'From Tommen y Rhodwydd I crossed the country for about two miles to the village of Llandegla noted for its vast fairs for black cattle.'
Thomas Pennant, Tours in Wales Vol II (1781) p.14.
Histories of Llandegla are invariably dominated by the presence of one of the most famous holy wells of Wales, Ffynnon Tecla. Its presence would seem to point to a very early foundation for this community, as does the dedication of the church to this early British saint. However, there is the possibility that St Tegla, is actually St Thecla, a saint of Middle Eastern origin. But earlier still, much earlier in fact are the caves dotted around the village, within which a crouched burial found early in the 20th century pushes back the human history of Llandegla to the Neolithic.
The churchyard is rectangular in shape, which does somewhat complicate an early medieval or pre-Christian origin, though there are suggestions of a more curvilinear outline in places. Interestingly, there is a suggestion that Llandegla has an association with the much debated Celtic ‘cult of the head.’ The belief that the Celtic peoples held the head in reverence is hard to dispel, given its regular occurrence in myth and in the literature that survives. Certainly, its dismissal as a favourite decorative motif smacks of wishful thinking. Until recently, a farmhouse in Llandegla displayed six carved stone heads of ancient age, and it is thought they were of local origin.
“Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world.”
Early Celtic Art (1944): Paul Jacobsthal
But of course, the veneration of the head could well be much older, given the belief in some quarters that the prevalence of the skulls of both human and animal in cairns and megalithic tombs suggests the peoples of the time centered a belief system about them.
The village is initially recorded as ‘landeglan’ in 1277-8 and ‘Llanddegla’ in 1284. By 1700 it was known as ‘Llan Dekla’. Despite Llandegla’s ancient past, by the 13th century is was accepted as no more than a chapelry of the mother church in Llangollen. Its annual value of £5, however, is not an inconsiderable amount and fails to fit with this evaluation, asking serious questions. Indeed, Professor Glanville Jones in, ‘The Archaeology of Clwyd’ suggests that one of the two priests noted in the Domesday Book (1086) as attached to the commote of Ial was situated at Llandegla. John Leland in the early 16th century also suggests that Landegla was important, second only to Llanarmon-yn-Ial. He does not, however, say why. Firm evidence, then, remains elusive.