‘Within the old walls of Capel Morde[yrn] the old superstitious people did use to dig a reddish Earth, which, being sprinkled upon the Cattle, would keep them (as they fancied) from diseases.’
Richard Fenton ‘Tours in Wales’ 1804-1813
It seems likely that the history of Nantglyn is an ancient one. The village first enters recorded history in the Norwich Taxation of 1254, where it is named, ‘Nantlym’, and again in the Lincoln Taxation in 1291. The name of the village as we know it today, is first recorded in the 17th century. Literally translated into English, the name of the village means, ‘stream in the valley.’ Edward Lluyd, in his ‘Parochialia’ at the end of the 17th century, claims that there were some six houses here, and you will notice from the Ordnance Survey map of 1879 below, that very little had seemingly changed in the intervening 200 years.
However, the assertion that the history of Nantglyn is ancient, stretching back before the financial records of the Norwich Taxation, is in some part based on Lluyd’s findings. He claims that at nearby St Mordeyrn’s Chapel the right of sanctuary was afforded to visitors who wished it. This right would push back the foundation of the church, and thus the village about it to before the conquest, while also suggesting that the church itself was of some considerable importance.
St Mordeyrn’s Church is now long gone, despite its rather bold appearance on the Ordnance Survey Map of 1874 (where it is called a chapel) and even by the time of Lluyd’s writing, there was little but foundations remaining. The turf within the remains of the chapel was apparently taken by locals, in order to cure diseases in their cattle. It is this tradition that Richard Fenton describes at the beginning of the 19th century.
St Mordeyrn is a curious fellow. There is nothing recorded of him before a poem of the 16th century, where he described as, unsurprisingly, the son of a king and grandson of Cunedda Wledig, and thus a relation of St David. In this, the proposed lineage is no different than kings who would claim ancestry to some famous and respected individual in order to bolster their own pedigree. Mordeyrn was also one of the many saints who travelled to Bardsey Island, though it is said that rather than walk the causeway which miraculously rose from the sea to afford them passage, Mordeyrn rode on a ‘golden maned horse’ that made the journey without touching the waters. Hence, Mordeyrn became known as the, ‘Sovereign of the Sea’.
While Bardsey is said to have the graves of 20000 saints within its sacred earth, Mordeyrn is not one of them. The church that was built at Nantglyn, and as likely as not now beneath Clasmor Farm (007 619), relates to his return to the area. The 16th century poem claims that on Mordeyrn’s death, visitors to his ‘shrine’ were healed of illness, and it is from this source that the belief in cures for illnesses in cattle is likely to have originated. Gifts of, ‘fine wax and gold’ were apparently forthcoming for these cures.
The Ordnance Survey map of 1874 also pinpoints Mordeyrn’s Holy Well as being some 100m north west of the current St James’ Church. It has gone the way of Mordeyrn’s Church and is lost, apparently situated beneath a garden boundary. In 1912, the ‘Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire’, described the site as rising, ‘about 250 yards to the north of the church, but the water has been brought into the village. The site is still moist.’ There is no record as to the cures afforded by the Well, though as elsewhere, the water was probably used for baptisms, of which Mordeyrn is recorded as performing at his church.
The Church of St James was partially rebuilt in 1777, and then again in 1862. Much of its contents remain of the Victorian Era, although there are suggestions of traces of medieval walling and roof timbers. It is chiefly known now for the Pulpit Yew that resides in the churchyard. The bridge across the small stream that eventually meets the Lliwen to the east is a 19th century build, but which replaced what was probably a ford.
The famous Twm o'r Nant, also called the Cambrian Shakespeare, lived in Nantglyn, and took his pen name from the village. He is buried at St Marcella's Church in Denbigh, his tomb quite the sight, signposted if you please and with an unfinished inscription.