St Cwyfan’s Church, Llaneilian.(Church on the Sea) by Mark Heavisides
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St Cwyfan’s Church, Llaneilian.(Church on the Sea)

November 16, 2018

St Cwyfan’s Church, Llaneilian.(Church on the Sea) 5 image stitch

The most recognizable church on Anglesey, St. Cwyfan's, is popularly known as the Church in the Sea (or eglwys bach y mor in Welsh). Perched on a tiny island called Cribinau, encircled by a sea wall, this simple medieval church dates to the 12th century. It is thought to be dedicated to the Irish St. Kevin, who founded the monastery across the sea at Glendalough in Co Wicklow, Ireland.

It may seem an odd and perilous place to build a church, but it originally stood at the end of a peninsula between two bays, Porth Cwyfan and Porth China, as shown on John Speed's map of Anglesey from 1636 (shown left). In the decades after this the sea slowly eroded the coast in the two bays enough that the peninsula was cut off, turning it into an island.

A causeway was built to the island to allow parishioners to get to the island. Its remains are visible in the picture below. However, even with the causeway, sometimes high tides prevented access. At those times services were held in a room in the nearby house, Plas Llangwyfan, which was specially consecrated for the purpose.

The waves continued to eat away at the island until, in the late 19th century, some of the graves surrounding the church began to fall into the sea. At this time the church was also disused and roofless, having been replaced by a new church further inland. However, in 1893 local architect Harold Hughes, concerned for the fate of this evocative old church, raised money to save it by constructing a seawall around the island and restoring the building.

A causeway was built to the island to allow parishioners to get to the island. Its remains are visible in the picture below. However, even with the causeway, sometimes high tides prevented access. At those times services were held in a room in the nearby house, Plas Llangwyfan, which was specially consecrated for the of this evocative old church, raised money to save it by constructing a seawall around the island and restoring the building.

Photographer: Mark Lee Heavisides (MLH Photography)
Nikon D850
Nikon 24-70 f2.8
Nisi Poloriser
LEE 0.6 Grad
ISO 64
2.5 secs

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55mm · f/13.0 · 20s · ISO 64
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