St Cadmarch's Church
Early History and pre-History
The earliest evidence of Christian worship in Llangammarch is an ancient stone now fixed in the wall above the entrance to the present church. This is carved with a ringed cross, a spiral and ‘frontal outline figure resembling a gingerbread man’. It also has a series of annulets (moldings in the form of a ring) and recessed squares below the ring-cross. The annulets are similar in design to those on the Bryngwyn stone 20 miles to the east. The spiral is similar to a stone at Llanafan Fawr and may indicate an ancient connection – there is nothing else like them in Wales.
The Welsh word 'llan', often translated as church, refers to a burial ground, although originally was simply an enclosure. The coming of Christianity would have seen simple buildings erected for worship in what may have already been a sacred space. Little is known of these until the 19th century.
The dedication to St. Cadmarch is mysterious. It may be that there was no St. Cadmarch and the church simply takes its name from the Cammarch River which flows below it, or it may be that the river took its name from St. Cadmarch. Various writers have tried to identify a St. Cadmarch in the ancient literature. He may be the same as a St Cammarch who is listed in the Iolo manuscripts as having a festival on October 8. Cadmarch may be a nickname of St.Cynog, or it may be a corruption of Cammab, Cannen or even Cynfyw. Cadmarch may have been be a son or grandson of Brychan – the king after whom Brecon is named or associated with the early Christian leader St. Cadoc. It is all very uncertain. This is all further confused by the 12th century claim that the church was founded by St. Tysilio! It does, however, seem to have been an important church given the relatively high value of £13 6s 8d in 1291, and this increases the likelihood of it being an early foundation.
History of the church
In the church on the wall to the left of the altar can be seen a plaque in memory of Thomas Howell and his brother, James Howell. Both were born at Cefn Bryn in Llangammarch. Their father, Thomas Howell, was curate of Llangammarch from 1576 to 1631. The two brothers both had notable histories. Thomas Howell was Bishop of Bristol from 1644 until his death in 1646, and James Howell eventually became Historiographer Royal in the reign of Charles II, following a period spent in the Fleet Prison on debt charges, during which time he had discovered his ability to write. He continued to write voluminously and had completed some 50 or 60 publications before his death in 1666. To the right of the altar, a banner depicts John Penry, a Welsh Martyr whose home was Cefn Brith
The Church Today
In the churchyard can be found the grave of Theophilus Evans, Rector of the Parish from 1738 to 1763 and a great Welsh prose writer. Born in 1694, he lived in the farmhouse of Llwyn-Einon in Llangammarch. He was also responsible for the perpetual curacies at Llanwrtyd and Llanddewi Abergwesyn, then attached to the parish. William Williams, the famous Welsh hymn-writer responsible for “Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Jehovah”, was his curate in Llanwrtyd. William Williams, being deeply affected by the Evangelical Revival, did not always see eye to eye with Evans, who maintained a more traditional stance. This led to Williams being refused ordination as a priest so that he became part of the nonconformist movement. Theophilus Evans’ grandson, Theophilus Jones, also of this parish, was born in 1759. He became Deputy Registrar of the Archdeaconry of Brecon, and was the author of the History of Brecknock and its Shires. He is recognised as one of the great Welsh immortals and his remains rest in the church.
In about 1800, the local historian Theophilus Jones wrote that the parish church of Llangammarch had only the nave remaining, and by 1840 the church was described as being in a very ruinous state. It seems that in about 1890 the church saw some restoration work at a cost of around £200. In 1910 it was said that “the present church of St Cadmarch is a building of stone in the modern Gothic style, having a chancel, nave, north aisle, south porch and a belfry with one bell.” It does not, however, seem to have been a very remarkable building in any way and it was demolished in 1915 to make way for the present building.
The new church was built a little to the north-east of the old one on land given by one Henry Thomas. It cost £4,000 to build and was consecrated on 21 July 1916 by the then Bishop of the Diocese, the Right Reverend John Owen DD. The tower was added in 1927.
The present church is built close to previous church buildings. The architect was William Douglas Caroe, a major architect of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who headed a large Edwardian architectural practice and was architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners from 1895 until his death in 1938. In Wales he is particularly known as the architect responsible for the design of Cardiff University and also for the restoration of Brecon Cathedral. He was an advocate of the Arts and Crafts movement in architecture, which valued the traditional skills of the artist or craftsman at a time when machinery was taking their place in a drive for speed and cheapness of production. Caroe specialised in using these traditional materials and skills, hence the building gives the illusion of being much older than it is.
The church, as it is now, is built of brick clad externally with small pieces of stone known as rubblestone and finished with red sandstone detail. The results of Caroe’s interest in the Arts and Crafts movement can be seen in the fine craftsmanship of the timber doors, internal stonework, elaborate oak reredos and the lectern. There is evidence that the church was not completed quite as Caroe intended – the tower was originally planned to a more intricate design but when eventually completed in 1927 was built as a plain, square addition to the building. On the north side of the chancel an arcade with arches of moulded rubblestone marks where Caroe planned a north aisle. Despite these alterations, however, the present church is a very pleasing building. It is Grade 2* listed for ‘its exceptional architectural interest as one of the best early C20 churches in Wales, illustrative of the Arts and Crafts approach to Gothic design’. In 2004 a tower fundraising committee was started as water ingress had left the tower in an unsafe state. The fundraising was successful and the tower is now safe and facilities are in the process of being improved.
In addition the red sandstone font designed as part of the building is an ancient one, unfortunately bearing no inscription. It is known that this font was contained in the church prior to the present building. On the wall near the font can be found a roll of incumbents from 1410 to the present day, beginning with Thomas ap Howell in 1410. The reredos was erected as a Thank Offering for the safe return from the Great War (1914-18) of the men of the parish. A nominal roll is to be found by the font. Also to the right of the altar, situated on the wall, is a plaque erected in 1994 by the Llangammarch Wells Local History Society in memory of a number of RAF servicemen killed in the Second World War during training flights in the vicinity of Llangammarch Wells. The organ was built especially for the church by Messrs. Vowles Ltd. of Bristol and was dedicated in 1918 by the then Bishop, the Right Reverend E L Bevan. Technical specifications can be seen on the door of the organ loft.
The church is part of the Irfon Valley benefice (including parishes in Garth and Cilmery) which is linked to the Blaenau Irfon benefice (including parishes in Tirabad, Llanwrtyd, Beulah and Abergwesyn). The eight churches share the same priest presently based in Llangammarch. The benefices are part of the diocese of Swansea and Brecon. Full details of services, activities and recent events can be found at the website http://www.irfonvalleyparish.co.uk