - local tradition states that this is an effigy of St Garmon, and was possibly a draw for pilgrims.
Originally outside, the much worn effigy was upright in the south wall by the time of Owen's visit in the 19th century.
We are on firmer ground with the effigy of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn ab Ynyr. Pennant’s description of the figure is dramatic, claiming this to be a son of ‘the bloody fingered warrior’. This is a reference to Ynyr (some sources claim it to be his son, Llywelyn, but the dates would suggest otherwise), a knight of Owain Gwynedd (1100-1170), who fought with the King of Gwynedd at the much debated Battle of Crogen (it has also been described as a number of ‘minor harassments’) in August 1165. Tradition states that whilst in conversation with the King after the battle, Ynyr drew his bloodied fingers across his blade, marking the steel, prompting Owain Gwynedd to decree that these marks should be carried upon his shield. For his bravery at Crogen, Ynyr was said to have been awarded this coat of arms and the estate of Gelligynan. This effigy then, is of his grandson, and can be dated to around 1320. It is quite stunning, in fact, displaying a sword, mail and padded surcoat. The shield is wonderful, inscribed with a ‘hic jacet’ personalisation.
‘Here lies Gruffydd ap Llywelyn ab Ynyr’
Pennant describes that at ‘his feet lies a dog gnawing a heap of intestines’, which he explains with a story detailing Gruffudd’s death on crusade in which he was skewered in the stomach, resulting in his bowels falling out and being eaten by a dog. He is said to have fought on, regardless, until his eventual death. The historical background for this is lacking, and current thinking is that there are two dogs at the feet, in fact, gnawing on a branch which seems to have foliage. The effigy rests on a plinth with six ogee headed niches, which can be supposed to be the ‘chest cut out of stone, in which his body was put, and sent home’, mentioned by Pennant. Tradition states it to have been removed from the Valle Crucis Abbey at the Dissolution.
Gruffydd ap Llywelyn ab Ynyr - a superb 14th century effigy.
Gruffydd ap Llywelyn ab Ynyr - a little worn, a little battered, but resplendent still.
And then there is the rather stunning mural monument to Evan Lloyd (d.1586) on the south wall, overlooking Gruffydd ap Llywelyn ab Ynyr. It shows a reclining Lloyd, pointed beard and proud moustache, his head resting on his left hand propped up on an elbow. It is of the fashion of a triple arcade, with the legs and bust of Lloyd on display, the central black panel taken with an inscription, in Welsh, listing the offices he held in his lifetime, which included Justice of the Peace for Denbighshire and a captain under Charles I in Ireland. The escutcheon above the memorial, the shields above the arcades and the fourteen shields below all detail heraldic arms of ancestors of the Lloyds of Bodidris.
Age has weathered the memorial, but it remains a wonder.
Originally, the memorial would have been brightly painted and probably gilded. Time has taken its toll, and the memorial now is quite literally a shadow of what it once was. It has a sort of quiet melancholy, an atmosphere of slow decline. It remains an absolute wonder, however, absorbing your attention.
The astonishing chandelier in the north east corner is, as Hubbard claims, ‘a rare and wonderful treasure.’ With its three tiers of six branches, decorated with gothic foliage, and a canopied figure of the Virgin Mary at its centre, it remains an example of what must have been some considerable local patronage - a testament to the growing wealth of the area in the 15th century, from which it seems fairly certain to be dated. The chandelier, along with its companion at Llandegla, would seem to be Flemish in origin. It will be of little surprise to find that the assumption has always been that the chandelier was originally at Valle Crucis Abbey - ever the considered origin of anything of wealth and style in a significant geographical radius.
Elias Owen, writing in 1886 claims that the Church was much too large for the parish, but reconciles this with the number of pilgrims that were welcomed. A growing wealth in the area was evident throughout the 16th century, but with the discovery and exploitation of lead in the area in the 18th century onwards, it would seem St Garmon’s was further enhanced. This wealth manifested itself in a number of box pews built within the Church, and only removed with the renovations of the later 19th century.
The Church has undergone a considerable amount of restoration and repair. During the 18th century, a Wrexham carpenter by the name of Edward Wettnall was responsible for the timber colonading between the naves, which seems to have replaced a stone arcade. It would seem that it was spared the more drastic 19th century efforts suffered elsewhere, probably due to the sympathetic efforts of the architect, John Douglas of Chester.
The uncluttered churchyard is, as has already been stated, circular - a reliable indicator of a pre-conquest, early Christian origin. The remains of the churchyard cross are to the west of the porch, and, as is common, have been turned into a sundial. Owen dated it to the late 14th or early 15th century.
The Church of St Garmon's is a treasure, and well worth an hour of your time.