With Llanrychwyn last week, I get that ‘llan’ means church, so was Gelynin a saint too?
Funny you should ask that because yes, he was! In fact, he was Saint Rhychwyn’s brother, one of 12, if you recall from last week, who became monks because their father’s court was inundated by the sea. His name, however, was actually Celynin, with a ‘C’. And before you ask why the settlement is pronounced with a ‘g’, it has to do with the way certain consonants ‘soften’ within the Welsh language, depending upon what sound comes before them.
Never mind, unless you are studying Welsh, you don’t want to know.
Getting back to the church, the nave we see today dates to the 12th century, with the rest of it having been upgraded and added on to between the 13th and 17th centuries. Of course, as with St. Rhychwyn, St. Celynin lived in the 6th century and the church is believed to have been founded then. One web site called it the remotest church in Wales, since it lies, as does Llanrhychwyn, on the west bank of the Conwy River on the heights above the valley, albeit a bit farther to the north.
Also as with Llanrhychwyn, the isolation we see today was not the case in the past, when Llangelynin was a thriving settlement. One story of the parish tells of a battle fought between the forces of Anarawd, Prince of North Wales, and those of Edred, Earl of Mercia, who attempted to cross the Conwy River and take over Gwynedd. As the story goes, “In this conflict Anarawd was completely victorious; he drove the Mercians from the field of battle, and continued to pursue them until they were finally expelled from the principality: the victory was called Dial Rhodri, or “Rhodri’s revenge,” as Anarawd thus fully avenged the slaughter of his father Rhodri who died when the Saxons attacked Anglesey.”
In addition to the church itself and the associated graves, some of which date to as early as the 14th century, the church yard also contains a square well (in Welsh that would be Ffynnon Gelynin), which is deemed to be holy and reputed to cure sick children. One old story relates that parents would throw items of their sick child’s clothing into the water. If the clothes floated their child would live. If they sank the child was destined to die of the illness.
That’s pretty grim, but you can see why, with the capriciousness of illness, a parent might resort to such measures. The well certainly predates the church, and likely the presence of water at this elevation is the reason the area was settled in the first place.
Next week, we’ll be talk more about the history of holy wells in Wales.