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Denbighshire Churches Survey

Church of St Saeran , Llanynys

Llanynys Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Llanynys in the county of Denbighshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ1032062672.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16897 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llanynys Church, CPAT copyright photo CS950606.JPG

Summary

The church of St Saeran together with the small settlement around it occupies a slightly elevated tract of drier soil on the valley floor of the Vale of Clwyd, some 5km north-west of Ruthin. The site has a long history having been established perhaps as early as the 6thC, and functioning subsequently as a mother church for the area. The present building is double-naved, its core of the 13thC with major additions in the 15th or perhaps the early 16thC, and considerable rebuilding in 1768. Perpendicular windows and a fine south door and doorway survive, as does a worn 13thC west door, while the porch with its original timberwork is dated to 1544. Internally, there are important fixtures and fittings including three medieval monuments of different forms, a fine wall painting of St Christopher, a Perpendicular font and fragments of 16thC stained glass, together with much 17thC and 18thC woodwork.

The churchyard has a somewhat irregular configuration, but is probably the residue of a much larger oval enclosure. It contains one gravestone of 1584, but otherwise little of particular interest.

North nave is of two phases having been extended eastwards: thus the western half should be the earliest surviving part of the present building. Possibly when it was extended in the 15thC new windows were inserted in the north wall to provide three matching windows (Hubbard's view) - this does not explain why only two of the three had to be renewed in the Victorian era, yet it would appear to be born out by Jones's statement that the two westernmost windows were rebuilt to the exact pattern of the old ones.

East wall is 15thC, but it is not clear whether this has been raised. West wall is an original 13thC feature with surviving doorway, but some patching (some of it perhaps as recent as 1968), and the gable certainly has been raised. There is difficulty in distinguishing 'B' and 'D', and it is conceivable that the original building was heightened when the 15thC enlargement took place. On the other hand if the heightening was later it would explain why the east window is not centrally placed, and at the moment a later date seems more feasible.

South nave rebuilt in 1768 with distinctive windows on south and east; that on the east subsequently replaced in the Victorian restoration. Only western part of south nave left untouched, and this is certainly Perpendicular on the evidence of the south door.

Porch of 1544, with most of the timbers surviving.

Extensive evidence that church was formerly limewashed, and indeed the church guide reveals that plaster had been stripped from the west face only recently.

In summary a small 13thC church, enlarged in Late Perpendicular style by an extension eastwards and the addition of an equally long southern nave, the two separated by an arcade of five bays. A substantial part of the southern nave rebuilt in 1768, and perhaps at this time the surviving walls of the medieval structure heightened.

Parts of the following description are quoted from the 1986 publication The Buildings of Wales: Clwyd by Edward Hubbard

History

Llanynys was reputedly founded in the 6thC as a monastery; subsequently it housed a clas community as a document of 1402 makes clear. At some point in the past it was known as Llanfor - the Great Church, and Thomas recorded the tradition that it was founded by St Mor, and only subsequently dedicated to St Saeran who was buried there.

The Norwich Taxation of 1254 records it as 'Ecc'a de Lanenys' with a value of 6 13s 4d. In 1291 the Lincoln Taxation, 'Llanynnys' was valued at 16.

The church was damaged during the English invasion of 1282 and compensation of 21 was paid.

In 1768 a Royal Brief for the complete rebuilding of the church was circulated; clearly the estimated cost of 1517 could not be raised and some at least of the medieval structure survived.

When he visited the church in 1864, Glynne found that the west end had been partitioned off and partly used as a vestry, because the church was thought to be too large. The south windows were modern insertions, and the east window in the south aisle had been renewed. He also claimed that the church had earlier been dedicated to St Mor, founder of Llanfor.

Some restoration work occurred in 1868: a screen was erected dividing the building in two and the flooring to the east was raised. Further work took place in 1883: the seating was removed, the floor of the north nave was excavated, the chancel screen was reconstructed, and the church 'was [put] in thorough repair'.

During restoration work around the west door in 1968, three niches were found in the thickness of the wall, to the north of the west door. Each was lined with flat stones and contained a human skull, perhaps relics which were venerated and subsequently walled up. In 1968, too, the 1868 screen was removed, and a chapel was created in the south aisle; two windows in the north wall were replaced, as was a mullion in the east window and the label over the old west door. The timber of the porch was repaired.

