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St. Catwg's Church, Gelligaer.




If 2000 years ago you had been standing where St. Catwg’s church now stands and looking westwards, you would have seen a sentry patrolling the battlements of the Roman Fort of Gelligaer. At this time in history, Gelligaer was the western limit of a Roman Empire that extended all the way to Mesopotamia (Iraq). The remains of the Roman Auxiliary Fort at Gaer Fawr, are reported to be the finest example of its type in Europe. When it was first built a small mixed auxiliary regiment, comprising 120 cavalry and 380 infantry, manned it. The Fort was built in A.D. 103 and abandoned A.D. 130. The Pitts and Celts were now proving more troublesome than the Welsh and so the Legionaries were transferred to the Scottish Borders.


Ancient Welsh churches are generally dedicated to the memory of their founders and our Parish Church dedication is unique in that it is related to a Saint who was born and spent his early years in the Parish. St. Catwg (A.D. 500 – 570) was the eldest son of Gwynlliw and Gwladys, ruler of a large tract of land centred on Gelligaer who leaving their residence in their declining years, separated in monastic fashion Gwynlliw to live at Newport on the site of what was to become St. Woolos Cathedral and Gwladys on the site of a Chapel near Gelligaer which was to be named after her.

Forsaking all claims to his father’s territorial rule Catwg preferred a life of learning and religion and completing his education at Caerwent when he was 18 years old, founded a celebrated centre at Nancaravan in the Vale of Glamorgan. To him, flocked students from Ireland and the continent and his monastery’s reputation for learning lived on into Norman times.

He is considered to have been one of the founders of Christian Wales and his teachings spread far and wide throughout the countries lying in the Atlantic fringe of Western Europe.

A great traveller, he and his followers founded 25 places of worship in South Wales, to be found on the Roman highways which they utilised in their peregrinations. Further afield St. Catwg founded a monastery on the river Liffey in Ireland, a chapel in Amlwch in Angelsy and in Scotland where, at Cumberslang on the Clyde, there is another Church which commemorates him. Southwards there is evidence of his influence in Cornwall, where, near Padstow is a village and church named St. Cattock’s.

A devastating plague in A.D. 546 caused Catwg and many others to sail to Brittany where he founded an oratory on what today is known as the ‘Ille de Cado’ from which sprang a great number of places named after him. In the present chapelle on the island of his oratory is a memorial to ‘the son of the Prince of Glamorgan’ and nearby hangs a painting of the Parish Church of Gelligaer.

After a sojourn of some years in Brittany, St. Catwg returned home, eventually to suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Saxon invaders. Historians have failed to agree on the site of his death but it may well be that he died at Gelligaer where a group of fields with names reminiscent of monastic connections contain a stone known as Maen Catwg.


An early writer stated that immigrants brought Christianity to the remote parts of Britain and had established their churches by A.D. 200 and within a hundred years had attained sufficient strength to merit persecution by the Roman authorities as is shown by the martyrdom of Aaron and Julius at Caerleon in A.D. 300. The strength of the Celtic Church is also seen in the presence of three British bishops at the council of Arles in Southern France in A.D. 314, and these several events confirm that the Church was thriving by the time in South East Wales at the centre of which lay Gelligaer.

Archaeological remains, to throw more light on the progress of the Church in those early times, are extremely meagre, and nowhere does there occur very early Christian inscriptions. The earliest to have been found in Gelligaer is an Ogham (Irish) inscribed stone of the late 4th or early 5th century, which once stood below the Parish Church, dating some 200 years before Augustine brought Christianity to the Britons.

Apart from the remains of Capel Gwladys, which was occupied by the Saint from about A.D. 530, several memorial stones dating from the 7th to the 9th centuries have been found, and a 10th century stone from Capel Gwladys is preserved within the Parish Church. All these provide evidence on the continuity of Christian activities in the neighbourhood from the days of the patron saint of the parish.

Written evidence of these early times is also scant and perhaps the only writing reflecting a Christian movement in Gelligaer in pre-Norman times, is to be seen in the book of Taliesin, attributed to a priest of Gelligaer who in A.D 930 wrote in tribulation ‘Gelligaer and my God are my solace’.

The Celtic church although in ecumenical contact with the Roman Church by A.D. 768 knew nothing of diocesan and parochial boundaries and the only divisions to exist in Wales were the spheres of influence of the leaders. The system of dioceses and parishes evolved with the Latin Church and the extent of their sees were only settled after prolonged struggles between the bishops. A quarrel between Llandaff and St. David’s A.D. 1119 was referred to Pope Calixtus II.who then subsequently, listed the churches falling to each bishop, Gelligaer being named among the Llandaff churches.

Despite the bishop’s claim the local church continued to be administered by Celtic priests but the influence of the Papal Church beginning to be seen before the end of the 12th century. In A.D. 1170 Griffith ap Ifor Bach, a local landlord presented the valuable tithes of much of the area to Margam monastery for the establishment of a monastery here, of which mothing was afterwards heard.

