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St Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu, Breconshire

Dedication: St Ellyw

Denomination: Anglican

Built: 13th century
  Photography: John Ball
Date: 11 May 2009
Camera: Nikon D50 digital SLR

"This church is a prize to all who find it. The building sits in a circular churchyard alone in a large meadow east of Bronllys. In the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches, this might be the most forlorn of all places of worship were it not for its mountainside and its accompaniment of wild flowers, birdsong and sheep. On a sunny spring afternoon it is a blissful spot, entombing the drover spirits, the brief ecstasies of life and agonies of death among the mountains. Here, Wales's past is very present."
[Extracted from Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles by Simon Jenkins, published 2008, Penguin Books, London. ISBN 978-0-713-99893-1]

It is said that St Ellyw was a daughter of Brychan Brycheiniog (c. AD 450). Legend holds that she was beheaded at her Chapel site near Brecon by an unrequited lover. Her head was rolled downhill and a new spring was born in the place where it stopped.

St Ellyw's was deconsecrated, closed, and conveyed in 1999 to the Friends of Friendless Churches. Llanelieu and Talgarth PCC owns the churchyard and churchyard wall, and a local farmer has grazing rights to the land.

St Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu
Note 1.
St Ellyw's church, a small and relatively simple structure in a large irregular churchyard, is set in a remote spot some 3 km to the east of Talgarth. Internally it is significant for its rood screen remains, wall paintings and wall monuments. Core of building may be 13th century, there are indications of 15th/16th century work, particularly the west window, and the east end may have been rebuilt in modern times. The porch, too, has been moved and rebuilt, though at an earlier date. Absence of variation in the masonry makes closer analysis impossible.
[From the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust (CPAT) website, where the full text is available]
Note 2.
A western bell turret containing two bells hung for chiming. . . The bell on the north side dates from the second half of the 12th century. In the south pit is a bell of possibly early 14th century date, although the workmanship is not of the standard usual at that period.
[From The Church Bells of Breconshire by John C. Eisel, Logaston Press, Almeley, 2002; ISBN 1-873827-23-7]

St Ellyw's Church, LlanelieuSt Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu

Above: The heavy wooden door in the south porch is unusual in that it is hinged on the right. The door was made circa 1600 and
is thought to have belonged originally to the blocked doorway just to the east of the porch.

Note 3.
The Church is dedicated to Saint Ellyw, a grand-daughter of Brychan Brycheiniog, and consists of a nave and chancel; it is rather dark, not ceiled, and indifferently flagged.
[From The Illustrated History and Biography of Brecknockshire by Edwin Poole, published by the author, 1886, Brecon]
Note 4.
Llanelieu Church was repaired in 1870 at a cost of £100. . .
[From A History of the County of Brecknock by Theophilus Jones, first published in two volumes, 1805-09]

St Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu
Above: The nave, chancel, and sanctuary. St Ellwy's is renowned for its huge 14th century rood screen and loft, painted red.

St Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu
Above: The screen is blood red, pockmarked with stencilled white roses and open quatrefoils through which eyes in the loft could follow the priest's work at the altar. It still bears at its centre the unpainted ghost mark of the cross. [From Wales's Best One Hundred Churches by T. J. Hughes, 2006, Seren (Poetry Wales Press Ltd), Bridgend ISBN 978-1-85411-427-3]

St Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu
Above: View from the sanctuary towards the west window. Note the raised pulpit on the left and medieval wall paintings on the north wall.

Note 5.
The building is a quaint structure, with little pretention to architectural merit; the roof inside is, however, picturesque, strengthened by ancient wind boards. For many years the church continued in this condition, almost unfit for the purpose of public worship, but about 1905 a restoration took place; and this was accomplished in such a manner as to preserve its ancient appearance. The present building comprises chancel and nave only, with south porch and a wooden belfry over the west end, in which are two bells.
[From A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones, centenary edition published in four volumes 1911-30]
Note 6.
. . .the church. . . belongs to the Friends of Friendless Churches. There is a priest's door, thirteenth century, and another door, blocked, to the right of the main porch. Baldwin of Brecon made some repairs in 1905 and probably removed the old door and opened up a new doorway, adding the porch bellcote and a new roof.
[From Discovering the Smallest Churches in Wales by John Kinross, Tempus Publishing Ltd., Stroud, 2007; ISBN 978-0-7524-4101-6]

St Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu
Above: The sanctuary, high altar, and east window. The altar rails are 17th century.

St Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu
Above: 17th and 18thcentury memorial tablets on the floor of the sanctuary (see example below).

St Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu

Left: 17th century memorial tablets on the floor of the sanctuary.

The inscription reads:

Here lieth the body of
Richard Awbrey of LlanEllyw, Gent.
who maried Anne daughter to
William Vaughan of Llanelieu;
they had issue, William,
Richard, Thomas,
John, Theophilus
and Elizabeth. He died 29th
September 1645.

