There would seem to be little doubt that St Cynfarch and St Cyngar’s, the parish church of the village of Hope, is ancient, the site of an early medieval Christian settlement. A glance at the Lidar image shows clearly the fairly dramatic curvilinear nature of the churchyard - a good indication of a llan enclosure.
The lidar image of St Cyngar's, showing the raised and curvilinear nature of the church site - a good indication of an ancient llan
The dedication to St. Cynfarch and St. Cyngar has caused some confusion, and it is fairly common now to read of the church named only after St. Cyngar. Baring-Gould and Fisher are of the opinion that the traditional dedication to Cynfarch is a mistake, basing their opinion on the fact that Hope was,
‘Formerly called in Welsh Llangyngar and Plwyf Cyngar - not Cynfarch - and the wake fell on November (correctly the 7th), the festival of S. Cyngar, according to Edward Lhuyd.’
S. Baring-Gould, J. Fisher, Lives of the British Saints Vol II, p.242
The reference to Lhuyd is from the great man’s Parochialia of 1699, in which he makes no mention of Cynfarch, rather stating,
‘Their wakes is on Gwyl Cyngar viz ye Sunday after ye eleventh of November.’
E. Lhuyd, Parochialia, Archaeologia Cambrensis Supplement Parts I-III, (1909-1911)
It is a claim repeated by Pennant at the end of the 18th century, stating simply that the church is dedicated to St Cyngar. However, D. R. Thomas, in A History of the Diocese of St Asaph (1874), is fairly unequivocal in stating in his entry for Hope that the village’s earlier name was in fact,
‘Llangynfarch so called after Cynfarch, a saint of the 5th century who founded Llangynfarch in Maelor.’
D. R. Thomas, A History of the Diocese of St Asaph, p. 592
It might be that Thomas is confusing Hope here with elsewhere. Still, even if we should dismiss Cynfarch, and I am loath to do so entirely, the existing dedication to St. Cyngar is fascinating, and a further indication of considerable antiquity. Cyngar was a 6th century British saint, thought to have originated from Cornwall, before moving into Somerset where he founded a monastery at Congresbury. Baring-Gould and Fisher speculate that he moved into Glamorgan after the Saxon victory at the Battle of Deorham of 577 and founded a monastery at Llandough near Penarth. He is said to have been the uncle of St. Cybi, and was with his nephew in Ireland and Anglesey, where he is linked with Llangefni. Despite the dedication of the parish church in Hope to Cyngar, he does not seem to have had any particular connection to the area, though Lhuyd mentions a, ‘Ffynnon Cyngar within a field of ye church’ - one of several wells in the parish. The whereabouts of Ffynnon Cyngar is not clear, but in 1880, it was said to have been filled in and it is perhaps the well located on OS maps of the late 19th century in the grounds of Caeau Farm, now the Maelor Equestrian Centre.
In the year 2000, during restoration work at the church, fragments of medieval monumental stone were discovered. The fragments were incorporated into the external walls of the church, while one was brought inside and is now part of the east wall. They have been described by Nancy Edwards as ring headed cross grave markers and dated to between the 9th and 11th century. They are worn and weary but wonderful - simple and beguiling. Given their condition, it is hard to tie them together with the more elaborate cross decoration of the same date range, such as those at Dyserth and Maen Achwyfan, but their presence is further evidence that the current church stands within a centre of early medieval Christianity.
A fragment of an ancient sandstone, monumental grave slab, with its distinctive celtic cross - an indication of a early Christian site.
Worn and weary, but wonderful still - embedded into the external north wall.
Worked into the external wall above the buttress on the southern side of the wall.
This intriguing example of monumental work would seem to have a depiction of an arrow carved into its face.
While we can be fairly certain that St Cyngar’s was a centre of early Christianity, nothing is known of its history before the 13th century. By the time of its mention in the Norwich Taxation of 1254, as ‘Ecc’a de Estun’ it had moved on from its fairly simple llan foundation. Yet, while the church was damaged in the Edwardian Wars of the later 13th century, the small amount of compensation received suggests that St Cyngar’s at this time was probably a small wooden building.
The church was rebuilt in stone at the end of the 13th century, possibly as a consequence of the Edwardian damage. Certainly, the crypt, accessed from outside the eastern end of the south range has been dated to 1281, and the church at this time was thought to have been a single celled affair, extended westwards in the 14th century. A north nave was added in the 15th century, and the impressive perpendicular tower in the 16th century, probably completed by 1568. Interestingly, the tower was originally a separate structure, before being joined with the nave some time after its completion.
It is thought that the tower, a four stage battlemented affair with fine 3 light arch windows, and the general enlargement of the church was paid for by the Stanley’s - Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), mother of Henry VII, and her husband, Lord Stanley (1435-1504). This is entirely probable, since their generous touch can be felt throughout north east Wales, not least of all at St Winifred’s Well at Holywell. It is worth noting the Tudor moulded entrance. It is likely the old font, now at Llanfyndd, was contemporary with the tower since it bears the armorial arms of the Stanley.
There is no record of bells being installed at the time of its building, but we do know that by the end of the 18th century it had three. These bells were inscribed as follows.
JESVS. BE. OVR. SPEED. 1623
GOD. SAWE. HSS. CHVRCH. 1720. RE.
Gabriel Wynne RECTOR
Ralph ASHTON LUKE ASHTON
These bells were removed in 1920 and melted down, replaced with a ring of six bells inscribed with a dedication to the fallen of World War One.
