'Seeing that many were brought to Christ by the radiant example of thy virtuous life
And thy missionary labours, O holy Cynfarch,
Pray that we too may follow thee
In the service of our Saviour, that our souls may be saved.'
Troparion of St Cynfarch
The church of St. Mary in the Vale of Clwyd is a characteristically double-naved Denbighshire place of worship with some medieval features remaining amongst a much restored interior. It shares its dedication with St Cynfarch, who is believed to have been originally from Northern Britain, possibly exiled, as was St Kentigern, to the British of North East Wales sometime in the 5th century. There remains the possibility of a Pre-Conquest foundation of the Church, but despite the dedication to the 5th century saint, the churchyard, usually a very clear indication of an early foundation is in no way curvilinear.
The interior of the Church is fascinating. The naves both have canopies of honour, something quite distinctive to local churches, and there is evidence of a rood screen in the south aisle. Beside the altar is the sepulchral slab of the early 14th century Welsh knight, Dafydd ap Madoc, depicting him clutching his sword with a curious cat like lion on his heraldic shield. As at St Dyfog’s in Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nginmeirch, the rather wonderful stained glass has a tradition attached to it of having been saved from the ravagings of the Puritans through being taken from above the altar and hidden, to be returned to the south window after the Restoration. This glass was believed to have placed in the wonderful oaken chest, still visible within the church and buried. There is also a curious Elizabethan monument to Thomas ap Rice, who died at, ‘cock-crow’ on the Sabbath in 1582.
As interesting as the interior is, it is the churchyard which particularly fascinates. There is a blocked north doorway which is curious. Before the Reformation, such doors were often left open during infant baptism, in order to allow the evil spirits to flee. After the Protestant ascendency, such practices were slowly removed and these doorways were blocked up. At St Mary’s and St Cynfarch’s, the doorway has been blocked, at least partially with a 14th century sepulchral slab.
The churchyard has the remains of a churchyard cross, a few paces from the south door, which has been recycled as a sundial, and an inscription records the date of this change as 1800. The remnants would suggest that at one time, the cross would have been of a very impressive size. The lovely lichgate is also very impressive with its Welsh inscription, ‘Heb Dduw, Heb Ddim’, which translates as, ‘Without God Without Anything’.
The Church is open in daylight hours.