The Anglo-Norman secular intrusion and their complete domination of the area by the middle of the succeeding century brought in its train their Latin priests and saw the end of the Celtic Church which had flourished here for over 800 years.


The Norman's are remembered as zealous builders of great churches such as seen in many English Cathedral, and the Parish Church must have been built when they gained the over-lordship from the local rulers in 1266. No records remain to tell of their first priests and the only Pre-reformation priest of whom a note has yet been found (in Exeter registers of 1366) reads 'Henry de Staunton. He held the R. of Kithligare de Patronate Domini Edwardi Le Depenser'.

Secular accounts point to the continued influence of the Church in the interval between the arrival of the first priests in 1266 and De Staunton's appointment 100 years later. For the Inventory Post-mortem of Llewllyn Bren, a native ruler with his base at the castle in the village, who was put to death in Cardiff in 1317, continued a list of Latin manuals and an office book of the Church.

With the destruction of records by later perfervid reformers there is little left to tell of the 300 years that the Pre-reformation Church held sway in the parish. But preserved in Cardiff records is a note of more than passing interest. Jasper Tudor uncle of Hnery VII and Lord of Glamorgan in the closing years of the 15th century marked his appreciation of the support by the man of Glamorgan for the Tudor cause by building a tower at Llandaff Cathedral, and by giving a peal of bells to Gelligaer and seven other parish churches. Gelligaer also received an organ, which appears to have been destroyed during the upheaval of the Reformation. The bells remained in the tower untill their removal in 1650.


The Reformation was accompanied by an orgy of acquisition of church goods and the destruction of her propertise and before a Commission at Cardiff in 1553 the church-wardens of Gelligaer gave evidence of valuables taken from their church. They spoke of a red velvet vestment 'imygd with golde with a cross upon the same clothe of gold' a silver chalice, a noble gilt silver chalice.

Little difficulty was experienced in enforcing the change from Papal to the Reformed faith, the majority accepting it with indifference. There were, however pockets of resisting papists for many years. David Watkin Thomas gave evidence at Bridgend in 1584 that 'there was in the said parish of Gelligaer a chapel called gwladys in which was ' masse said and such like service....' In 1622 a number of people of Gelligaer were brought to court for refusing to attend the services of the Reformed Church and as late 1786 there was buried 'David Jones',a professional papist of 92 years of age.

Records of the Rectors of the parish in Post-Reformation times are fairly substantial, unlike those of the Pre-Reformation era. They tell a story of nepotism and plurality in their appointment, resulting in the frequent absence of clergy and a lack of spiritual guidence right up to the 19th century. A state that, in 1578 moved a traveller to observe that he 'encountered in that part of Glamorganshire called Gelligear' most chiefly Ignorance of God's Word, petty theft, idleness and extreme poverty. It was a remark that could bear repletion in later years.

The tithes attached to the living of Gelligaer were the richest in the Diocese, a sincure often granted to favoured candidates who cared little for the spiritual welfare of the parishioners and who rarely came among them. The last of these 'absentees' was Thomas Stacey who was Rector from 1827 to 1861 but preferred to spend the last 30 years resident in Llandaff where he was presentor.

Robert Covey, who was Rector at the time of upheaval of the Puritan Church in the mid-1600's, was ejected from the living for refusal to accept a change in doctrine. He was replaced by a local elected minister, a Baptist, who agreed to accept the freewill offerings instead of the attractive tithes. Colletcions, however, fell short of what the tithes would have given him and he soon began to 'preach up the Divine Right Tithes' which gave great offence to the godly of the parish.... Whereupon they dismissed him to propogate the faith in some other place, giving him £160. To recover the money the people sold the bells, which Jasper Tudor had given to the parish some 170 years earlier.

There was no settled minister for ten years afterwards until the Restoration in 1660 and in 1662 Robert Thomas was appointed to the living. After the neglect of proceeding years, the new incumbent was faced with the task of restoring the tithe customs (without which he would have no income) and repairing the fabric of the church. The churchwardens' accounts for 1688, showing a great deal of money spent on the Nave and the Tower, included an item of 1s 0d, for pulleys for the Bell Rope, suggesting that a single bell had been hung to replace the lost peel.

Among Robert Thomas' parishioners in his later years was Edward Lewis, a young local landowner of Gilfach Fargoed Fawr who died, as did the Rector, in 1728. Edward Lewis was probably concerned about the ignorance and poverty that had earlier been noted, for he left the bulk of his forture to local charities, including the foundation of the Lewis' School.

The passing years, and the neglect ebgendered by adsentee rectors, resulted in a new incumbent in 1862 inheriting a church that was in a bad state of repair. After the collapse of the entire roof in September 1866, Canon Gilbert Harries quickly set about repairs, and completion of the work, and the re-opening of the church, was celebrated before Christmas with a dinner for the workmen and choir in the village inn.

