Church Monuments Society


Virtual study day 3: Llanilltud Fawr (aka Llantwit Major) in the Vale of Glamorgan

By CMS in Heritage

We did hope to visit Llanilltud (we locals prefer to use its Welsh name. St Twit – who he? Something from Roald Dahl, perhaps?) as part of our Cardiff symposium back in 2012, but the church was busy all day with weddings. This virtual study day may tempt some of you to visit the church under your own steam once the lockdown is lifted. It really is a church with everything – early medieval inscribed stones, medieval effigies and cross slabs, a good number of the post-Reformation cross slabs typical of south-east Wales, monuments by the infamous Iolo Morganwg and his rather less famous father. There are other features as well: wall paintings, hatchments, a Tree of Jesse niche, a magnificent carved reredos, its niches empty now but still an impressive sight. Llanilltud never made it to borough status but it was a comparatively wealthy settlement, at the heart of some of the best farm land in south Wales. There was no major local aristocratic or gentry family, though, so most of the monuments in the church are probably of minor gentry, yeoman farmers and possibly tradespeople.

Llanilltud is really three churches bolted together – the west church, built by the Normans and rebuilt in the fifteenth century, the east church, built in the thirteenth century with the tower added in the fourteenth, and the Galilee chapel, built in the fifteenth century as a chantry for the local Ragland family and with a sacristy leading off it. But before all this, there was an early medieval monastery in the site. Nothing remains of it now, but there is a reconstruction drawing at showing what it may have looked like in the eleventh century. Burials of local rulers and religious leaders in and around the monastery are commemorated by early inscribed stones.

We start in the newest part of the church, the Galilee chapel – but first, there are things to look at outside. We can’t really tackle the churchyard, interesting though it is, but this monument on the outside of the south wall is rather special.


Commemorating several members of the local Wathen family, it has a good array of memento mori devices. A spider’s web, a rather scary cherub with an hour glass and the motto ‘The time going apace’, a little skull at the bottom with ‘Remember Death’ above it. The monument is not signed but it is believed to be by Edward Williams senior, father of Iolo Morganwg. Iolo claimed to have learned to read by watching his father carve the inscriptions on gravestones. More about him when we get to the later monuments inside.

But first: the Galilee chapel. There is a reconstruction drawing of how it might have looked around the end of the 15th century at It fell into ruins after the Reformation. Meanwhile, by the end of the eighteenth century, some of the early medieval incised stones and ‘Celtic’ crosses were being collected in the west part of the church. Here they were safe from the weather but difficult to view, surrounded by Sunday school display boards and surplus furniture.


Some of us rather liked this. The stones still felt part of the memory of the worshipping community. On the other hand, it was difficult to study them, and they were at risk of damage. In the early 2000s, it was decided to rebuild the Galilee chapel to provide office space, kitchen and toilets, and a central space for the display of the stones.

So here they are.

Llanilltud stones

(The photograph is not brilliant – blame the lockdown! More detailed photos in the leaflet downloadable from .)

At the centre is the Houelt cross with its intricate interlace. Its inscription reads ‘IN NOMINE DI PATRIS ET SPERETUS SANTDI ANC CRUCEM HOUELT PROPERABIT PRO ANIMA RES PATRES EUS’ – ‘In the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit, Houelt prepared this cross for the soul of his father Res’. (This is probably Hywel ap Rhys, king of Glywysing, modern eastern Glamorgan and western Gwent, who died in AD 886.) The interlace is of very high quality but the lettering is poor and a line ‘and of the son’ has been omitted – the carver may not have been literate.

To the left of the picture is the Samson or Illtud cross-shaft (the concave upper edge suggests it once had a disc-headed cross head). This has some very complexinscriptions. On the side facing you, carved as if on the open pages of a book (or possibly a pair of wax tablets) is



US +

(Samson set up this cross … for his soul).

On the side away from you, interspersed with more interlace, are two more diptychs,



(The cross of Illtud, Samson the king)




These names should allow us to date the cross, but they have not so far been identified. The cross was found on the north side of the church with three burials close by, one probably of a young man: we may be looking at more members of the royal family of Glywysing. In style the cross  looks early tenth century.

To the right of the photograph is a cross shaft with a complex inscription:


(In the name of the Most High God begins the Cross of the Saviour which Abbot Samson prepared for his soul, and the soul of King Iuthahel, and of Artmail and Tecan)

There has been a lot of debate about the individuals named on the cross. There was a King Iudhael in Gwent in the late ninth century, which would fit with the style of the lettering and interlace. On the other hand, the names Iudhael, Arthmael and Tecan also appear in charters in the Book of Llan Daf in the late eighth century. Whatever the conclusion, what these crosses show is that Llanilltud was the burial place of royalty as well as church leaders, a sort of Westminster Abbey of early medieval south Wales.

