Llanbadarn Fawr – St Padarn’s Church

History

   The first church in Llanbadarn Fawr could be built as early as the sixth century on the initiative of Saint Padarn, to which the village owes its name. He founded a monastery that attracted many monks and became a local study center. In 988 it was destroyed by the Danish Vikings and again in 1038 by Gruffydd ab Llewelyn. Despite this, in the 11th century, Llanbadarn parish was one of the largest in Wales.
   A stone church on a Latin cross plan was built after the original building was destroyed in a fire in the mid-13th century, around 1257-1265, although it is not certain whether it was a complete reconstruction or a continuation of works started before the catastrophe (they were commenced in 1246). Perhaps the church fire was related to the recapture of Llanbadarn Fawr in 1256 by the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd from Anglo-Norman hands. In the following years, the supervision of the church returned to the English monarchs. Almost all local rectors were royal favourites  or quickly ascended the church hierarchy. The most famous of these was Antony Bek, brother of Thomas Bek, Bishop of St David from 1280-1293. Antony Bek later became Bishop of Durham and Patriarch of Jerusalem.
   In the fourteenth and especially in the fifteenth century, the church was enlarged. It was then subordinate to the English Vale Royal Abbey, from which the Cistercians most likely supervised the construction works. After the monastery was dissolved in 1538, the church retained its importance as a parish temple, although its income from tithes and landed goods decreased. The decline of the building did not begin until the 18th century, with the increase in population in nearby settlements, which over time outgrew Llanbadarn Fawr and established their own parishes. Between 1867 and 1884, the already neglected church was renovated by John Pollard Seddon.

Architecture

   The church from the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries was built on a Latin cross plan. It consisted of a single, rectangular nave, the northern and southern transept, a rectangular chancel on the eastern side and a massive four-sided tower above the intersection of the naves, sides of approximately 12 meters long. The entrance to it led through an early Gothic portal located in the western part of the southern wall of the nave. Additionally, an entrance portal was placed for priests in the southern wall of the chancel.
   The church was originally illuminated by narrow, pointed windows, located in the northern and southern walls of the nave at several meters distances, and grouped into a pyramidal triad in the west facade with one window higher than the two side ones. The northern arm of the transept was illuminated by two windows, while the southern one was illuminated by three, one of which was placed high in the gable part. The tower was pierced at the level of the highest storey with two-light windows topped with trefoils.
   Around 1475, the chancel was enlarged by a few meters to the east and closed again with a straight wall. At that time, new windows in the English Perpendicular Gothic style were pierced in it. Then, in 1491, the interior of the chancel was topped with a wooden barrel vault. It opened onto the crossing under the tower, by the pointed, high 13th-century arcade, and similar arcades were directed to the transept arms and the nave. The chancel was originally separated from the rest of the church by the rood screen, which would be indicated by the existence of a small, triangular topped portal in the northern wall, leading to the passage in the thickness of the wall and stairs. They ended at the level of the second portal, leading probably originally to the balcony set on the rood screen. Behind the partition, wooden stalls were probably located in the Middle Ages in chancel.

Current state

   The church in its present shape is to a large extent a thirteenth / fourteenth-century building. Only on the south side of the nave, an early modern porch was added (probably on the site of the earlier one), which hides an early Gothic portal inside (allegedly from the Florida Strata Abbey), and on the north side of the chancel, a small 19th-century sacristy. During the early modern renovation, new stained glass windows were inserted and the fittings were replaced. Currently, the oldest monuments that can be seen inside the church are the 8th century crosses and the baptismal font from the 13th century.

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bibliography:
Salter M., The old parish churches of South-West Wales, Wolverhampton 2003.

Wooding J., Yates N., A Guide to the churches and chapels of Wales, Cardiff 2011.
Website wikipedia.org, St Padarn’s Church, Llanbadarn Fawr.