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23 October 2014
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Cwm-iou (or Cwmyoy)

The church at Cwm-iou is something of a curiosity. Above it on the skyline, a great gouge has been taken out of the mountain. This has given the church and village its name, ‘the valley of the yoke’. According to local tradition, the landslide was the result of the earthquake during Christ’s crucifixion, when there was darkness over the whole land and the veil of the Temple was torn in two. The scientific explanation is more prosaic. The whole of the Honddu valley is glacial. When the wall of ice melted, it left a typically U-shaped valley. Parts of the sheer walls of this valley then collapsed, creating the jagged skyline, and the church at Cwm-iou was built on the spoil from the landslide.

Unfortunately, the ground had not finished settling when the church was built, and the building has been twisted in all directions by subsidence. It is a tribute to the skill of the original masons that it is still standing. The tower is buttressed in two directions, but it was still being used for bell-ringing until recently. The tower leans uphill, the chancel arch leans downhill and the floors and walls between them buckle alarmingly.

Apart from its status as a curiosity, Cwm-iou is a pretty little church with some interesting features. The building is mostly thirteenth century, with sixteenth-century windows. However, the font is probably even older. In the nave is a strange little stone statue depicting Christ crowned and on the cross. Its style suggests it is from the thirteenth century. This may have been one of a series of waymarking crosses on the route up the valley to Brecon and eventually to St David’s. The base of one such cross has been found in the garden of the old vicarage. The cross was stored for a time in the church tower, and in 1967 it was found to have disappeared. A local woman who had taken some photographs of it took them to the British Museum for identification and found that the original had already been shown to the Keeper of Sculpture there. It was traced to a London antique shop and recovered, but the thieves were never identified. It is now firmly fixed to the church floor.

The steps to the rood loft are still visible in the chancel arch. The seventeenth-century communion rails are the work of local craftsmen. The church has a particularly fine collection of tombstones and memorials, some carved by the famous Brute family of monumental masons. There is a distinctive local tradition of vernacular memorial sculpture, sometimes painted as well as carved. Chubby angels and cherubs with tightly-curled hair are surrounded by rococo wreaths of leaves, branches and sprays of flowers. Death has seldom been treated with such good humour. The verse on the memorial to Thomas Price, who died in 1682, is typical:

Thomas Price he takes his nap In our common mother lap Waiting to heare the Bridegroome say Awake my dear and come away.
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Thirteenth-century stone cross at Cwmiou

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