OS grid reference: SN 7520 7910. The little hamlet of Ysbyty Cynfyn is located in The Valley of Afon Rheidol between Devil’s Bridge and Ponterwyd in the parish of Llanbadarn Fawr, and in the shadow of the Rheidol and Plynlimon Ranges, western Powys. It is a 19th century church, but its sacred churchyard stands inside a prehistoric stone circle; the actual churchyard itself is partly circular which strongly suggests this is, and has been, a sacred site for thousands of years, and is often referred to by historians and antiquarians alike as Ysbyty Cynfyn Stone Circle. In the middle ages a monastic hospice run by the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem stood on the site of the present-day church, which is dedicated to St John the Baptist, though there isn’t much to see of that today – but hence we still have the place-name “Ysbyty” meaning ‘hospittum’ (hospice). The hospice cared for pilgrims making their way to St David’s. This must undoubtedly be seen as a something of a compromise between the Christian Church and the pagan world of standing stones, temples, ritual and magic – something the church had wanted to banish, but here the two ‘quietly’ came together and so, we have a church within an actual pagan stone circle, even if there’s not a great deal to see, only five stones remaining, today. Or could it be that the stones were just too big to move so the churchyard wall was built around them! Aberystwyth is 12 miles to the west on the A44 and Devil’s Bridge is 2 miles south on the A4120 road.
Ysbyty Cynfyn church is located about 80 metres west of the A4120 road, beside Temple farm. Today only five stones remain of the former circle set on a low earthen bank that is said to date from the Bronze-Age, around 1,500 BC; however the remaining stones seem to blend in well with the churchyard wall, indeed two thin slab-stones now act as gateposts at the eastern entrance and, there is at least one recorded account that says there is a faint ‘Christianised’ carving on one of these? A large lump of quartz-stone on the top of the wall next to the gateposts looks interesting! The other two stones, also at the eastern-side, are very big in many ways both in height and girth, but whether they are in their originals positions is open to question? Two large, quite bulky standing stones fit ‘nicely’ into the wall surrounding the churchyard, while a third one stands at the back of the church (north-side) adjoining the wall and gravestones and is 3.4 metres (11 feet) high and about half as much in width; this particular stone would seem to be in its original position. Almost without a doubt there were other standing stones here long-ago, forming a proper circle, the site of what may have been, perhaps, a pagan temple used by druids for the purposes of ritual and magic. There are apparently a few ‘lost’ recumbant stones in the nearby fields – maybe these came from the stone circle?
In the little church of St John there’s a curious carved wooden font (1850) and on the wall a brass plaque in memory of local men who fell in the 2nd world war. The church dates from 1827. Over by the carpark there is a round-shaped well with a ‘warning notice’ saying: “this water is not for drinking.” Could this well have been used by the knights of St John and did it once have healing properties? To the north of the church upon the Rheidol, opposite Bryn Bras, are the remains of an old lead mine that was called Temple Mine and, 1 mile to the west close to Parson’s Bridge, at Dolgamfa, a Bronze-Age cairn circle can be seen.
Gregory, Donald., Country Churchyards In Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Capel Garmon, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, Wales, 1991.
Gregory, Donald., Wales Before 1066 – A Guide, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, 1992.
Houlder, Christopher., Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber & Faber, London, 1978.
Barber, Chris., Mysterious Wales, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1987.
Photo Credit: © Copyright Penny Mayes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Photo Credit:© Copyright Penny Mayes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
April 5, 2014 at 11:34 am
Fantastic! A church within a stone circle! I am heavily into all things Neolithic – especially stone circles (there are over a dozen within 10 miles of where I live – nr Ilkley moor) but I have never heard of a church being inside of one!
April 5, 2014 at 8:14 pm
Thanks very much indeed for your comment about Ysbyty Cynfyn, yes it’s an intresting place there are a few others like this in Wales. There is a very large stone inside the churchyard at Rudston, north yorks. I have wanted to go to Ilkley Moor for many years but have not been able to as I can’t drive. I remember going when I was a lad and sitting atop the Cow and Calf rock, though I didn’t have a camera then. I know Paulus likes that area and has wrote much about it. If I do a site page for one of the cup-marked rocks could I borrow one of your photos. Would credit you etc, obviously. Best wishes and keep up the great photography! Ray.
April 5, 2014 at 8:37 pm
Thanks Ray – I would be flattered! I was on Ilkley moor a couple of weeks ago with Paulus – an amazing guy and he has a vast wealth of knowledge of all things Neolithic. I think there are more cup & rings and circles on Ilkley moor than anywhere in England – so we are very lucky. New art is discovered almost weekly up there, as well as stone circles and a fire on the moors a few years ago has burnt off most of the heather and really allowed the moor to give up much more secrets!