Background Information, from the Past to the Present
There has been a place of Christian worship at the edge of the sea at
Aberdaron since the fifth century. At first a simple wooden structure
housed both Hywyn and his prayer cell where the Gospel was preached to
the few villagers whose humble cottages clung to the side of the cliffs
and whose livelihood depended on the sea and the few acres of soil in
which they grew crops.
Cadfan, the warrior saint, who travelled from Brittany with Hywyn, moved on to Enlli, the island off the tip of the Llŷn peninsula. There he set up a religious house, later to be dedicated to St Mary. To both men these were places of their resurrection. Places where they felt God had called them to live, to pray and to die.
The title 'saint' in the Celtic church was not a title of honour, but indicated that the person was a Christian.
In 1137, Gruffydd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd, began erecting stone churches to replace the wooden buildings in the most important parishes and so the oldest portion of St Hywyn's Church dates from this time. It became a sanctuary church within which, on the stone chair called the chair of peace, disputes could be settled and no fugitive could be ejected for 40 days and nights.
St Hywyn's Church was also a clas church, similar to a monastic settlement but without affiliation to a particular rule -an association of clergy working together and leading a common life under the authority of a chosen leader or Abbot. The clas was maintained long after the Normans set out to break up such organised structures and was followed by a portionary church - a network of benefices held by individuals, usually following a family tradition - without corporate ties. The revenues were divided into portions among the clergy in charge of the area.
In 1417, the church at Aberdaron was enlarged. Records show that it was still closely connected with St Mary's Abbey on Bardsey.
At the Reformation in 1536, the monasteries were closed by Henry VIII and for a short while the Diocese of Bangor benefitted from a revitalised church served by devout priests, but gradually decline set in and sinecure rectors with no parish duties to perform were in charge and paid vicars to take on the duties of parish priest.
In 1624, St John's College, Cambridge became the patron of the parish and remained so for almost 300 years. The Rectors in the 17th & 18th centuries seem to have been instituted by the Bishop of Bangor and 'read themselves in' by the saying of Matins. Rowland Simpson was required to take services in Welsh even though he did not speak the language, those before him taking the services in English.
The church building had fallen into a poor state of repair by the late 18th century. Restoration was carried out in the 19th century and a further refurbishment in 1906, when the churchyard was increased in size.
By the late 20th century, the church was again in need of restoration. The new sea defence, to stop the churchyard slipping onto the beach, had been completed, but the building itself is in need of preservation and re-pointing to prevent salt damage continuing.
The church is once again a focus for daily prayer and during the past years the number of pilgrims has increased and the link with Ynys Enlli strengthened.
St Hywyn’s now has a new look inside, after some renovation works were completed in December 2012. The failing plaster has been completely removed to reveal the stone walls and uncovered some of the history of the building, e.g. where previous windows existed. No-one was quite sure what we would find under the plaster. However now the church is back in use, the new look has met with almost universal approval and most people are happy to leave the walls as they are now. As the walls dry out, the appearance should mellow and become a more uniform colour. We will need to carry out some more works in the future though as there is still some water penetration through the walls and this may take a number of years. We hope that you will visit the church and tell us what you think, perhaps in the visitor book.