The village church, St Mary Magdalen’s, was mentioned in the Domesday Book . This mention suggests that the original church had a Saxon foundation.
There is no record of the date of the rebuilding of the church but it was valued at twenty shillings in 1254 in the reign of Henry the 111 and in 1291 during the reign of Edward the 1 it was assessed at £5.6.8. It was probably rebuilt during the Norman period therefore some time after 1100AD. Its shape is a simple rectangle, the thick walls being built of limestone rubble.
A round-headed arch leads you into the porch which is possibly of fifteenth or sixteenth century construction with a barrel-vaulted roof. The porch is large for the size of the church and has stone benches on either side of it. In medieval times this space would be used for many purposes, as it would be the only place in the village where people could meet for such events as inquests, reading of wills and petty trials.
The arch on the way into the nave is one of the most interesting features of the church. It is unique and dates from about the sixteenth century. There is no other known instance of such a wide porch entrance (6’ 3”).
It appears that the wooden arch, apparently the work of a local craftsman, was inserted after the building of the porch. At a later date in was plastered over and white washed only to be revealed during renovations on 1931, when a door was removed.
The carvings on this are made with a gouge and there can be seen several symbols used by the early Christians. The bird on the right hand side of the arch could be a peacock, which was the emblem of the resurrection, derived from the pagan legend of peacocks carrying the goddess Juno to Heaven.
On the left is a circle, denoting eternity, enclosing the Greek letter X, the initial of the name “Christ”. There is also, on the left-hand side, a group of circular sinkings within a triangle, and flowers and foliage. The arch is round-headed, but with a pointed inner top. Now go to the main part of the Church, where you will see the Font on your left.
This is a replica of the one in Lincoln Cathedral and dates from the early 13th century. The bowl is supported on a massive central shaft, with four smaller shafts around it. These latter are not original, but replacements of a later date. The decoration is foliage and at one of the corners a human head is carved.
The marks on the edges of the bowl may have been the result of sharpening of arrow-heads and swords, for the Middle Ages the practice of archery was encouraged by Parliament, particularly from the reign of Edward III in 1363, for the Black Death had seriously depleted the number of skilled bowmen.
The boys would practice archery in the churchyard on Sunday afternoons. The oak Font Cover is modern and the ironwork was executed by the late Mr D J Williams of Caernarfon, who made the ironwork on the coffin of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey.
The Devil’s Door
You can see where this used to be – almost opposite the entrance of the church. The doorway, dating from 14th century, is still there, mostly blocked up but with a window. It was only during the renovations of 1931 that the doorway was revealed. Can you see on the left, what seem to be stone hinges for the door?
There are two steps above the level of the nave floor, and on the right of the lower step is carved a cross, almost encircled. Why this is called the “Devil’s Door” (in Welsh “Drws y Cythral”) is not known for certain. On the right of this doorway you can tell where the fireplace used to be and trace how the chimney goes up to the roof. (There is no chimney stack outside now.)
The inside roof is a noticeable feature. It dates from the early 15th century and is of close-couple type. Between each pair of couples, short purlins and an extra rafter have been inserted, probably at the time when the original thatched roof was replaced by a heavier slated one. During the 19th century they added a deal matchboarded barrel ceiling which concealed the roof timbers, but this was later removed.
An old plan of the church, referred to in Archdeacon D R Thomas’s “The History of the Diocese of St Asaph” volume 1 page 404, shows that it was at one time divided by a rood screen. “Rood” means “Crucifix”, a carving of Jesus on the cross, and a “Rood Screen” was a screen with a crucifix on top.
Screens like this separate the nave (the largest part of the building) from the chancel (where the priest takes the service and where the choir is). According to this plan, the men of St Mary Magdalene’s sat on stalls in the chancel while the women were given chairs in the nave.
If you go up to the sanctuary and look to your left, you will find a sepulchral slab fixed in the wall. This dated from about 1300 AD and would have been laid over a grave. The cross head, with its pattern of nearly-closed circles with leaves inside, is on top of a long shaft. There is a sword on the right. Just to the left there is a cross head of another such slab of the same period.
The Altar is small and of oak, bearing the inscription in raised letters on a sunken ground “ANNO DO 1637, E.O.” the last letter “O” being carved on one of the legs. “E” stands for “Episcopus” (Bishop) and “O” for “Owen” who, as Bishop, would have consecrated the Altar with the five-fold sign of the cross. He was Bishop of St Asaph 1629-1651, and, because he had been Chaplin to Charles I, suffered much during the Commonwealth.
He was deprived of his office, imprisoned in the Tower of London and fined, and the seat remained vacant for nine years. He is buried in St Asaph Cathedral, and there is a brass commemoration table on the south wall of the Cathedral outside the communicants’ rail.
The old table-top, which would contain the five carved crosses, one in the centre and one near each corner, has disappeared. It has been replaced by a new top of greater length, and upon this stands a new gradline or re-table, on which are the cross, candlesticks and vases.
The communion chalice that we use is of silver, dating from about 1650, and is thought to be the work of Chester goldsmiths. It bears below the rim, in finely executed lettering, the words: THE CUPPE OF GWAYNISKOR. It has filigree work at the top of the stem, and it weighted at the bottom with lead. There is an old pewter paten of unknown date.
You can see a funeral handbell at the window on your right. It was called the “corpse bell” and they used to ring it at intervals as the funeral procession came to Church.
This sanctuary window sill has at least four fragments of sepulchral slabs and below, built into the wall, there is a damaged stone with what is left of a shallow triple roll. There is a bigger part of a sepulchral slab in the larger window farther down the Church.
The Parish Registers
The Registers are unique in Wales for they have been preserved intact from 1538, when King Henry VIII issued an injunction, dated 5th September of that year, that Parish Registers should be kept by every incumbent. The first entry is of a baptism on 29th November 1538.
Up to 1732 the entries are in Latin and from then, in English. They are written on vellum until 31st December 1812, when by Act of Parliament (28th July 1812) our present day method of the registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths was made compulsory and the King’s Printers published the registers.
There are entries concerning Royal ‘Events’, such as the deaths of Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I, and the accessions of Mary, Elizabeth I and James I. Archbishop Laud of Canterbury made an entry in the register in 17th May 1636 requiring that after the baptism of a child, the mother’s name should be recorded as well as the father’s.
Two pages of entries from 1647 to 1662, a troubled time in our history, are smeared and almost indecipherable. These earlier registers are in Clwyd Record Office at Hawarden, but we have photocopies here in church. One of the previous incumbents, the Revd John Wilson, Rector from 1709 to 1711, was the father of Richard Wilson, the eminent artist
The circular shape of the graveyard surrounding the Church suggests that it may have been originally a Romano-British Cemetary, and indeed in 1875 a small bronze figure of a harnessed or saddled horse of this period was found during the excavation of a grave.
This is now in the care of the Bodelwyddan Castle Trust. More recently, a Roman milestone was found built into the wall of the Churchyard. This is in Record Office at Hawarden.
No more new graves can be opened here because of rock beneath the surface. From the porch you can see the stone pedestal of a sundial in one corner. It is dated 1633 and has the initials of the Churchwardens “R.E.” and “P.E.” This is thought to be the shaft of an earlier Celtic cross.
There is a lovely view over the northern part of the Clwydian Hills. Across the valley there is Gop Hill, which has a huge tumulus, second only in Britain for size to Silbury Hill in Wiltshire.