Llaneilian - St Eilian’s Church

Even though it is in a fairly out-of-the-way place, St Eilian’s church is well-known on Anglesey for its unusual pyramidal spire and the wooden carvings and paintings inside.

A poem by the 16th century bard Gwilym Gwyn tells the story of St. Eilian, to whom this church is dedicated. He was sent by the Pope to Anglesey as a emissary to Cadwallon Lawhir, ruler of Anglesey. Eilian was bringing a number of oxen as well as his household, and Cadwallon seized the animals. In retaliation Eilian struck the king blind, then offered to restore his sight in return for as much land as a deer could run while being pursued. He then established a church on the site, around 450AD.

The oldest part of the current church is the tower with its stone pyramid top, which dates to the twelfth century. The nave and chancel were rebuilt in the fifteenth century. A small 14th century chapel is placed at an angle to the chancel and is connected to it by a passageway that was built later, around 1614.

The medieval character of the inside of the church is very well preserved, as a result of sympathetic restorations of the 19th and early 20th century. Most prominent is a 15th century oak rood screen between the chancel and nave, a rarity on Anglesey. The central panel above the door bears a painting of a skeleton with a scythe and the inscription Colyn Angau yw Pechod ("Sin is the sting of death"). Other panels show hints of having been painted, with one showing traces of a face, possibly meant to be Christ.

Elsewhere in the church the bases of the roof beams have wood carved figures of angels, some playing instruments like flutes and bagpipes. A wooden chest with iron bands, dated 1667 and known locally as "Cyff Eilian", was used to collect donations from parishioners and pilgrims. Also to be seen in the church are a pair of large wooden tongs from the 18th century. In those days it wasn't unusual for people to bring their dogs into the church, and these were used to evict the unruly ones.

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About Anglesey History

This is a web site developed by Dr Warren Kovach to celebrate the history of the Isle of Anglesey, North Wales.


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Last modified 1 September, 2023