At the extreme left of the picture is a decorated pillar which may have been part of the fabric of the early medieval church, possiby supporting a door or a screen, or even the main gate into the enclosure. As far as we know, most early medieval churches were built of timber with wattle and daub, so this evidence for the use of stone is rather special.


Moving on … we go from the Galilee chapel to the west church. Here are displayed a number of late 13th century and early 14th century cross slabs.


The church and its lands were given by the Norman invaders to Tewkesbury Abbey, and the church web site suggests these stones commemorate monks. This seems unlikely: we have no evidence for a community of monks at Llanilltud. It was managed by secular officials and the land worked by labourers or let to tenants. It is more likely that these cross slabs commemorate priests, manorial officials or other important individuals in the community. They are very difficult to date: late 13th and early 14th century is our best guess.

The architect John Rodger, who pioneered the study of medieval cross slabs in south Wales, found several of these slabs built into the footings of the 14th century sacristy and others used as doorsteps and window surrounds. Some are now displayed in the west church but others are still built into the fabric.


(this is the window behind the book stall.)

Also part of the flooring are these

llanilltud4 6

and this


At least one cross slab, and possibly another, hasbeen reused as steps to the tower. The oldest part of the tower is thirteenth century and the steps are probably later but medieval.


The west church also has a collection of funeral hatchments and some more recent wall monuments.

The web site describes effigy tombs in the west church but they have now been moved to the east part of the church. This one is particularly interesting.

llanilltud1 side

(The photographs were taken when it was in the west church – easier to see but more vulnerable.)

llanilltud1 above

The coped shape suggests 12th century, the rather debased interlace decoration suggests later 12th rather than earlier. The inscription is difficult to read even with raking light but it says

NE PETRA CALCETUR QUE SUBIACET ISTA TUETUR (Let not the stone be trodden on; let her who lies beneath be protected)

So the stone commemorated a woman: but it has been recut, probably in the 13th century (Sally Badham wrote about this one in Church Monuments 14, 1999, and she thinks early C13, which would possibly have been within the lifetime of some who saw it first being placed) with the head of a priest.

llanilltud1 head

This kind of reuse is strange to modern eyes but not that unusual. There is a similar example a few miles away, at Llanblethian near Cowbridge, where the late 13th century cross slab of a woman called Eme or Emet was found reused over the 14th century shaft grave of a priest.

The second effigy is also problematic.

llanilltud2 north

This one has also been moved around – at the end of the 19th century it was photographed against the west wall of the west church; more recently it was between the nave and the south aisle of the east church (and that was where I photographed it); it is now tucked into the east end of the north aisle. The incomplete inscription reads


llanilltud2 inscription1

It clearly commemorates a civilian. His long robe has a fur collar and he carries a glove.

llanilltud2 head

His head rests on a square cushion set diagonally and his feet rest on two balls. The effigy would have been painted: there are traces of red ochre undercoat in the folds of the robe. Attempts have been made to identify him as a member of the Ragland family who built the chantry chapel than now houses the early stones. However, they are not documented in the area before the 15th century and the effigy is definitely earlier. The style of the hair and the attitude of the body are fourteenth century, and the inscription is in Lombardic capitals. These continued in use in Wales until the later part of the fourteenth century but by the fifteenth century blackletter was the norm. It is possible that the inscription commemorates a William de Reigny who is known to have held land in the area in the fourteenth century.

The third effigy in this corner was formerly in the west part of the church, though it may have been moved around several times. It commemorates Joan Hopkins, wife of Richard Hopkins, and their baby. (Photos of this one are © Louvain Rees – grateful thanks to her.)

hopkin head

There is no date on the remaining inscription but the costume is late 16th century. She is wearing a kirtle whose intricate embroidery (probably blackwork) is reminiscent of the interlace on the early medieval stones.

hopkin skirt

The swaddled body of the baby is depicted next to her head, suggesting that she died in childbirth and that the child also died then or soon after.

hopkin baby

Richard Hopkins was a local estate official and the effigy is at first sight quite elaborate for someone of that social status. This has led to a local legend that she was the mistress of someone more important, that the child was his and that he paid for the tomb. The lover was probably not the lord of the manor – at the date of the effigy that was Henry, second earl of Pembroke (and father of the ‘Mr W. H.’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets). As far as we know, he never visited his local manors, and it seems unlikely that he would have acquired a mistress there. A more likely candidate might be Roger Seys, attorney general and owner through his wife of land in Boverton, the next village to Llanilltud. However, if you look more carefully at the upper part of the effigy,

hopkin upper

you can see that it is in fact quite crudely carved: probably the work of a local stonemason who was not accustomed to figure sculpture but was prepared to have a go. It seems more likely that it was her husband who commissioned the effigy.


The floor of the east church has several more medieval cross slabs and fragments.


This one near the altar steps is probably late medieval, reused with an inscription in the seventeenth century.


The one next to it, with its thick plain shaft and stumpy arms, is probably late 15th or early 16th century.