Architecture

Llanynys is a typical Vale of Clwyd double-naved church, with a south porch and a bellcote at the western end of the south nave. The northern part contains the main nave and chancel, its southern counterpart contains additional seating and its 'chancel' partitioned off to create a small chapel.

The church is oriented south-west/north-east but for descriptive purposes 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted for the church, though not for the churchyard. Though not ecclesiologically accurate the terms 'north nave' and 'south nave' are used periodically for descriptive purposes.

Fabrics: 'A' comprises blocks of red sandstone, frequently squared off, with occasionally less regular blocks of grey limestone; also included are frequent rounded boulder stones up to 0.3m in diameter, and occasionally grey laminated stone; some of this masonry is coursed, and the quoins are of red sandstone; limewash remnants. Sandstone perhaps from quarry at Hirwaen, two miles to the north. 'B' consists of less weathered sandstone, usually regular red sandstone blocks, and further east some olive-coloured blocks; rarely, small brick fragments are observable. 'C' is primarily of grey Carboniferous limestone (probably quarried near Rhewl), some coursing; limewash coating remnants observable. 'D' is largely of red sandstone blocks, very similar to and probably contemporary with 'B'. 'E' of mixed rubble, sandstone and limestone.

Roof: slates with dark terracotta ridge tiles; no finials, except for wooden one above porch.

Drainage: a grass-filled hollow, 0.5m wide, runs along both the north and south walls, and broadens to 1m wide on part of the west side, the remainder being tarmaced. There is no obvious trace of a drainage gully against the east wall.

Exterior

(North) Nave and Chancel. General. There is no external differentiation between the nave and chancel and they are considered together here.

North wall: Western half of wall consists of 'A' with the top 0.7m of the wall face showing distinctly as a band of 'E' with different quoins. Of the quoins in red sandstone at the north-west angle, two have vertical grooves which might indicate a former use, and one has a socket on its west-facing side. Set into this wall are two three-light windows; the windows themselves have four-centred arches and hoodmoulds; the lights have segmental heads with broad panels above. Both are Victorian and the masonry around them shows clearly that they have been inserted. The more easterly of these two windows appears to have been inserted across a change in the masonry of the north wall with 'A' giving way to 'B'. The precise position of the change is not clear; no quoins survive, and the most obvious edge, just to the east of the window, could be a result of the insertion. Possibly, an apparent alteration in the fabric below the central light of the window is a better guide.

The eastern length of the north wall is all in 'B'; it does appear, however, that the band of 'E' continues, though it is more difficult to distinguish than above 'A'. The wall contains a single window which is set higher than its two counterparts in the nave, but is otherwise similar. It has a four-centred head and a hoodmould with incipient stops, hollow-chamfered dressings, the three lights have ogee heads with cusped tracery, and there are six panels above. All the tracery and the mullions are in buff sandstone, Victorian or later; but the jambs and the arch are in reddish-grey freestone with much residual limewash and must be original. Quoins at the north-east angle are largely of tooled limestone, with a couple of sandstones ones high up.

East wall: in 'B'. A large Perpendicular east window which is off-centre to the present apex of the chancel. The window has a four-centred head with a much weathered hoodmould. It contains five lights, the central three with ogee heads and cinquefoil tracery and the outer ones with round heads and a variation on the cusping; there are cusped panels above, with the central three panels further divided by a transom. Red sandstone was used for the arch, reddish grey sandstone for the jambs, and grey for the tracery; the mullions have been replaced and lack the limewash remnants of the other dressings.

West wall: the only architectural feature in the west wall is a doorway, now no longer used. This is Early English, having two orders of grouped shafts, with fillets, continued up into the arch, but with caps, probably once foliated, intervening (Hubbard compares it to Llangollen). Several arch stones of the inner order have been renewed and the hoodmould is a Victorian replacement. Above and to the south of this doorway is Fabric 'A,' but the wall face between the doorway and the corner appears to been rebuilt in Fabric 'C'. However it should be noted that sandstone from this wall face was removed in 1968 because of its advanced state of erosion, and some of the variation in the masonry of the wall may result from this work. Above, the top of the gable has the band of 'E' clearly visible, indicating the heightening of the wall. Leaning against the wall next to the door is a graveslab of 1584 in Latin, found during work in the grounds of the adjacent inn some years ago.

