Llanfrynach sits in the fields just west of Cowbridge, though there is a huge new housing estate being built to the east of the church. It is a mainly 12th century church on an even older site: there is a hint of a Romano-British settlement in the adjoining field. It was the centre of a dispersed farming community, but by the seventeenth century most people were living to the north in Penllyn. Industrial development to the north meant a church was built in Penllyn in the nineteenth century and Llanfrynach is little used now, but it is still clearly much loved. There are recent burials and flowers in the graveyard.
The church still has its early narrow chancel arch and a stone bench all round the nave. There are faint traces of medieval wall paintings to the south of the altar – a crown of thorns or a vine trail, with bunches of grapes. For us, though, the big attraction is the collection of medieval and post-medieval cross slabs. Most are now in the chancel but others have been reused in the fabric of the building. As you enter, look down
a late 13th century slab with floriated cross head and branching shaft. The stone sits under the door jambs, and the doorway is 15th century at the latest, so this is medieval reuse.
As is this
probably early 14th century and reused in the rood loft stairs.
The oldest cross slab is probably this one
a cross-in-circle similar to the ones @cotentinologue1 has been tweeting from Normandy. If you saw it in Yorkshire you would probably say 12th century but in north Wales it could be as late as 1300, and some of the Normandy examples may be even later. The lettering MT 1670 is a later addition.
Also in the sanctuary is this
probably c 1300, with an elaborately floriated head
and lovely detailed oak leaves springing from the shaft.
There are traces of writing incised round the border but all I can identify is a capital G. It looks Lombardic in style, so it may have been contemporary with the cross.
This tiny and rather crudely carved cross head, 30 x 26 cm,
may have covered a heart burial, though as we learned in Llanblethian, there could be other reasons for small crosses.
This very plain cross set in the chancel floor
is probably late medieval, and this stumpy base
could also be early 16th century.
We thought long and hard about the two very plain crosses in the sanctuary floor. Both are in the very simple four-line style of the post-medieval crosses in Llantwit Major and elsewhere in the Vale of Glamorgan. We thought this one
might be pre-Reformation. The wedge shape would mean an even earlier date in England but you still find this coffin-lid shape in Wales in the seventeenth century. But the absence of any inscription seems to suggest earlier rather than later. This one on the other hand
is so very crudely carved, with space for a lengthy inscription below the cross, that we eventually decided it was post-medieval. It could even be as late as the date carved on it, the letter M and a date beginning 16… .
Then there are the clearly dated post-medieval stones. A little cross slab which has clearly been repositioned (it now forms part of the southern sanctuary step) commemorates
WILLIAM THE SONNE OF CHRISTOR TURBERVILL AND ELINOURE HIS WIFE AO DNI 1613
Small stones do not always mean child burials, but it is likely that William died fairly young. His father Christopher was born in about 1575. Elinor’s birth date is not known but Christopher was her second husband, so we are probably looking at a marriage early in the 17th century.
Against the south wall of the sanctuary, and possibly in its original position, is a sizeable slab
with a cross whose design I have net seen elsewhere. Orrin describes it as ‘a cross moliné with fishtail base’ but the base seems feathered like wings.
What the symbolism could be, either the fish or the wings, we can only guess. The cross commemorates two more members of the Turberville clan:
HERE LYETH THE BODY OF
ESQR DECESSED THE 18TH DAY
OF MARCH AO DNI 1678
REQUIESCAT IN PACE
HERE ALSOE LYETHE BODY
OF CHRISTOPHER TURBERVILL
ESQR DECEASED THE 5TH DAY
OF DECEMBER AO DNI 1700
The Turbervilles held the Penllyn estate in the seventeenth century and were connected to the Turbervilles of Sker. Both families were at one time defiantly Catholic: the Jesuit priest St Philip Evans was arrested at Sker in 1678 and it was at the Turberville house in Penllyn that St John Lloyd was arrested in the same year. Both men suffered the horrific death of hanging, drawing and quartering the following year. In this case, then, the crosses and the Latin on the second slab could reflect the family’s religious standpoint. On the other hand, the older Christopher (husband of Elinor and father of William) was High Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1616, and there are plenty of examples of post-Reformation cross slabs from impeccably orthodox families.
The churchyard has some more Welsh inscriptions and the base of the medieval churchyard cross. This was where people from Penllyn, a mile to the north, were brought for burial until the 19th century. You can trace the way coffins would have been carried across the fields by the row of coffin stiles. Louvain Rees @hellohistoria has tweeted pictures of several of them at https://twitter.com/hellohistoria/status/1269638858653794306 and there’s an old photograph of one of them at https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/1239771. The coffin could be rested on the central pillar while the bearers climbed over either side. The coffin stile leading into the churchyard is a bit overgrown but clearly visible – and look at the coping stone on one side.
Could it be part of a medieval coped grave cover?
There are plenty of other interesting churches in the Vale of Glamorgan, but as we have been looking at post-medieval cross slabs and reuse of stone generally, we are going to finish the day at Llanmaes, just north of Llanilltud. This is a typical Vale village: cottages, big house, remains of a castle. The church is largely 13th century though with some later additions. It still has most of its medieval rood screen
and a very faded wall painting which we can just make out as St George and the Dragon.
All you can really see is the red undercoating for the princess, the dragon’s head, a little bit of George’s armour and the horse’s harness. By analogy with what is at Llancarfan, the paint at the top right could be the princess’s parents, but it’s hard to be sure.
This little cross slab
now reset in the sanctuary steps and partly obscured by the altar rails and kneelers, is a bit of a puzzle. It looks too neat and cleanly carved to be medieval – but why would a modern stone have been repositioned, why would it be so small, and why is there no inscription? If medieval, it’s the same style as the cross-in-circle at Llanfrynach, though much better carved, so it’s probably late 13th century.
