OS grid reference SJ 0788 4341. Near the centre of the little town of Corwen, in the Dee Valley, beside Chapel street and London road (A5) – stands the parish church of St Mael and St Sulien, a building that dates back to the 12th-15th centuries, although there was an earlier, Norman church on this site as far back as the 12th century and, probably even further back to the 6th century AD. The church houses a small collection of antiquities that are well worth viewing. In the porch there is a strange-shaped stone in the wall that could pre-date the church, and above the priest’s door a flat stone bearing an incised cross; also an ancient font and medieval tomb. Out in the churchyard a Celtic cross-shaft stands upon a pre-historic stone base that has what are ‘considered to be’ cup-markings. The town of Llangollen is 11 miles to the east on the A5, while the historic town of Ruthin lies some 10 miles to the north along the winding A494 road.
The first church, whether that be in the 6th century or the 11th century, according to legend, it was built where a large and ancient pointed stone stood – as it could not be built eleswhere because a “voice” from a higher place (not of this world) had warned against it. At some stage this large pointed stone 6 feet in length was incorporated into the wall of the north porch, but it is difficult to see it today as the porch has been plastered over. Local people called it the ‘Thumb Stone’ or ‘Pointed Stone’. It could well pre-date the church and be pre-historic in date. It is also known in Welsh as ‘Carreg y big yn y fach rhewllyd’ or “the pointed stone in the icy corner.” On the outer south wall of the church, above the priest’s door, a large flat stone lintel has an incised Celtic-style consecration cross carved onto it, possibly dating from the early Christian period. Local people believed that this mark was actually the impression made by Owain Glyndwr’s dagger when he hurled it at the church in a fit of rage from Pen-y-Pigyn hill overlooking the town; and ever since it has been referred to as ‘Glyndwr’s Dagger Stone’. Glyndwr (1349-c.1445) led the Welsh in a revolt against King Henry IV. A few others have suggested the dagger or spear was thrown by Owain, King of Gwynedd, from Caer Drewyn in the 12th century? Also in the church a Norman font of circa 1100, a dug-out wooden chest and a beautifully carved 14th century memorial tomb to Iorweth Sulien, a prevoius rector of the church.
In the round-shaped churchyard near the porch stands a slender Celtic preaching cross-shaft, dating from between the 9th to 12th centuries, which sadly, has a broken head. It is made of granite and is 7 foot (2.2) metres high. There is interlacing on the broken cross-head (capital) and some other decoration on the shaft, including a small incised Latin cross. The cross stands on a large, circular (octagonal) base-stone that is 5 foot 3 inches in diameter and 1 foot in depth; this stone is ‘thought’ to date back to the Bronze-Age and has what are considered to be 7 depressions or cup-marks (is this the only cup-marked stone in Wales), quite possibly, and could it have come from a pre-historic burial site that once stood in the churchyard or close by? where there was originally an alignment of stones.
The dedicatees of the church St Mael and St Sulien were, according to the Legend, Christian missionaries who came to Wales from Brittany in 516 AD along with St Cadfan, St Padarn, St Cynllo and St Tydecho. However, it is quite plausable St Mael never existed at all because Corwen church now adopts St Michael the Archangel as it’s second patron, in a way dropping St Mael, although the name is very similar. But St Sulien is remembered in north Wales – indeed he was the cousin of St David. Sulien or Silian went on to establish a number of churches in northern Wales, including Llansilin and Llandyssil in Powys and Capel-St-Silin in Cardiganshire, but over time he has become confused with another saint called Tysilio. In later life we are told: Sulien settled at Luxulyan in Cornwall but returned to Brittany and died there. He has a feastday on the 13th May. At Tyn Llan near Llansilin, Powys, there is a holy well named for him (Ffynnon Silin) and there is a St Sulien’s holy well (Ffynnon Sulien) near Rug Chapel – west of Corwen on the A494 road.
Barber, Chris., More Mysterious Wales, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1987.
Gregory, Donald., Country Churchyards In Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Capel Garmon, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, 1991.
Jones, Francis., The Holy Wells Of Wales., University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1992.
Spencer, Ray., Historic Places In Wales – An Exploration of the Fascinating and Mysterious (unpublished manuscript), Nelson, Lancashire, 1991.
Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints Of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Publishers, Felinfach, Lampeter, Dyfed, 1991.