The arms – Awbrey impaling Vaughan of Tyleglas.
[Inscription from A History of the County of Brecknock
by Theophilus Jones, 1805-09]

St Ellyw's Church, LlanelieuSt Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu

Above: Post-Reformation additions include a wall painting (left) of the royal arms with lion rampant, and a baroque style cover on the font (right).

St Ellyw's Church, LlanelieuSt Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu

Above: Two further examples of 17th and 18thcentury memorial tablets in the church (inscriptions below).

Cwm in the parish of Glasbury
left Payable by his last Will on the
Lands called Tir Jenkin Perrott
in this Parish, Ten Shillings to Two
of the Poorest Children Lawfully
begott, Yearly and forever.

James Vaughan - Church Warden
 Heare lyeth
the body of
Thomas Aw
brey son of
William Aw
brey, Gent, w
ho departe
d this life
the nine and
day of Octo
ber Anno Do
m 1669 age 4.
St Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu Left: Two 7th to 9th century pillar stones leaning against the wall of the porch. Each is inscribed with a circle containing a primitive Celtic cross.

Below: Sundial positioned high on the south wall, inscribed '1686, P. B. Wapden'.

St Ellyw's Church, Llanelieu

Below: Ancient yew tree in Ty Du Farm Lane, just outside the southern entrance to the churchyard (see Notes 7 and 8).
St Ellyw's Churchyard, Llanelieu

Note 7.
Brecon and Radnor Express, Thursday, 7 May 2009:

Save our local history
Express report by Daniel Johns
Concerned Talgarth residents are hoping to whip up support in their fight to preserve an important piece of local history. Locals want to see a 400-year old yew tree, which is believed to have been used as an ancient punishment site, restored to its former glory. Folklore suggests the 'whipping tree', which can be found on Ty Du Farm Lane, opposite the grounds of the now deconsecrated Llanelieu Church, was used in the 17th century, 18th century, and early 19th century as the site of the local parish stocks. Miscreant's hands would be placed in two holes within the tree and held there by an iron bar. Unable to move, the captives would then be whipped or left stranded overnight as punishment for their crimes which included sheep stealing.
Today however, the tree is overgrowing, and the parish's residents fear the old stocks could soon disappear forever. . . .Retired gardener Roy Jones, who was the first to raise his concern over the ancient
stocks, said: "The tree needs a trim so that you're able to see the stocks again, because the cuts where the hands go in aren't very clear at the moment. The stocks have been there over 400 years and were first used in 1670 I think. If nothing is done within the next 12 months the tree cuts will have grown over and that's a real shame." The Prince of Wales visited the now deconsecrated Llanelieu Church earlier this year and he too expressed his worry over the ancient whipping tree. A site meeting between a specialist tree surgeon, Roy Jones, Talgarth councillor William Powell, and Brecon Beacons National Park representatives is now due to take place later this month. A spokeswoman for the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority said: "The yew is the heart of the story so it would be a shame to damage it and we want to find a way to promote this local legend without any harm coming to the tree."

Note 8.
Brecon and Radnor Express, Thursday, 1 April 2010:

Whipped into shape
Express report by Daniel Johns
An important piece of Breconshire history has been saved thanks to the actions of some green-fingered residents.
Talgarth locals feared a 400-year-old Yew tree, believed to have been used as an ancient punishment site, had become so overgrown that its legendary stocks would be lost forever.
But now the 'whipping tree', situated opposite the grounds of the now deconsecrated Llanelieu Church, has been restored to its former glory. Talgarth resident Roy Jones, 75, and Ken Bowen carried out the tree surgery to once again reveal the ancient stocks.
Their work was commended by Bettina Broadway Mann, a nationally recognised authority on veteran trees, for its 'quality and attention to detail.'
Roy, who initially raised fears over the old Yew tree's condition in a letter to The Brecon & Radnor Express, said: "When I first moved to
Talgarth in 1947 you could put both of your arms in, but since then it has grown over and the cuts where the hands go in weren't very clear."Retired gardener Roy told The B & R that had the whipping tree, which was first used in 1670, grown over it would have been 'a real shame.'
"Anyone coming out to visit the tree in 10 years time would not have been able to see what it is properly," said Roy, "We've taken photos now, which will be kept in the church so people can see what is was like.
"It's a very important tree as far as I'm concerned," he added.
Legend has it that during the 17th and 18th century and the early part of the 19th centuries the hands of miscreants would be placed in two holes within the tree and held there by an iron bar before they were punished by whipping or left overnight.

Video – Fascinating Villages: Llanelieu, Wales
This fascinating video clip, lasting just over three minutes and documenting a recent visit to St Ellyw's Church, relates the tale of a Quaker named Awbrey from Llanelieu. Apparently, Awbrey travelled to America to escape religious persecution, but ironically in 1693, 'somewhere in America', he was placed in stocks and whipped for a misdemeanor.

Open Supplementary Photo Gallery for more photos of St Ellyw's Church and Churchyard.

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