FOR ALL WHO FOUGHT/ FOR ALL
WHO FELL/ FOR VICTORY
On display within the church is what is thought to be a clapper from one of the original bells, along with a wonderful snippet of anonymous verse.
‘My Duty Done in Belfry High
A Voiceless Tongue At Rest I Lie’
Possibly one of the clappers from the original bells - melted down in 1920 to create a ring of six, dedicated to the falled of WW1.
During restoration work of 1953, the remains of two wall paintings were discovered beneath post reformation limewash on the southern wall of the north aisle. The blackletter inscriptions, within red and yellow borders are both in English, which in fact is somewhat rare, since most were written in Welsh. While now largely unreadable, a date of 1533 is just about visible, and so is likely contemporary with the work commissioned by the Stanleys. There are also the worn remains of a Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, hung now above a creche in the west end of the north aisle. These fragments are evidence of how with the Reformation, the once hugely colourful church interiors were whitewashed to plainness. The Hanoverian Royal Arms on the north wall are curious, since they would seem to be mistaken. They are dedicated to George III, and dated 1825 - five years after his death.
These fragments of wall paintings date to around the middle of the 16th century and are written in English - something of a rarity, in fact.
The windows within the church have been much altered since the 13th century. A glance at the Moses Griffiths watercolour of the late 18th century makes this clear, as well as being an indication of the need at the time for sturdy buttressing of the north wall. Some of the ancient glass from the end of the 15th century was said to have been saved by the people of Hope from Puritanical vandalism, and later incorporated into the beautiful Te Deum window in the east end of the north aisle, and dated to around 1730.
There is much of interest within the church, not least the monumental effigies of Sir John Trevor (1563-1629/30) and his wife Margaret. He was a man of national importance, secretary to Charles Howard, commander of the fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. Trevor was also surveyor of the Queens ships, from which he made a considerable fortune, together with further investments, including on the duties paid on Newcastle coal. This fortune enabled him to build nearby Plas Têg, where he died in 1630 (possibly 1629), interred in the crypt below St Cyngar’s. He and his wife were major benefactors of the church, and the east end of the south aisle is also known as the Trevor Chapel.
Sir John Trevor and his wife, Margaret - 17th century benefactors of the church.
The organ, now to be found at the west end of the south aisle has its origins as a donation to the Atcherleys of nearby Cymau Hall from Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, the estranged wife of the notorious George IV, and queen of England until her death in 1821. It was donated to the church by the Atcherley family in 1852, replacing a harmonium. Originally placed in the west end of the church, it was moved to the east end of the south aisle in 1884, rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century, enlarged a little later before finally being moved to the west end of the south aisle when subsidence became an issue.
The memorials to those of the parish who have fallen in the many wars fought in the long history of these Islands are always moving - always. The memorials within St Cyngar’s (there is one for World War One and a separate memorial for the fallen of World War Two) are no different. One of the many names upon the memorial is that of Richard Dacre Trevor-Roper, a distant relation of Sir John Trevor. Richard was the ‘tail end Charlie’, the rear gunner on Guy Gibson’s Lancaster (AJ-G) during Operation Chastise, known more famously as the Dambusters Raid of the 16th and 17th May 1943. Richard was acknowledged as the leader of 617 Squadron’s hellraisers, a role played to distinction in the London festivities following the successful mission to destroy the Ruhr Dams. He was killed in March 1944 during a raid on Nuremberg, and was buried in Durnbach War Cemetery.
The Dambusters - the crew of Avro Lancaster AJ-G, posing for one last photograph before their mission to destroy the Ruhr Dams - R. D. Trevor-Roper is on the far left, Guy Gibson is on the ladder.
Externally, a walk about the churchyard makes clear how the site still conforms in part to the curvilinear nature of an original llan site, even though significant changes have been made. Mention has already been made of the cross head grave markers incorporated into the walls, while in the south wall you will find the remains of the upper stone of a beehive quern embedded, along with another millstone, in the wall, both of Cefn-Fedw sandstone - a reminder of the importance in the area of the quarrying of the stone and its fashioning into millstones.
The upper stone of a bee hive quern - found in 1915 and incorporated into the southern wall of the church, joining nearly a thousand years of Hope history embedded into the stone.
The church has undergone numerous renovations, repairs and restorations in its long history. It has now the familiar appearance of a double naved Clwydian church of real character, reflecting in its worn stone its age and history of the area.
R. W. M. Clouston, The Church Bells of Flintshire, Archaeologia Cambrensis, Vol 101, (1951)
S. R. Glynne, Notes on the Older Churches in the Four Welsh Dioceses, Archaeologia Cambrensis, Vol. I No. III, (July 1884)
B. Gould, J. Fisher, Lives of the British Saints Vol. II, London, (1908)
E. Hubbard, The Buildings of Wales Clwyd, Penguin, London, (1986)
E. Lhuyd, Parochialia, Archaeologia Cambrensis Supplement Parts I-III, (1909-1911)
T. Pennant, Tours in Wales Vol. II, ed. J. Rhys, Caernarvon, (1883)
RCAHMCW, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire: Flintshire, London (1914)
R. Suggett, Painted Temples, Wallpaintings and Rood-screens in Welsh Churches 1200-1800, RCAHMW, Aberystwyth, (2021)
D. R. Thomas, A History of the Diocese of St Asaph, London, (1874)