The Old Pilgrim Way / Hen Ffordd y Pererinion

An extended version of the article by Revd John Powell

It all began when I joined Cardigan Civic Society and was asked to think of a project. Other projects included Blue Plaques for historic sites, Finger posting for the Town, 3D mapping of the Town in 1815, Storing of Mediaeval Archives, a Town App and other projects. What was I to do?


As vicar of Cardigan I had been well aware of the fame of Holy Cross Church, Mwnt but also of the lack of knowledge of the importance of St Mary’s Church Cardigan, especially in ancient times. I decided to produce a leaflet helping to rectify this and to encourage the growing practice of pilgrimage in our own time.

I would not have been able to do this without the invaluable contribution of Canon Seamus Cunnane, a retired Priest of the Catholic Church in Cardigan and a historian of note. We delved into possible routes from Holy Cross Church, Mwnt to St Mary’s Church, Cardigan. This would be only a small part of a much longer route from Bardsey Island to the Cathedral at St Davids. This would take us back to the late fifth and early sixth centuries.

It was only when I studied Ordnance Survey maps that I realized that there were paths marked on the maps that followed the route that Canon Cunnane suggested. This was exciting. We decided to do a reconnoitre of the area around New Mill. Nearby are the ruins of what is commonly known as “Capel Bach”, an old Baptist Chapel. Father Cunnane believes that this could have been a “Slipper Chapel”, similar to that in Walsingham.

It is an ‘old mile’ from St Mary’s Church and this was the distance that provided a resting place for pilgrims on their way to a Shrine. We discovered a ‘bridle way’ that led from here towards Mwnt. The pilgrim route would have followed the Mwldan river and we were delighted to discover another bridleway that followed this route and led into another footpath that came back to the Mwldan. We followed the route beside the stream until we came to Theatre Mwldan. It was here that I noticed another footpath that led directly to Feidr Fair (Mary’s Lane). It is almost certain that, Feidr Fair would have extended far beyond this point, possibly all the way to Capel Bach.

The next point of interest on this pilgrim route is “The Angel Hotel”. It is the site of the Hospice belonging to the Knights Hospitaller of St John based at Slebech, Pembrokeshire. In 1158 Roger de Clare granted three burgages (tenure of land in a town on a yearly rent) here to the Order of St John. They built the hospice for lepers and the local sick and infirm, though it was later largely used by pilgrims visiting the Shrine of the Lady of the Taper at St Mary’s Church. The hospice was disbanded by King Henry VIII.

St Mary’s Church, since Norman times, was the home of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Taper. The Priory was founded between 1158 and 1165 when the De Clare family held Cardigan. A legend says that the statue appeared miraculously by the banks of the River Teifi. When taken to the parish church it returned to the river and so a church was built to house it. Pilgrims flooded here, and in 1512, the Pope granted them the same spiritual privileges as those who visited the churches of Rome in person. The statue would have shown Mary with the child Jesus sitting on her lap and holding a candle, thus depicting Jesus as “The Light of the World.”

The final stage of this pilgrimage will take one to the Catholic Church where the present day Shrine is housed.

If done prayerfully, the journey from the peaceful church of Holy Cross, Mwnt, to the beauty and prayerfulness of St Mary’s and then to this lovely  church  in Aberystwyth road, will surely inspire one on the journey of life and be a source of great healing.

All of this would have been impossible without funding from the Diocesan Local Ministry Area Initiative Scheme. The leaflets have been placed in churches, tourist information centres, hotels and other public places.

Revd John Powell