29 October 2022

Cwyfan – The Little Church in the Sea

Ynys Môn is an island perched at the top of Wales. Known in English as Anglesey, the island is connected to the mainland by only two bridges. In the seventeenth century, erosion of the coastline meant that an islet formed off the island – Cribinau. Yet there was only one problem – the cherished thirteenth century church of Saint Cwyfan was isolated on the newly formed tidal island.

Maps of Ynys Môn from the seventeenth century show the church on the mainland of the island - just. The situation worsened and by the 1800s all of the graves had already been washed away. It looked likely that the ancient church would be lost to the sea. The church was abandoned, roofless, to its fate.

Then, some devout locals, led by architect Harold Hughes, formed a cunning plan: to build a protective wall around the church to ensure its survival. It took a huge fund raising drive but the church was restored and the defensive walls were erected.

Saint Cwyfan’s is named after the eponymous saint who died in the sixth century and established the church here. To most, however, it is simply Cwyfan – or to the polysyllabically inclined Welsh, eglwys bach y mor (the little church in the sea) who can say that almost as quickly as just Cwyfan! If you say coo-ee-van  you are close enough to get away with it!

The church is only accessible at low tide and although its interior is basic to say the least it is still a popular and romantic choice for christenings and even weddings. Yet the church does not have as many visitors as you may imagine – its isolation demands both research and effort to reach it. Yet those who reach it all agree that it is a magical place.