Wednesday 4 April 2018

A Visit to Llanrwst (or, the Missing Prince and the Empty Coffin)

Llanrwst is an old market town close to where I live. I've often driven through it, mainly on my way to somewhere else, and although Gwydir Castle and Tu Hwnt I'r Bont are two of my favourite places, I've never really stopped to explore. So last weekend, when the 'kids' were home for the holidays, we decided to stop for a longer visit.

Pont Fawr and Tu Hwnt I'r Bont
The view of Llanrwst everyone always recognises is the famous Pont Fawr bridge and the tearooms beside it. The photo above was taken on Saturday and it was pouring with rain, as you can probably tell. Here's one I took a couple of years back, which might make it a little more recognisable!

Tu Hwnt I'r Bont
Pont Fawr was originally built in 1636 and is attributed to Inigo Jones. The Tu Hwnt I'r Bont Tearooms beside it were originally a 17th century courthouse - and they serve the best scones ever! (I've previously blogged about Tu Hwnt I'r Bont here.)

Inside Tu Hwnt I'r Bont
Fortified against the weather by coffee and scones, we walked around the town and ended up in Church Street beside the Almshouses. These were built in 1610 by Sir John Wynn of Gwydir Castle, originally to 'shelter twelve poor men', but by the 18th century women were allowed to live here too. The last resident moved out in the 1970s and the buildings became derelict until being restored in 2000.

The Almshouses (on the right)
From the Almshouses we passed beneath an archway into the the graveyard of St Grwst Church, which is right beside the River Conwy. St Grwst was a holy man who lived in the area in the 6th century.  The church was built in the late 1400s but burned down during the Wars of the Roses (in revenge for Denbigh Castle being set on fire), before being rebuilt. The Gwydir Chapel was added onto the side by Richard Wynn of Gwydir Castle - see the crenellated roof. Like the bridge, it is also thought to have been designed by Inigo Jones.  

The Church of St Grwst
Inside the church, the nave and chancel are divided by a medieval rood screen, complete with musician's loft, which is almost as old as the church. This was taken from Maenan Abbey after the dissolution of the monasteries. Apologies for the poor quality photo - my camera isn't great and it was a bit dark. You'll have to take my word that it was amazing!

The Rood Screen
One of the reasons I was so keen to visit this church was that the Gwydir Chapel contains a stone sarcophagus that supposedly once held the body of Llywelyn the Great (Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd). Llywelyn had originally  been buried at Aberconwy Abbey in 1240, but when King Edward I built Conwy Castle the Abbey was forced to move to Maenan in the Conwy Valley. The legend says that the monks took Llywelyn's remains with them to the new abbey. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, the now empty sarcophagus ended up in the possession of the Wynn family before being moved to the Gwydir Chapel.

Llywelyn's Sarcophagus
Beside the sarcophagus is a stone effigy of a knight. This is thought to be Howell ap Coetmor, who died in 1538. He was a commander of longbowmen under Edward, the Black Prince, at the Battle of Poitiers. He was the first recorded owner of the nearby Gwydir Castle, later sold to the Wynn family, who also have many monuments on the walls of the chapel.

Howell ap Coetmor's effigy

Monument to the Wynn family

Related Posts:

A Grave Obsession: The Church of St Mary's and All Saints, Conwy
Castles and Cream Teas: (Includes Gwydir Castle, Llanrwst)