(South) Nave and Chapel. General. The south nave is dealt with here as one unit: externally there is no differentiation between what is effectively the south aisle and chapel.

East wall: there is a distinct break between Fabric B of the chancel to the north and Fabric C of the south nave, leaving both a ragged edge and the south nave wall inset very slightly. The four-centred arched window has a hoodmould with incipient stops, three cusped lights with cusped panels above and is entirely Victorian, in buff yellow sandstone. Beneath it, acting as a foundation, is a row of pink sandstone blocks derived from the previous window and similar blocks form an outer edging to the present window arch. Above the window a mixture of limestone and sandstone incorporating fragments of dressed stone some with incised lines (see south wall below) reveals that the gable was rebuilt when the new window was put in place.

South wall: much of the south wall is in 'C' and can be attributed to the rebuilding of 1768. Three windows, all in pink sandstone with round heads, projecting keystones and imposts, and in the absence of chamfers, an incised line around the edge. The window lighting the chancel is shorter than the other two because the lower part has been blocked in. Priest's door between the two more easterly window also in pink sandstone with a four-centred head and slight chamfer but certainly of 1768. Just to east of porch 'C' gives way to the red sandstone of 'D', the juncture clear. For main doorway in this wall, see porch (below). West of the porch the band of 'E' along the top of the wall indicates heightening as on the north side of the building.

West wall: in 'D' but stone less weathered than on south. Above is a double bellcote, separated from gable by a string course.

Porch. General. Dwarf walls in stone, the masonry similar to 'C'. Above this a timber superstructure with wooden mullions giving eight openings on each side.

South wall: arch-braced tie-beam supported on wooden uprights, the early timbers probably encased by later timber veneer. Gable is panelled and has ornamental bargeboards but of no great age.

Interior

Porch. General. Floor has a few large slate slabs but is mainly of concrete. Wooden benches along side walls. Roof of two bays. Three trusses: the external one described above; the central one has a collar; the third is a substantial arch-braced tie-beam truss with cusped struts and rafters above. Ribbed purlins and rafters. On the tie beam is an appended inscription 'ANNO D.M.Q.X.L.IIII' (= 1544), though some of the wooden letters it is composed of have gone or are broken.

North wall: Perpendicular four-centred doorway with hoodmould and stops, and complex mouldings; all original. So is the studded door itself, said to date to around 1490-1500; has applied mouldings forming four vertical panels, their heads cusped and traceried; graffiti carved on the door. Inside the church is a display case holding the medieval lock taken from the door.

West wall: two dressed stones, one certainly of c.1768 on floor beside bench.

Nave (North Nave). General. Rear of nave has flagstones, one a graveslab of 1780; it contains such features as the tombchest and the medieval sepulchral cross; then two steps up to the main part of the nave with its seating. Floor of encaustic tiles with matting over. Walls plastered and whitewashed. Roof continuous with chancel, 10 bays with arch-braced collar trusses: alternate trusses have hammerbeams, some with shafted wall posts, though these have been removed over the arcade; the ordinary arch-braced trusses have painted heads carved on their terminals, though two are missing on the north wall; moulded purlins. Of carved angels also for decoration, only the wing of one survives. Trusses, purlins, and large intermediate rafters are moulded.

North wall: two splayed windows; two wall paintings. That of St Christopher monopolises the north wall, but a second painting on a board lies to the east (see below). Three 19thC and 20thC marble mural tablets.

South wall: originally a Perpendicular arcade of four bays (five including that in chancel), but only the responds and some bases remain. In c.1768 these were replaced by fluted square columns of oak, seven in all, supporting the upper wall, now levelled off to the horizontal.

West wall: plain, but for the sealed west doorway, which is not now accessible; its reveal apparently contains socket holes for a bar. At eaves level, the wall is inset, perhaps for a former tie-beam?

