The origins of the church in Llantwit Major supposedly date back to 395 when a college of priests called Cor Tewdws was to be built here. About 446 it was invaded and burned by Irish pirates. In the 6th century, Saint Illtyd (Illtud) settled in Llantwit during his journey through the western and southern coasts of Wales. He founded or reactivated the school and church, which is now considered the oldest teaching center in Britain. From here, his priests founded temples on his behalf throughout southern Wales and England. According to tradition, many Celtic saints studied in the college, including Saint David, Saint Samson, Saint Paul Aurelian, Saint Tudwal, Saint Baglan and king Maelgwn Gwynedd. Apparently, the school had seven rooms and over 2,000 students. With more reliable information, it is known that in 987, the Danes attacked Llantwit. However, the school continued to function until the Norman invasion in the 11th century. Robert Fitzhamon occupied the area, and the timber college and church were destroyed during the conquest. Eventually, around 1100, the Normans rebuilt the parish church on the ruins of an old college, but the school lost its importance and size. In the thirteenth century, the church underwent a thorough expansion: a tower and a second building on the eastern side were added, which was used by the monastic community. Further extensions were carried out at the beginning of the 15th century on the initiative of Hugh Raglan, who, among other things, built a chantry chapel on the west side.
In the 16th century, during the Reformation, the monastic community was dissolved and the eastern chapel was taken over by the parish church. The medieval monastery grange fell into disrepair, and many wall paintings and statues were destroyed. The western chapel ceased to be used and served mainly as a treasury or warehouse, and eventually fell into disrepair and was rebuilt only in 2013. The remaining parts of the church were renovated in the 20th century.
The original parish church from the beginning of the 12th century consisted only of a rectangular nave with a length of 12 meters (today’s so-called West Chapel) with a sacristy added from the north-west side in the fifteenth century and a porch from the south from the 13th century. In the thirteenth century, it expanded by adding a tower from the eastern side, to which, in turn, also from the east, another nave and chancel were added, used as a monastery church. Around the year 1400, the eastern church was extended with aisles, and the roof of the central nave and the tower were raised to the current height. The church was also equipped with a new roof, made of Irish marshy oak and decorated with many wall paintings and sculptures. A new chapel, called Galilee, was founded on the west side of the church.
St. Illtyd’s church is one of the oldest and best-known parish churches in Wales. It is a building of special significance both due to its history and the state of architecture. In the church there is also a unique collection of carved stones, celtic gravestones and crosses from the 9th-10th centuries.
Wooding J., Yates N., A Guide to the churches and chapels of Wales, Cardiff 2011.
Website wikipedia.org, St Illtyd’s Church, Llantwit Major.