It is almost impossible to separate the church of St Dyfnog from the well dedicated to him, just a short walk away along the river, since there is a strong tradition that much of the rebuilding of the church in the late medieval period was done so through the donations given at the well.  That said, if true, then it was money well spent, since the Church is one of the finest in North East Wales, with features that are some of the most extraordinary in Wales – I am, of course referring to the astonishing Jesse Window.

To quote Dylan Thomas, ‘To begin at the beginning’, the rather lovely gnarled timber porch is deeply ornamented early 16th century carving and would appear to be surmounted with a niche that perhaps held the image of the elusive St Dyfnog (a poem from the medieval period once referred to it).  There are pews to sit and shelter from the rain if need be, perhaps consider your impending good fortune at looking upon the treasures within.  It is possible that the sides of the porch are in fact, the removed rood screen, since they are older than the porch roof, and it is believed that there are signs within the church that it did in fact have such a thing.

On entering the church, it is impossible not to be staggered by the glory that is the Jesse Window, dated 1533.  By all accounts, and despite pretenders to the throne, this is considered to be the finest Jesse Window in Wales, and by some the whole of the British Isles.  It is quite stunning.  The Tree of Jesse were depictions in art of the ancestors of Christ, originating with Jesse, father of David.   The Tree of Jesse originated in Western Europe in the form of illuminated manuscripts, probably sometime in the 11th century, and quickly became popular in many other forms of art, including stained glass.  The Llanrhaeadr example is complete and ornate.  It shows Jesse asleep at the base of the window with David, his son above him playing the harp.  The figures upon the branches reaching up about them are notable for the ‘playing card’ style of their depiction.  Near the top, surrounded by the rays of the sun is Mary and Christ her child.

‘Just at the Entrance into the Church there is an immense Chest executed out of a most venerable knotty piece of black Oak strengthened with Iron bandages on all sides, and having most venerable Iron Locks, with a Post erect at the Centre and rising above the Lid, in which hollowed is the poor box ; a most venerable relick of Antiquity, and perhaps co-eval with the Church.’


Richard Fenton, 'A Tour in Wales' (1808)

On entering the church, it is impossible not to be staggered by the glory that is the Jesse Window, dated 1533.  By all accounts, and despite pretenders to the throne, this is considered to be the finest Jesse Window in Wales, and by some the whole of the British Isles.  It is quite stunning.  The Tree of Jesse were depictions in art of the ancestors of Christ, originating with Jesse, father of David.   The Tree of Jesse originated in Western Europe in the form of illuminated manuscripts, probably sometime in the 11th century, and quickly became popular in many other forms of art, including stained glass.  The Llanrhaeadr example is complete and ornate.  It shows Jesse asleep at the base of the window with David, his son above him playing the harp.  The figures upon the branches reaching up about them are notable for the ‘playing card’ style of their depiction.  Near the top, surrounded by the rays of the sun is Mary and Christ her child.

It is possible that the Window was paid for through the offering of pilgrims to the Well, since it was clearly very popular by the beginning of the 16th century, and was sufficiently successful that changing rooms were bought and paid for from the donations.   There also exists an inscription claiming it as a grateful gift by a priest called Robert Jones.  It is entirely possible that rich local landowners would have paid for it, although there is no record of this.   The window is thought to have been saved from the Puritanical vandalism of the English Civil War by removing it from the Church and burying it in the wooden chest that sits beneath it.  It was returned to its position in around 1661.  More stained glass was found buried at a farmhouse in the parish in around 1830, and was returned to the church.  Older than the Jesse Window (1508), and less well known due to the glory of its more esteemed cousin, it shows Gabriel’s Annunciation to the Virgin Mary.  This may well be fragments of a window that did not survive the savage ravagings of Christian fundamentalists.  The wooden oak chest that once secured the Jesse Window, is a tremendous thing, hollowed out into two compartments, making safe the register and the church silver.

After tearing yourself away from a slack jawed appreciation of the Jesse Window, enjoy a wander around the rest of the Church.  Restored in 1879-80, the tower remains as a 13th century build, described as ‘solid and squat’. The Church is double-naved, characteristic of churches in the Vale.  Traditions at St Dyfnog account for this in several ways.  Was it built by two families perhaps, with a nave each?  Was one nave built for the poor, the other for the wealthy?  Given the connection with the well, perhaps one nave was for the locals, the other for pilgrims.  Was the dedication split between Mary and St Dyfnog, an altar for each?  Perhaps.  Still, these double naved churches are both beautiful and not uncommon in the Vale of Clwyd. Both naves have impressive hammer-beam roofs, probably contemporary with the Jesse Window.  At the north altar, the roof is strewn with angels and an impressive canopy of honour.  Some have claimed the roof to be the Church’s most impressive feature.  All to their own. Until it was stolen by some swivel eyed cretin, another item of note was the glorious 1762 golden pelican, a beast that was believed to feed its children with its own blood, and which came to symbolise Christ’s sacrifice.   Originally it stood above the altar. Where is it now?  Perhaps Ebay.  Heartbreaking.

'By them there sat the loving pelican,
Whose young ones, poison'd by the serpent's sting,
With her own blood to life again doth bring. '


Michael Drayton, Noah's Flood.

Despite the early dedication to St Dyfnog, an obscure but certainly pre-Conquest British saint, there is little in the churchyard to suggest an early foundation, since there is little evidence of a curvilinear shape.  It is likely, however, that there was here an early Celtic Christian site, and that the churchyard has been altered in the many centuries since.   Within the graveyard, however, is the burial place of Ann Parry, believed to be one of the most devout of villagers.  She is said to have told her husband that her body was as incorruptible as her soul.  She died in 1787, some fourteen years after her husband.  On the death of her son in 1830, the grave was opened in order to place his remains with his mother.  To everyone’s astonishment, her body was found to be in a remarkable state of preservation.  On the death of the son’s wife, the villagers opened up the grave once again, and one can imagine the small village anticipation, in order to place her body with that of her husband and mother-in-law.  Once again, the body was seen to be remarkably well preserved, unlike her son.  I can find no record of any further openings – perhaps she ran out of relatives.

The Church of St Dyfnog is a wonder, in a village full of wonders.

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