A church in Dyserth is noted in the Domesday Book of 1086, but the earliest parts of the current church are dated to the 13th century, when it is likely the wooden building would have been replaced in stone. The name of the village suggests an extremely early foundation of Christianity, a hermitage perhaps, possibly 6th century, making one of the earliest foundations in North Wales. The hermitage would likely have been situated nearby, if not on the current site of St Bridget’s, given its nearness to the waterfall, which would have been an attraction to a hermit-like existence. The area around Dyserth is full of wells, holy and otherwise, and it is easy to see why it would have been attractive to religious minded individuals seeking solitude to worship.
The Church, while dedicated to St Bridget (St Ffraid/St Brides), was once dedicated in fact, to St Cwyfan, a 7th century follower of St Beuno, who possibly settled in the area. St Cwyfan has been identified as St Kevin of Glendalough, Irish born and interesgingly famous as a hermit, which does rather fit with the strong belief that Dyserth's Christian orgins were as a site of a hermitage. St Bridget of Kildare is perhaps one of the most famous of all Irish saints, although there has been much recent heated debate as to her actual existence. Both Cwyfan and Bridget, Irish saints also lends weight to the theory that this area of Denbighshire and Flintshire were heavily influenced by the Norse out of Ireland, a theory fairly buttressed by the circle headed crosses of Dyserth, Meliden and of course, the famous Maen Achwyfan at Whitford.
The 13th century building was heavily restored, virtually rebuilt in truth, in the 1870s by Sir Gilbert Scott. He rebuilt parts of the north, south and west walls, adding a north transcept, removing a gallery and replacing pews. It is then a very different St Bridget’s that entered the 20th century than the one of the 13th century. This does not, however, diminish from its beauty.
The Church boasts an exquisite Jesse Window, contemporary to the example in St Dyfnog’s Church in Llanrhaedr-yng-Nginmeirch. Both are astonishing, though are noticeably different in style. The window is inscribed with the date 1450, and this relates to the 12 Apostles in the tracery lights, older than the Jesse Window below, which dates from 1530. This relates to a bequest from nearby Basingwerk Abbey, though there is a persistent tradition that the Window was hurriedly removed from the Abbey on its dissolution.
Internally, there is much of interest. One of the roof trusses is dated 1579. Looking down at the floor of the south entrance it is possible to see a grave slab decorated with a carved sword. It is possible to see mason marks of the frame of the south door, and by the pulpit there is a grave slab set against the wall. There are two crosses in the church, having had a peripatetic life to date. The six foot, broken wheel-headed cross of would have once been the churchyard cross, as described by Elias Owen in 1886. It has been variously dated from the 8th century onwards. Hubbard, on advice, dates it to the 12th or even 13th century, an Anglo-Viking hybridisation. Current studies by Professor Nancy Edwards at Bangor University have fairly definitively dated all the circle headed crosses in the region, Dyserth's included to the late 10th, early 11th centuries. It has been wrongly attached to Einion, son of Rhirid Flaidd, who died at the successful siege of Dyserth Castle in 1263 by Llywelyn app Gruffud, and was remembered by a cryptically inscribed cross on the spot of his death. The cross, removed many years ago, is more than likely (although there is no certainty) the second of the crosses in the church, which amounts to an extraordinarily curious base stone, adorned with strange shapes and letters.
Elias Owen's drawing of the curious Dyserth Cross and pedestal
The churchyard is full of interest. As you leave the Church, notice the chancel south window dated 1636. Special mention must be made of the hooded tombs. While not as intricate as the tomb of Grace Williams, the wife of John Griffith of Bersham at Cwm, they are fascinating. Situated behind a large yew tree, they form a collection of Jacobean canopied tombs, a fashion of sorts for this part of North East Wales. They are decorated, some with skulls and cross bones, which gave rise to the tradition that they were the graves of 17th century pirates. In fact, the churchyard has many graves dating from the 17th century onwards, including that of Sir Geoffrey Summers (1891-1972), erstwhile owner of Shotton steelworks and donor of nearby Graig Fawr to the National Trust, along with memorials to the lost of World War One.
The worn yet quite beautiful hooded tombs at St Bridget's
To wander St Bridget’s to wander through nearly 700 years of history, and to sense a more ancient time.