The restored Sanctuary and Chancel present a picture of 'Victorians' within a Norman shell, for much of which was installed was contemporary with Canon Harries time. The records of the work on the Nave after its collapse show the type of building that had previously existed. Timber was obtained from Canon Harries' Llanuwas estate in Pembrokeshire, the pulpit being made at Solva. The Nave had plastered walls and ceiling, the wall plaster remainig until 1903 when, because of stains arising from dampness it was removed. The large south side windows are 20th century installations - the original windows were small and one of them is to be seen in the Lady Chapel to which it was removed to provide light to what until recently, was the clergy vestry.

The churchyard contains few memorial stones from as early as the 18th century for until then, the parishioners were buried within the church, some of their resting places in the Chancel being recorded on small brass plate. Their memorial stones in the Nave lie benesth the pews. Robert Thomas, terrier of parish customs, written 1699 lays down a scale of burial fees in respect of these, when it cost 8d to be buried in the Chancel and 4d and 3d in the Nave.


Untill well into the 19th century the ecclesiastical parish extended over much of North East Glamorgan, an area thart spread northwards from Ystrad Mynach to the borders of Breaknockshire, and the only Anglican places of worship were the parish Church and the Chapel of Ease at Cefn Brithdir. Industrial development now began to create the need for the spiritual and educational service to an ever-growing number of people who lived in the villages lying too remote from the Churches. New Churches, which were used as day schools, began to be built at Pontlottyn, Pantywaun, Troedyrhiwfuwch and Deri. After 1870, when education had become a State responsibility, churches and missions were opened in the remaining villages of the parish.

The 13th century Latin priests had arrived to take the spiritual cure of a small number of people who lived in isolated communities in a parish extending 16,000 acres and, nearly 600 years later, the people still numbered only 825. Intensification of local industry by the 19th century resulted in a 15-fold increase in their numbers and this created the administrative need to partition the old parsih into smaller units, many of the churches then built became new parish churches.

Canon Jesse Jones started a mission in Gwerthonor House, Gilfach in 1895 and by 1903 he had launched an appeal for the erection of a church that became St. Margaret's, now functioning as the church hall. Before his death in 1930, he prepared plans for a new church at Gilfach, which Canon J. O. Williams completed in 1933. He later started a cottage School in Cefn Hengoed soon after his arrival in that village.

Remaining to the care of the old Mother Church is an area of 4,000 acres, a quarter of the original parish, but its population at nearly 14,000 is greater than that of the whole parish when partition was put in hand a century earlier.


The register, now deposited in the Glamorgan County Achieves, are of no great age, the earliest dating from 1701. There are some interesting books of accounts, a feature among them being a copperplated writing of Henry Williams, a 19th centuary master of the Charity School and Parish Clerk of Gelligaer and Llanfabon, who lies buried north of the nave. The oldest records, bound by the National Library of Wales, are the manuscripts on the Parish Customs written by Rector Robert Thomas, commencing in 1676.


In 1538 Henry VIII decreed that all baptisms, marriages and burials be maintained and kept in one sure coffer with two locks and keys. Edward VI repeated this order in 1548 and also Elizabeth in 1559. In 1603, James I decided that all records should be kept in one parchment book locked in a chest with three locks and keys. The keys were shared between the parson and the churchwardens and the number of locks ensured that one party could open the chest in the presence of the other two. Gelligaer's chest with three locks and keys, was taken over by the District Council in 1895 and subsequently lost. In it at the time were the tithe parchments and plan, now in the County Archieves.



Brass effigy of Cannon G. C. F. Harries d. 1879.


Above the priscine, a tablet commemorates Edward Lewis, founder of the School and local charities.


Oak panelling to the memory of parishioners who died in the 1939 - 1945 War.

A note of the 15th century organ is given in the history. A later harmonium was replaced by a 19th century single manual instrument. The present organ was installed in 1935.




In the nave on either side of the Norman Arch is to be seen a Piscina, a relic from the Pre-Reformation times. On the Chancel side of the Arch is what must have been an access to the road screen that has long disappeared.



Introduced by Edward III in1376, the stocks, preserved on the North wall of the Nave once stood by the entrance to the Churchyard. Offenders were brought into Matins to confess their misdeeds and were then set in the stocks for the remainder of the day.



Near the South Door is to be seen a Baptistry, restored in 1866. Unique among Welsh Churches, it is a relic of the Commonwealth Church of the 17th century. On the East Side of the South Door is a Holy Water Stoup which is a relic of the Catholic era.


The stone preserved at the rear of the Nave, with its inscribe Celtic cross, was found on the site of Capel Gwaladys in 1906. The type of cutting found on it dates to the 10th century.



While it is known that a 15th century peal of bells would be followed by s single bell in 1688, as shown by the parish accounts of the time. The bells fate is to this date unknown. The present bell was hung in 1760 and is embossed:




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