The Parish Church of Llansawyl by Daniel Thomas

St Sawyls viewed from, the gate to the churchyard, photograph taken about 1895, by the great Welsh photographer John Thomas

St Sawyls viewed from, the gate to the churchyard, photograph taken about 1895, by the great Welsh photographer John Thomas

The Parish Church of Llansawyl is a very beautiful little Church. The body of the Church and the chancel are parts of the original edifice.

There have been demolitions of the original edifice and there have been additions to it. Also there have been restorations and renovations.

No one can make a good guess as to when the body of the church and the chancel were built. The building originally was thatched with wheaten straw. The slates were put on at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The tower of Church is an addition and its east wall has been built on the west wall of the original building. The tower was probably added in the times of the Tudor dynasty. A similar tower has been added to the parish Church of Llanwenog. But this one has one significant addition. It bears above the west door the coat of arms of Henry VII.

The parish of Llansawyl has always gone ecclesiastically with Conwil Gaio. The old references are “the parish Church of Conwil Gaio together with the chapels of Llanigpumsaint, Llansadwrn, Llanwrda and Pistyll Sawyl.” In a similar manner, Llanwenog has been attached to Llanybyther.

In Tudor times a church and a parish that were independent in their own right had a tower to their church. So the surmise is that Henry VII, when preparing for the battle of Bosworth Field, promised the additional dignity for Llansawyl and Llanwenog in return for support. In the event, they became independent parishes civilly but not ecclesiastically. So the names were changed from Pistyll Sawyl to Llansawyl and Ffynnon Wennog to Llanwenog. Llanwenog became independent ecclesiastically in 1940 but Llansawyl is still attached to Conwil Gaio.

The Church was extensively repaired and renovated in the time of the Rev. Charles Chidlow. It was taken in hand in 1884 and completed in 1886. The gallery of the Church was removed and a completely new roof was put on. The seats and the pulpit, as they are at present, were put in. The walls on the inside were plastered & bigger windows replaced the old ones.

St Sawyls’ beautiful stone reredos, put in by the Drummonds of Edwinsford in 1906.

St Sawyls’ beautiful stone reredos, put in by the Drummonds of Edwinsford in 1906.

The last renewal took place in 1906. A new east window was put in and also a stone reredos* depicting the good shepherd, with the ten commandments engraved on its sides. This was done by Sir James Williams Drummond, Baronet, and Lady Drummond of Edwinsford, in memory of their parents. It was done for the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone at Alltymynydd Sanatorium. The stone was laid by Princess Christian, who stayed at Edwinsford for the occasion and had attended divine worship at the parish church of Llansawyl on the Sunday preceding the ceremony.

Unusually the stone font is positioned at the farthest point from the altar, beside the entrance.

Unusually the stone font is positioned at the farthest point from the altar, beside the entrance.

There are several items of great interest in the church from an antiquarian point of view. Also they are eloquent of past manners and customs. It has a stone font which has been built into the west wall on the north side of the door, which is a most extraordinary position for it. Also in the west wall on the south side of the door there is built a holy water stoup. The present one was put in, during 1884-1886, as the original one crumbled to pieces when masons were restoring it. In the arch separating the chancel from the nave there are two hagioscopes.** At the time that slates were substituted for straw, the parishioners put benches in the church for seating the congregation. Prior to that the main body of the worshippers had to stand, benches were only placed alongside the walls

The unusual (and hard to explain) Maltese Cross

The unusual (and hard to explain) Maltese Cross

for the old and the feeble. Also, it is one of the very few churches in the country to have a Maltese Cross. Why there is one at all in Llansawyl is now a mystery, and why it was placed so low down in the south wall is an equal mystery.

There are, also, two eloquent testimonies to the piety of the people of Llansawyl in the old days. Though the senior church of Caio has no leper window, the church of Llansawyl has two. Every church or chapel in early times usually had one. There seems now no reason why Caio had none and Llansawyl two, but there must have been. There is also in the south side of the chancel the outline of the door through which the officiating priest passed out into the lepers’ porch to lay out the consecrating

A hagioscope or squint, now hidden behind the pulpit.

A hagioscope or squint, now hidden behind the pulpit.

elements for the benefit of the souls of those unfortunates. The second testimony is the hagioscopes already mentioned. They were put in so that the worshippers present, but on the sides, could witness the solemn ceremony of consecrating the bread and wine to be the veritable body and blood of the Lord Jesus. Such is the Roman Catholic teaching, namely, that in the act of consecration by the priest the bread and wine become truly for believers the body and blood of Christ. The teaching of the Churches outside the Roman Communion, with the exception of the High Anglican who believe the same as the Romans, is that the bread and wine represent for believers the body and blood of Christ.

The outline of the blocked-up leper door.

The outline of the blocked-up leper door.

Notes: –
* a reredos = ornamental screen of wood or stone covering the wall at the back of an altar , often carved into a relief depicting scenes from the Bible.

** A hagioscope or squint is an oblique hole in the interior wall of a church permitting a view of the altar from ann aisle or side chapel. St Sawyls has two but one is now obscured by the organ, the other by the pulpit.

The Author
Daniel Thomas was Vicar of Llansawel & Caio from 1929 until 1969. He died in 1974. His grand daughter Audrey Dyer, Brechfa, gave us a copy of the manuscript of this little historical essay of St Sawyls church which he wrote during his time there. It was written in English.   He also wrote a historical essay about Caio parish, which was included in Llandovery and its Environs: A Miscellany, edited by Dai Gealy and Brinley Jones a few years ago.

All the pictures on this page, except the first, were taken recently, to illustrate this article..