The really intriguing one is this
a large slab of local limestone, against the north wall of the sanctuary and again overlaid by the altar rails. This is an unusually large slab for the post-Reformation period but very plain in style. From this I think it is of the same date as the first inscription. This is crudely carved in a combination of Roman, Lombardic and uncial capitals and seems to be integral to the design: it starts on a panel above the head of the cross
and continues on the base.
It reads DNS (the N is actually an inverted V] ALEXANDER / PHELEP / RECTOR / H[UIU]S ECCLESIE [Huius is written H, inverted V with a line over it, S].
The stone has then been reappropriated by two of his successors in the rectory and inscribed + HERE : LIETH : THE : BODY : OF : Dr : MORGAN : JONE[S : A]ETAT : 58 / &: HERE : LIETH : THE : BODY : OF : MARIE : 1624 / JONES : THE : WIFE : OF : D : JONES / DECEASED : THE : 5 : OF : DECEMBER : AN : DN : [the year is concealed by the altar rail] / ANo : AETATIS : 64 : HEERE : LYETH : THE : B[ODY [: OF / MR : RICHARD : SWINGLEH[URS]T : MR / OF : ARTES : AND : RECTO[R OF] / LA[N]MASE : WHO : DECEAS[ED] : MAR / CH : THE : [the date is difficult to decipher but according to the parish records he died on 25 March 1668].
These inscriptions neatly encapsulate the experiences of the parish and its clergy in the political and religious upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
According to the list of incumbents in the parish guidebook, Alexander Philip was rector in 1530 and he was still there in 1563 when the aged bishop Anthony Kitchin sent in a report on his diocese to the Privy Council. He had however moved on – presumably to Higher Service – by 1581 when a son of William ap Rees Lloyd was in post. Like his bishop, Alexander Philip had served through all the religious turmoil of the sixteenth century. I have no idea what the evidence for his being there in 1530 was. The date was recorded by a local antiquarian Augusta Rayer-Jenkins in her list of clergy in the old diocese of Llandaff but without references. He was definitely there in 1536 when he was one of the trustees of the Carne estate (this is in a deed in G. T. Clark’s Cartae pp. 1896-1901). He must have been fairly new in post in 1530. This was before the Acts of Union and people were probably just becoming aware of Henry VIII’s marital problems but with no way of predicting where they would lead. Alexander would have had to take the oaths of Supremacy and Succession, would have seen the great wall painting of St George and all the other decorations of his church painted out, the rood figures removed and the rood screen taken down to the bressumer beam, services in English rather than Latin – and would then have had to get the parish organised to put back as much as they could when Mary came to the throne, only to see it all undone again after 1558. Turbulent times. It’s easy to criticise clergy who served under such conflicting instructions but really what were they to do? Would it have done any good to leave and let their parish be taken over by someone more hard-line?
Alexander Philip was presumably dead by 1581 when his replacement was appointed so the slab must date from about then. Morgan Jones D. D. was rector of Llanmaes from 1608 to 1624 and treasurer of the diocese of Llandaff . He was followed in 1624 by Richard Swinglehurst, who was also his son-in-law. Swinglehurst seems to have been made of tougher stuff than Philip – or perhaps it was the Commissioners for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales who were more tough-minded than the gentle and pliable Bishop Kitchin. In 1650, Swinglehurst was deprived of his living for ‘delinquency’ (support for the royalist cause) and refusing to sign the ‘engagement’, a statement of loyalty to the Commonwealth. According to Francis Davies’s account, Swinglehurst
was sequestered and made a delinquent by Col. Jones and
his agents, and had the fifths of his living for one
year, but afterwards was obliged to take what the rulers
pleased, sometimes a small sum at their pleasure, some-
times nothing at all, for he was a rich man as the
commissioners told him, and did not want, and therefore
they thought fit to prevent the exuberancy of his
treasure, to cut him short of his fifths. And they were
as good as their words, for he had nothing out of his
good living for four years, but lived to enjoy it after
It is difficult to find a connection between Alexander Philip and Morgan Jones, but Jones’s family remained in the rectory for a further generation. The next stone to the south commemorates Swinglehurst’s daughter Elizabeth, whose husband Thomas Wilkins succeeded Swinglehurst as rector, but her memorial has heraldry rather than a cross.
The traditional explanation that these cross slabs commemorate Catholics clearly does not work: there are other examples of crosses on the graves of clerical families. It is nevertheless tempting to assume that Swinglehurst’s Royalism implies that he was on the ‘Arminian’ wing of the Established Church. However, the vicar of the neighbouring parish of Llantwit Major, Stephen Slugge, chose a cross slab to commemorate his first wife, who died in 1626. Slugge held on to his parish through the Commonwealth and was described by Davies as ‘a trimmer and a favourite of the times’. There are no easy answers here. The persistent popularity of cross slabs in south-east Wales in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries owes something to the distinctive Welsh blend of traditionalism and loyalism, and possibly rather more to local fashion.
There is another of these post-Reformation cross slabs at the west end of the nave and broken in two pieces.
This one was drawn by T. H. Thomas in his pioneering study of Welsh cross slabs published in the Transactions of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society for 1904. This style, with its heavy plain cross, billets down the side, and plenty of space at the bottom for an inscription, is typical of many of the Vale of Glamorgan crosses – it seems to have been the standard style of one long-lasting stonemasons’ workshop. The inscription commemorates a John Sherrey who died in 1624. A later inscription has been added to the cross head commemorating one of the Turberville family, but the full name and date are illegible.
We might get some tea in Llanilltud …
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