Simple, stark, sad yet sturdy, this ruined chapel in Cadw guardianship is resilient in fresh sunlight on the day after Storm Doris wrought havoc over North Wales. Situated in Moelfre parish on the east coast of Anglesey, the ruin dates back to at least the early 12th-century. You reach it via a single field from the nearest road.
By the roadside parking spaces there is a new heritage board bearing art by John Swogger. It explains what you can see in the landscape, not only this chapel but a triad of monuments: the other two being a Romano-British village and a Neolithic dolmen. Frances Lynch sums it up neatly by saying:
…it is a small roofless chapel with no recorded history or architectural pretension; but a surprisingly complex sequence of building may be read in its walls.
The Phasing of the Building
Here’s the presumed sequence, although I’m unsure how precisely the dating is workedout from this phasing:
- The doorway on the south side, plus the bases of the walls are 12th century.
- The nave and chancel occupy a single space and are the result of 14th-century rebuilding. The gabled bellcote might date back to the Middle Ages; it reminds me of St Trinians on the Isle of Man;
- There is also a base for a cross of unknown date within the chapel, possibly medieval in date;
- The south chapel seem to have been added in the 16th century, seemingly as a burial chapel for the Pierce Lloyd family of Lligwy. There is a vault reached by stone steps down through the floor, now empty;
- The church retained its associations until the 18th century after which it was let fall into dereliction. Presumably around this time the windows were blocked.
Adding to this is the churchyard. If this was a chapel of ease, was this ever a focus of burial? Presumably not, but if not, why not? The site never achieved parochial status so presumably burials were never systematically added to the site. However, if not, then why the large rectangular churchyard? Likewise, Coflein describe the vault in the southern chapel as a burial vault, so this site must have possessed a funeral function.
Summarising the archaeodeath component: this is another funerary site without any overt funerary traces. Was this a burial site and chapel long before the 12th century? When did the mortuary dimenions of this site begin, and what scale did they reach? There are hints – the size of the churchyard and the vault – of a sustained funerary association serving a dipersed rural population from the Middle Ages well into the modern era. Yet as with so many chapels and churches both ruined and extant, while seductively familiar and ‘known’, the details of their funerary functions and significances are often obscure.
Lynch, F. 1995. A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales: Gwynedd, Cardiff: Cadw
Yates, M. J. and Longley, D. 2001. Anglesey: A Guide to Ancient Monuments on the Isle of Anglesemy. Third Edition, Cardiff: Cadw.