Legend says that the original intention was to build a church more in the middle of the parish in Cwrtnewydd, where there is still a hill named Bryn yr Eglwys, but when the church was being built, progress was thwarted daily by the Devil, who demolished it as fast as it was put up. The foreman is said to have thrown his hammer with great force, in the belief that where it landed they would have more success, and the present church is the result. Whatever truth is behind this story, the current church is largely a thirteenth century construction with a fifteenth century barrel roof.
The tower, through which one enters the church, was built by Sir Rhys ap Thomas, Lord of Dinefwr, and one of Henry VII’s chief supporters, in memory of the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Tradition also says that it was Rhys ap Thomas who delivered Richard III his death-wound.
The church is built on a slope, so that one enters it down huge steps looking down the long nave to the altar. On the walls of the church are the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed in Welsh , and on the right at the bottom of the steps, is a huge font, looking very primitive, and carved with twelve crude faces representing the 12 disciples.
(c) Huw Davies
The particular feature which distinguishes the church today is the woodwork, all of which was carved at the beginning of the twentieth century by the local squire, the Vicar, and a Belgian refugee named Joseph Rubens, to designs drawn up by the squire’s wife. This includes the pulpit, the lectern, the rood screen, and the ends of all the pews, carved out of oak from the Highmead Estate. The bench–ends are of particular interest, as they depict ecclesiastical, local and national events in a kind of rural diary covering a period of several years, which culminate with memorials to many of the men from local gentry families who died in the First World War (pictured).
Above the altar is a weather-beaten stone carving of the Crucifixion, which was originally on a gable-end outside the church, welcoming pilgrims to the holy well which used to be renowned for its healing properties, but has now disappeared.
The graves in the churchyard have all been transcribed, and include those of two well-known 19th century Unitarian ministers, David Lloyd and David Davis Castellhywel. The latter is remembered for translating Gray’s Elegy into Welsh.
Bilingual services are held in the church every Sunday, and the Vicar also says Evensong here on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5.30 p.m.
The Church is open all day every day, as is the much smaller Eglwys Llanllwni, three miles away in Maesycrugiau, dramatically perched on a crag by the side of the River Teifi. Both churches are well worth a visit.