St Padarns Church in Llanbadarn Fawr has been a religious site since the 6th century BC.
Although the church itself was not standing at this time, St Padarn founded a ‘clas’ at the site. The church you see today is named after him.
A ‘clas’ was a type of Welsh church or monastery, which was common of this period in history.
The church which stands on this spot today was built in 1257, after the previous building was destroyed in a fire. It is a magnificent, beautiful building which towers over the village of Llanbadarn Fawr, and it is this size which is testament to the sites religious important. At the time of building, it was probably the most grand building in the area, standing out from anything else in sight.
It is thought, although not confirmed that the huge stone arch over the main entrance to the church comes from the Cisterian Abbey at Strata Florida near Ystrad Fflur. This Abbey was destroyed in the 1200′s and it is feasible that some of the remains were transported the 15 miles to Aberystwyth.
The overall design of the church is in the shape of the Christian cross, and is known as cruciform (i.e. Resembling the form of a cross or Christian cross)
Upon entering St Padarn’s you will notice the spectacular wooden ceilings. This spectacular ceiling dates back to the 1800′s, when the church underwent some major refurbishment. The other stand out feature, large stained glass window was designed by well known 20th Century Welsh artist John Petts who set up Caseg Press in Snowdonia. The design is based around the theme of music which is used to praise god.
At the northern end of the church is the Lady Chapel, and it is here that you will find the statue of the Virgin and Child. This was given to the church Canon Geraint Vaughan Jones, and was donated in memory of the late Canon’s parents. The Canon was one of the leading members of the 20th century Welsh clergy who was able to re-establish the tradition of plygain singing within the Welsh church.
The chancel at St Padarns was restored in the 1400′s. At one time there was a screen in place, and the stone steps which are still visible are the only evidence remaining that it was once their. When you look down to the floor you will see a stone slab which commemorates the life and works of the Welsh amateur hydrographer and scholar Lewis Morris. Lewis Morris was responsible for a large amount of the mapping of Cardigan Bay and the Welsh coast in the 1700′s, and also became the deputy steward for the Crown Manors in Ceredigion. His work saved the lives of many sailors who navigated the Welsh coast because of the poor state of the raods in this period. Upon further inspection of the chancel you will also see memorials to powerful local families who owned the estates of Nanteos and Gogerddan.
In the churches south transept you will find a small but informative exhibition which details the history of the parish of Llanbadarn. Included within the exhibition area a number of lines of poetry from the Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. Dafydd ap Gwilym was an associate of the parish and the church, and also became one of the most higly regarded poets of the Middle Ages in Europe. The church also has a low altar in this area, and resting upon it the chi-ro of Saint Padarn. A Chi-ro is an early form of Christogram, and is formed by the super imposition of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet onto a circle.
Although St Padarn’s background is not well known, it is thought that he arrived in the area from the South East of Wales to found his ‘clas’. Local legend has it that when King Arthur upset St Padarn by trying to steal his tunic, he was able to split the earth at Llanbadarn Fawr in two with his words, and King Arthur fell into the up to his chin and remained there for a short time, until he began to praise to St Padarn and God, whilst begging for forgiveness.
At the display area you should also see two stone crosses. These are believed to be pre-Christian artefacts, but they were definately used for by Christians for the purposes of worship in the time period between the 9th and 11th centuries. Set into the stone wall above these crosses are a number of windows, which were added to the church in the 1920s. The windows were designed in honour of St Padarn, along with other influential Welsh Saints; St Dewi and St Teilo.
The church also keeps an old copy of the Welsh Bible, which translated by ex vicar to the parish Mr William Morgan in 1588 by William Morgan. This can be found in the same are as the two stone crosses.
You will also find a room known as “Padarn’s room” and on the left hand side of this room there is a window which depicts a number of themes from ‘The Life of Padarn’ which is an old manuscript, along with a sculpture made from porcelain which depicts part of the story from the same manuscript.
Also in the church there is another room which is known as “Sulien’s room” which commemorates the life of ‘clas’ leader Sulien, who was at the helm of the ‘clas’ at Llanbadarn in the 1tth century. He also twice became Bishop of St. David’s. During Sulien’s time as the head of the ‘clas’ at Llanbadarn it became a very important ‘scriptorium’. This was a place where texts were composed and copied by scholars.
Hi son Rhygyfarch, who eventually succeeded Sulien as the Bishop of St David’s composed his famous work ‘Vita Davidis’ in this very scriptorium. In Sulien’s room you may also notice the a window known as the Burma Star window along with the Kohimah Epitaph. The Kohima Epitaph is carved into the 2nd British Division memorial and remembers those who fought in the Battle of Kohnima in North East India in the spring of 1944 between the British and Japanese. There is also a memorial to the Major General Lewis Pugh who was from Glandyfi and served valiantly in the far east during World War Two. General Lewis was also a relative of highly regarded Brigadier General Lewis Pugh Evans V.C. who once served as the warden at St Padarns before serving in World War Two, being awarded a Victoria Cross medal for a display of bravery in the First World War. The Brigadier was commended for his actions during an assault on a German artillery position, where has was shot but continued to fight and lead his men until they captured the area, upon which he collapsed from loss of blood. Even at this point he refused medical help until his injured men had been seen to, and eventually reached a dressing station on his own, and survived his injury.