However, the east part of the church also has several examples of the post-Reformation cross slabs which are so common in south-east Wales. Most are austerely simple, four-line crosses with inscriptions in crude rustic capitals.

llanilltud crosses

Some are a little more sophisticated, solid crosses with raised panels on either side

llanilltud billets

(the antiquarian T. H. Thomas and the architect John Rodger called these ‘billets’ and thought they were a vestigial memory of the flanking figures in carvings of the Crucifixion) and a rectangular panel at the bottom for an inscription. (For more on these crosses see my article ‘Post-medieval cross slabs in south-east Wales’, downloadable at .) The two different styles crop up all over the Vale of Glamorgan and are probably the work of two local stonemasons’ workshops.

The earliest datable example straddles the great changes of the 1530s: Mathew Voss died in 1534. His cross slab is austerely simple and crudely carved, but the Voss family were local landowners with some pretensions to gentility.

SAM 0684

His cross slab seems to claim he was 129 years old:

voss 129

the inscription is quite clear and the 1 does not look like a natural flaw in the stone. Iolo Morganwg collected several similar examples of memorials in the Vale of Glamorgan claiming what must have been exaggerated ages.

There may be some slightly earlier examples of the very simple four-line cross: this

IMG 0817

is in the west church, this

IMG 2264

near the altar in the east church.  The tradition of inscribing simple crosses on stones seems to have carried on throughout the period, emblematic of the Welsh gift for combining traditionalism in religion and loyalism in politics.

It is tempting to regard these cross slabs as evidence of closet Catholicism – or at any rate of adherence to the ‘Laudian’ tendency in the established church (it’s difficult to find apprporiate terminology for the complexity of religious standpoints in this period). Several cross slabs commemorate members of the clergy, though the one in nearby Llanmaes includes the name of an incumbent who was turfed out of his living under the Commonwealth (more on this at However, at Llanilltud we hav a cross slab on the grave of a man who served through the Civil War and Commonwealth. (He was accused of being ‘a trimmer and a favourite of the times’.) The left hand slab

llanilltud slugge

was first placed to commemorate Catherine, wife of the vicar Stephen Slugge. She died in 1626. The shaft of the cross was then shaved off and an inscription added commemorating Stephen Slugge himself, who died in 1662 aged 82, with the words ‘Resurgam’. Finally, a stone immediately north of this one commemorates Stephen’s second wife Elisabeth, who died in 1676. The second stone has the Latin inscription Disce mori mundo et vivere disce deo. The cross on the slab is post-medieval in style but the lettering all but obliterates it, and it may be an example of reuse of a post-medieval slab.

The east church has other treasures. The magnificent reredos

llanilltud reredos

has lost its statues but is still an impressive piece of carving. The south chapel has a Tree of Jesse niche

llanillltud jesseniche scan

which may have been an altar reredos and probably once contained a carving of the Virgin and Child. Also in the south chapel is an original altar slab with its consecration crosses.

llanilltud Schapel general

Two attempts have been made to repurpose this as a tomb slab. It has the letters E.H. carved on it, then ‘Katherin Thomas of the Hame’ (a local house) but neither inscription seems to have been completed. The stone has now been re-erected as an altar. There are wall paintings:


the one of Mary Magdalene, against the north wall of the chancel, may indicate where the Easter Sepulchre was placed.

This may have been a painted memorial:

IMG 0856

E. C. Rouse read the inscription above it as ‘Orate pro anima … propicietur’. Not hugely helpful! and the crest has not been identified.

And finally – this.

DSC 1635

Described in Gunnis’s Dictionary of British Sculptors as ‘exactly like the contemporary work of T. King of Bath’, it is signed by ‘Edward Williams’, better known as Iolo Morganwg, local stonemason and autodidact, antiquarian, forger, inventor of the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards and the whole Eisteddfod ceremonial, and self-styled ‘rattleskull genius’. It was his work as a stonemason that supported his research and his writing (though they didn’t support it very well – he was always in debt and even spent time in prison).

Because of Iolo’s fame as a poet and cultural figure, the account books and papers of his stonemason’s business have been kept and are now in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. In his chapter ‘Iolo Morganwg: Stonecutter, Builder and Antiquary’ in Geraint Jenkins’s A Rattleskull Genius: the many faces of Iolo Morganwg, Richard Suggett uses these papers to give us an insight into the life and work of an ordinary jobbing mason.

More on this at .

The village is worth a wander – there are monastic ruins in a field to the west – once the lockdown is over!

Comments (1)

  1. Hi
    Saw the photo of the Wathen family memorial but a bit difficult to read the inscription. My ancestor Anne Wathen was I believe a daughter of Charles. She married Edward Wilkins part of a large yeoman/minor gentry family in Llantwit. Is it possible to get a transcription of the monument. Also do you have any information on any of the Wilkins family. Unfortunately I live in Sussex so it is very difficult to visit. Would be very grateful for any help.
    Kind regards

    Joanna Wilkins

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