Chancel (North Nave). General. Two steps up to the chancel from nave, two more to sanctuary; encaustic tiled floor; walls and roof as described for nave.

North wall: one splayed window and one 19thC memorial brass.

East wall: slightly splayed window.

South wall: the most easterly bay of arcade is panelled. The chamfered respond - all that is left of the Perpendicular arcade - rises as high as the present horizontal top of the 1768 arcade. Does this imply that the earlier arcade was of considerable height, or was the chamfered respond extended upwards in the 18thC redesign?

South Aisle (South Nave). General. Slate flags cover rear of aisle; then, as with the nave, two steps up to main part which is floored largely in old graveslabs (1644-1773); benches on north side of central aisle only, with empty lamp brackets above them. Walls plastered and whitewashed. Roof similar to that in nave and chancel with seven bays, carved heads on the north side but not the south, and the wall post removed.

North wall: arcade.

East wall: modern timber and board partition.

South wall: wall has slight outwards lean. From west features are: i) Benefaction board; ii) main doorway with above it the painted inscription: R HVGHES / JOHN EVANS / 1677; iii) Benefaction board; iv) hatchment over worn mural tablet; v) splayed window; vi) 1661 coat-of-arms with beneath the chest of 1687; vii) splayed window.

West wall: plain.

South Chapel (South Nave). General. On same level as south aisle. Floor of stone slabs covered with matting; modern seats; altar raised on dais. Walls as nave; three-bay roof as south aisle but no carved heads.

North wall: modern partition.

East wall: splayed window and four marble mural tablets of 19thC and 20thC date.

South wall: splayed window, two marble mural tablets (19thC and 20thC), and a hatchment.

West wall: modern partition.

Churchyard

The form of Llanynys churchyard is best described, in colloquial terms, as pear-shaped with the top removed. It is level and generally raised above the land surrounding it, in places by little more than 0.5m but on the east side by nearly 2m. Church and village occupy an 'island' of low relief rising above the floor of the Vale of Clwyd.

The churchyard is still used for burial, but is overgrown in places.

Boundary: a drystone wall encompasses most of the churchyard, replaced only where a 2m-high wall divides off the old vicarage and its yard, and where the inn intrudes on the west.

Monuments: these are located throughout the churchyard but are not densely packed. There is a good range with a reasonable number going back into the 18thC. The earliest recorded, other than the Latin slab of 1584 noted above, was a chest tomb of 1696, but the church guide refers to an example of 1684.

Furniture: none obvious.

Earthworks: none obvious.

Ancillary features: iron gates offer main access to the west of the church, with a tarmac path leading to the porch; a grass path led to the former vicarage.

Vegetation: a few yew bushes around the edge of the churchyard, as well as other trees and bushes. A mature yew south-west of the church, and a large pine near the west door.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 28 August 1996
Evans 1986, 71
Faculty St Asaph 1883 (NLW) - restoration
Glynne 1884, 178
Gresham 1968, 148; 167
Hubbard 1986, 246
Jones, L.P. 1988
Lloyd Williams and Underhill 1872. pls 11 & 21
NMR Aberystwyth
Neaverson 1953-54, 9
Owen 1886, 133
Quinquennial Report: 1987
Quinquennial Report: 1995
Restoration papers 1967-8 (DRO/PD/78/1/30)
Thomas 1911, 110
Click here to view full project bibliography

Please note that many rural churches are closed to the public at certain times. It is advisable to check when the church will be open before visiting. Information about access, or how to contact parish clergy, can often be obtained from the relevant Diocesan Office which can be found through the Church in Wales website. Further information about Llanynys Church may also be found on the St Asaph Diocese website.


The CPAT Denbighshire Churches Survey Project was funded by Cadw as part of an all Wales survey of medieval parish churches.

This HTML page has been generated from the Cadw Churches Survey database & CPAT's Regional Historic Environment Record - 17/07/2007 ( 22:01:37 ).
Further information about this and other churches surveyed is available from the Regional Historic Environment Record, Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, Curatorial Section, 7a Church Street, Welshpool, Powys, SY21 7DL tel - (01938) 553670, fax - (01938) 552179, email - chrismartin@cpat.org.uk, website - www.cpat.org.uk.

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