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20 September 2014
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Dolwyddelan Church

Meredydd ab Ieuan ap Robert, ancestor of the great Wynn clan of Gwydir, came to live in Dolwyddelan (Meir) in the late fifteenth century to escape the constant feuding in his family. Life was still full of problems. The outlaws who had made their base at Ysbyty Ifan regularly attacked his home, often while the household was at church on Sunday. The old church was nearer the castle, at Bryn y Bedd, out of sight of the house, and it was impossible to keep a lookout for the bandits. So Meredydd built a new church on more open ground. He stationed a lookout with a flag on the rocks above Carreg Alltrem and another near the church. If the outlaws were spotted, the congregation could leave their devotions and deal with them. Meredydd also organised a group of local farmers who were prepared to deal with the bandits.

The church which Meredydd built is on the road from the station to the centre of the village. It is usually open during the day and well worth a visit. The elaborately-carved rood screen probably came from the old church. The slots in the north bay probably held the lattice-work for a confessional. The rood screen was moved when Robert Wynne built the south chapel in the sixteenth century. Over the altar is a carved barrel vault, a canopy of honour for the high altar. The north beam of this has a carving of the famous Dolwyddelan Dragon. According to the local legend, this was a monster which came up the river to Dolwyddelan from the sea. Because it caused floods in the valley, it was taken to a lake in the mountains.

Like the rood screen, the carving of the dragon probably came from the old church. In the Christian tradition, the dragon represents Satan, evil and sin. The Dolwyddelan dragon has an extra head on its tail, symbolising the way Satan deceives us. But at Dolwyddelan the dragon also has a knot in its tail. It is not really a dragon but a salamander - which is a good creature because it can live in flame.

The glass in the east and north windows probably dates from 1512, when Meredydd finished his new church. It is similar to the glass at Llanrhychwyn, which is near his eventual home at Gwydir, though the glass at Llanrhychwyn is probably older. The north window over the pulpit has a little St Christopher with the Christ-child clinging to his back. The east window is a jumble of fragments. You can make out part of the Crucifixion and a ladder and dice from the Instruments of the Passion. The crowned head might be the Coronation of the Virgin Mary. The haloed figure of a child is obviously the infant Jesus - so the crowned figure might be the Virgin Mary enthroned with the child on her knee. There are obviously bits here from several windows. Meredydd’s church must have been one of the most beautiful in the neighbourhood when it was finished.

The church still has much of its old furniture, including the pulpit and reading desk. On one of the front pews, you can see the words ‘Maingc i’r dyla i clyw’ (‘a bench for the hard of hearing’). Hanging from the ceiling is a very old bell, traditionally called Cloch Wyddelan, ‘St Gwyddelan’s Bell’. This was dug up on the site of the old church in 1850. It is possible that it may really be the saint’s bell. Bells often feature in stories about the Welsh and Irish saints and were kept as relics.

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St Christopher: stained glass in Dolwyddelan Church

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