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Posted on 20/06/2018 by David

As well as castles, manor houses and other architectural marvels, North Wales is home to plenty of amazing churches. In part eight of our series, we take a look at another pair of churches that are well worth a visit. Both are named after saints, pack in plenty of historical interest, complemented with some of the very best surroundings North Wales has to offer.

St Tysilio's, Church Island, Menai Strait

St Tysilio's 1

It’s not everyday you find a church with an island all of its own! Church Island sits in the Menai Strait, and is known locally as ‘Ynys Tysilio’ (Tysilio’s Island). The name itself is somewhat of a mystery; though Tysilio (pronounced sis-i-lio, with an 'o' like orange) was a Welsh saint who lived in the sixth century, there isn’t any record of him establishing a church on the small island.

But there is a church there, and it dates back to the 1400s. Although there aren’t many records about the church’s construction, it is believed that this church replaced an earlier one, perhaps built by Tysilio.

Tysilio was born to the King of Powys, Brochfael Ysgythrog. After beginning religious training Tysilio eventually departed his father’s seat and came to Anglesey to follow the religious path. After living on the island for awhile he returned to Powys to become an abbot.

Today, the latest version of the church named after him still stands on its island. Restorative works have been carried out over the years, with significant renovations taking place in the late 1800s, that aimed to reproduce the 15th century design and architecture. Some authentic historical features remain, significantly the magnificent wooden beams in the roof and the striking eight-sided baptismal font.

St Tysilio's 2

As soon as you arrive at the church, you will notice its historic atmosphere – made all the more authentic as St Tysilio’s has no electricity. Of further historical note are the graves in the cemetery; many local families and those who built the area’s famous bridges are buried here, and you can also visit the grave of Reverend Sir Albert Evans-Jones, also known as the bard Cynan. The island is also home to a moving war memorial.

This is one of the very best places to get a spectacular view of the Menai Strait, and if you visit on a sunny day the vistas here are glorious.

St Beuno's, Clynnog Fawr, Llyn Peninsula

St Beuno's 1

On the northern coast of the Llyn Peninsula, St Bueno’s is a striking, angular church. St Beuno was one of Wales’ most important and influential saints, and is well-known for performing miracles.

Like Tysilio, Beuno hailed from Powys, and ventured up north to study at a monastery in Bangor. Legend says that Cadfan, then King of Gwynedd, supported him as a missionary. Later on, Cadwallon – son of Cadfan – lied to Beuno; this led to Beuno being awarded the site at Clynnog Fawr for eternity. 

Beuno established a monastery there and was an important figure in Welsh history. In fact, historical documents show that the abbot from Clynnog held a seat at the court of the King of Gwynedd himself!

Beuno has a reputation for bringing the deceased back to life – most notably Saint Winifred (of the world-famous well in North East Wales), who was his niece. 

Winifred’s would-be suitor Caradog was infuriated by her decision to enter the nunnery, and decapitated her with his sword. According to legend, her head rolled down a hill and a spring spouted from the spot where it lay. Bueno is then supposed to have miraculously re-joined her head to her body, and brought almighty judgement down upon Caradog.

Whatever the truth, Beuno was an important and venerated figure in Wales, as the magnificent building named after him demonstrates this. The building that stands on the Clynnog Fawr site today dates back to the late 15th century, with the chapel portion probably added a little later. 

St Beuno's 2

One thing not to be missed on a visit here is the sundial in the church’s courtyard and cemetery, which is believed to date back to the late 10th century. The earlier church that stood on the same site was attacked by both the Vikings and the Normans.

After a morning of exploring the church, why not try this lovely, scenic walk to nearby Llanaelhearn? At eight miles it's leisurely rather than laborious and takes in some of the prettiest scenery in this part of North Wales. 

Do you know any sacred or holy places in North Wales with interesting or unexpected stories? We'd love to feature them in future blogs! Do let us know if you visit either of these churches and what you thought of them - you can even share your photos with us on Twitter using @NWHC.

Images courtesy: St Tysilio's, Church Island © Copyright Humphrey Bolton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. St Tysilio's interior by Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons. St Beuno's Clynnog Fawr © Copyright Chris Andrews and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. St Beuno's from cemetery © Copyright Kate Jewell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.