The Church of St Hywyn lies at the edge of the beach at Aberdaron, which is situated at the tip of the Llyn Peninsula in North-West Wales. It is a parish church dating from the 12th century and is known as the Cathedral of Llyn.
The origins of the church are as a clas settlement [a Celtic monastic settlement] from the Dark Ages of the 5th to the 7th centuries. The clas was founded by St Hywyn, an early Welsh Saint. The settlement rose in importance after 1190 when Bardsey Island, the “Island of 20,000 Saints”, was declared a place of pilgrimage by the Papacy. The writer Simon Jenkins notes that a visit here equated to a single pilgrimage to Rome.
“There is an island there is no going to but in a small boat the way the saints went.”
Pilgrimages by R S Thomas
St Hywyn’s church is the last stopping point for pilgrims before crossing to Bardsey Island.
“It is Bardsey that the pilgrims set out to reach on their long walk through North-West Wales, following the chain of pilgrim churches, holy wells and pilgrim stones set up as waymarkers along the route.
“A Simplified Life” by Verena Schiller , a hermit nun who, for twenty five years, lived in an isolated cabin looking out over Bardsey Island.
In St Hywyn’s there are two ancient, carved gravestones, originating from the late fifth or early sixth centuries. They have Latin inscriptions, one of which tells of the burial of ‘Veracius, priest; and a multitude of brethren’. The other is of ‘Senecus, priest’.
Pilgrims visiting the church leave messages written on stones:
As you enter the church there is a poem by R S Thomas inscribed on slate:
R. S. Thomas [1913 -2000] was born in Cardiff , Wales. In 1936, he was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church in Wales. From 1967 to 1978 he was vicar of St Hywyn’s Church.
He learnt the Welsh language from the age of 30, too late in life, he said, to be able to write poetry in it. But the 1960’s saw him working in a predominantly Welsh-speaking community and he later wrote two prose works in Welsh. In 1964 he won the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.
His influence as a poet had a considerable impact on spirituality, to the extent that on the centenary of his birth, the Archbishop of Wales, who had known the poet personally, paid tribute to him:
R. S. Thomas continues to articulate through his poetry questions that are inscribed on the heart of most Christian pilgrims, in their search for meaning and truth. We search for God and feel Him near at hand, only then to blink and find Him gone. This poetry persuades us that we are not alone in this experience of faith – the poet has been there before us.
Further information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._S._Thomas