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St. Peter Ad Vincula Church
Pennal, Wales

Photographs copyright 2004 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

Above: General view of the church.

The medieval church of St. Peter Ad Vincula lies in the beautiful village of Pennal in western Wales. The church was founded in the 6th century by Celtic missionaries from Brittany. It is the only church in Wales dedicated to Saint Peter in Chains (ad Vincula), whose story can be found in the Acts of the Apostles XII. Although its history spans some 1500 years, the church is most famous for its association with Owain Glyndwr, who came to Pennal in 1406. Here Glyndwr composed his famous "Penal Letter," discussed below, a copy of which is found in the church. The church also features a large oil painting depicting Glyndwr's visit to Pennal.

Lying close by is the medieval castle of Domen Las, which today consists of a worn, tree-covered motte overlooking a ploughed-under bailey resting peacefully in a farmer's field. Local legend says that when Glyndwr visited Pennal in 1406 he also visited and issued orders from the castle. My wife and I visited Pennal in April of 2004, and the information found below is taken from several brochures found inside the church.

Jeffrey L. Thomas

 

Founded in the sixth century AD by St Tannwg and St Eithrias, Celtic missionaries from Armorica (Brittany), Pennal Church spans the history of a national church which struggled hard to preserve its identity for over 1500 years. Its history reflects its encounter with the Latin and English churches in addition to the Protestant Reformation. It regained its independence in 1920 and in recent years some of its members have begun to look again at its roots within the Orthodox tradition. The Oval Churchyard wall surrounding the church is one of the most perfect specimens remaining in the country and suggests that the site may have been a pre-Christian shrine. The south side was totally rebuilt in 1991 when the road was widened. The church has won many awards for its heritage and conservation work.

The Church was rededicated towards the end of the eleventh century by the Norman Conquerors. In spite of its sixteenth century characteristics, today's church is a typical example of a Victorian restoration.

The church also commemorates the Great Court of Princes held in the village at the beginning of the fifteenth century, and Aneurin Jones's painting of this event, the last Assembly of an independent Wales, is a worthy addition to Prince Owain Glyndwr's 'Chapel Royal' of 1406.

Built to the Glory of God, the church is full of artifacts, carvings and paintings which reflect the skill and dedication of craftsmen and women. It is open daily for prayer and worship, meditation and relaxation, and is part of Pennal's Heritage Centre. Enjoy your visit.

Thirteen Things you Never Knew About Pennal Church

  1. It is the only church in Wales dedicated to the memory of Saint Peter in Chains ("ad Vincula" is Latin for "in bonds"). The story is to be found in Acts of the Apostles XII.

  2. The Chapel Royal in the Tower of London is a sister church, as well as the Church in Rome that houses Michaelangelo's statue of Moses.

  3. Stones and bricks (reddish pieces embedded in a whitish cement) from the first century Roman Fort nearby Cefn Caer, were used to rebuild the church over the centuries.

  4. Lleucy Llwyd (Lucy Lloyd), the Welsh "Juliet", was buried in the church in 1390, under the alter.

  5. Pennal became a parish church in its own right in 1683, the first rector was Maurice Jones. The longest surviving incumbent was Lewis Thomas, scholar, 1726-1780.

  6. In its 300 years as a parish, the church has been rebuilt four times. In 1700, 1761, 1810 and 1873. The cost of rebuilding in 1761 was 1,270.

  7. One person buried in the Oval Churchyard is a gentleman of Warwick, William Shakespeare!

  8. The church retains much of its sixteenth century character, including some of its original roof timbers, the oak pews and handsome carved pulpit.

  9. Thirteen years after the death of Llewelyn the Great whose wife Joan was daughter of King John, Pennal church was mentioned in the 1253 TAXATIO along with eight other Merionethshire churches.

  10. During Lent 1406 Pennal Church was Prince Owain Glyndwr's Chapel Royal. The Pennal Letter was probably signed in the church.

  11. Throughout the Middle Ages, Pennal was one of three chapels-of-ease that came under the care of Tywyn Church, the other two being Llanfihangel-y-Pennant and Llanfair (Tal-y-Llyn).

  12. The Green Man in the East Window is the only stained glass version of this ancient figure in any church or chapel in Wales, and probably also in England.

  13. The church also has links with the Syrian Oriental Orthodox Church and monastery of St Mark's in Jerusalem (site of the "Upper Room"), the house that St Peter went to after being liberated from his chains.

 

The church features many items of historical interest, including:

Following the example of his illustrious ancestor, Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great), who summoned his Council of Chiefs to the mouth of the River Dovey in 1216, it was the Merionethshire village of Pennal, during Lent 1406, that Prince Owain Glyndwr presided over the last Assembly of an independent Wales. Inheritor of the mantle of King Arthur, Owain was the last Welsh Pendragon, was crowned "Prince of Wales by the Grace of God" in 1404. Supported by his outlawed clerics and the nobles and princes of his race, Owain drew up a policy for the Welsh nation and its Church. Known for posterity as The Pennal Policy, it was a radical programme, breathtaking in its breadth of vision, which to this day continues to capture and fire the imagination.

Below: Aneurin Jones' painting "The Welsh Assembly of 1406".


Additional photographs of the church.
(Click on the thumbnail photos to view the full-sized image.)

The church of St. Peter Ad Vincula is found in the beautiful village of Pennal. This is a view of the village from near Domen Las Castle.
Exterior view of the church through the main entrance.
View of the recently-landscaped cemetery.
Interior view of the church looking towards the main alter.
View of the interior looking from the alter towards the back of the church.
Close-up of the beautiful stained glass window above the alter.
View of a stained glass window with bust of Glyndwr below. The bust is draped in a cloth bearing Glyndwr's standard.
Larger photograph of "The Welsh Assembly of 1406" by Aneurin Jones.
Street scene of Pennal near the church.
Additional view of Pennal.

 

Visit the Owain Glyndwr page at the Castles of Wales web site
Return to the abbey index at the Castles of Wales web site

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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas