Rhug Chapel is astonishing. From the exterior is remains unassuming and modest, set in the picturesque setting of a garden site. Indeed, on entering the grounds of this 17th Century family chapel, you are given no warning of its quite incredible, and frankly shocking abundance of pre-Reformation decoration.
Built in 1637 as a private chapel by the indomitable Colonel William Salesbury, famed Royalist defender of Denbigh Castle during the English Civil War, Rhug Chapel flies in the face of the Puritan aesthetic of the time. Hen Hosanau Gleision 'Old Blue Stockings' had no time for the prevailing tide of the religious time.
On entering the Chapel, you are immediately assailed by the splendour and the depth of colour of the place. There is almost nothing that has not been decorated, with almost every available surface spectacularly carved or painted.
Carved animals, both real and mythological are visible on the bench ends, while canopied family pews flank the altar. It is worth studying the painted cherub chandelier and the rather wonderful turned and marbled gallery. The intricately fashioned wall panels are well worth your time.
On climbing the stairs to the left, the gallery affords a quite glorious view of the spectacularly ornate roof. Panelled and coloured from start to finish, resplendent with angels, flowers and curious beasts. Breathtaking.
Amongst this sense assailing sight, there remains a more sombre depiction of the fragility of life. A rare 17th Century wall painting of a skeleton, skull, hourglass and dial (inscribed with the Latin term, 'Fugit hora' - the hour flies) is striking. Upon the painting is a number of inscriptions in Welsh. There is an excerpt from a Welsh carol written by the Catholic martyr, Richard Gwyn executed in Wrexham in 1584.
'val i treila r tan gan bwll, gwur y ganwull gynudd. fellu r enioes ar rhod sudd yn darfod beunudd.'
'as the flame gradually consumes the tallow of the lighted candle so life on the orbit (earth) perishes daily.'
Also visible is an inscription from one of the Englynion y Misoedd.
'yrhoedel er hyd a for aros a derfudd yn udd ag yn nos'
'lifetime, however long its stay, will come to an end by night and by day.'
There is also a quotation from a cywydd, an important metrical form of traditional Welsh poetry, possibly written by Ieuan ap Rhydderch.
'Darfu fynrwyn am wuneb mud iawn wy nim edwyn neb'
'my nose and my face are perished, very dumb am I, no one knows me.'
My personal favourite of the inscriptions, however, is the last. A proverb which was first recorded in 1547 but is doubtless much older.
'pob cadarn: gwan i ddiwedd'
'every strong one is weak in the end.'
In the Chapel grounds is a possibly ancient stone cross, several of which are to be seen in North East Wales. It is similar to market crosses and is much older than the Chapel itself. Its history is unknown. There are also memorial stones to the Wynn family.
Rhug Chapel is a wonderful example of a small number of Anglican churches which survived the extremes of Protestantism, Puritanism and the Victorian Gothic revival. Indeed, there is a memorial to Robert Vaughan who undertook a very sympathetic restoration of the Chapel in 1854. North Wales is blessed with several, and it is well worth visiting them all to establish a context. Three miles to south, for instance, Llangar Church is similarly unaffected by the sweeping changes of the 19th Century, and also boasts an 18th Century figure of death.
Rhug Chapel is open 1st April - 1st November, Monday to Friday 10am - 5pm.