The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


St Beuno’s Church, Culbone, Somerset

SS8320 4735. Hidden away in a wooded valley or combe along the winding South-West Coast Path 2 miles west of Porlock is the smallest parish church in England, if not in Britain, at the secluded, tiny hamlet of Culbone (Kil Beun or Kil Benn). It’s lovely little church is dedicated to the 7th century Welsh saint, Beuno. The church can only seat about 30 people at any one time, and even that’s a tight squeeze! The original name was Kitnor – meaning ‘hillslope frequented by kites’.

Culbone Church The smallest complete medieval ...

Culbone Church The smallest complete medieval English church in frequent use (10.7m x 3.7m). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The chancel measures 13 feet by 10 feet and the 15th century re-roofed nave 21 feet by 12 feet – a total length of 35 feet altogether. Its walls are 2 foot thick. St Beuno’s church site dates back from before the Norman conquest though the present building is 12th century. There is a nice 13th century porch and a very fine Saxon two-light window, cut from a single block of stone, with a carved face of a leopard set in low relief. The font is probably 11th century but its pedestal is Victorian. In the north wall there is a lepers’ squint hole. Outside in the churchyard stands a preaching cross with a 15th century base. Despite being hidden away the church at Culbone is still a place of pilgrimage for many visitors – they are seemingly not deterred by the 2 mile trek.

On Culbone Hill 2 miles to the south-west (on private land) stands the 1 metre high ‘Culbone Stone’ once part of a stone row that stood close by. Carved on the stone is an incised wheel-cross that dates from the 7th-9th century AD, the stone itself being of pre-historic origins. St Beuno probably preached at this stone when he lived for a while in the valley before starting his missionary work in mid and north Wales, or could the church here at Culbone be dedicated to a St Coulban of Brittany?


St Trinian’s Chapel, Marown, Isle of Man

SC3177 8023. The roofless medieval chapel of St Trinian stands in a field at the foot of Greeba Hill just to the north of the A1 Douglas to Peel road about three-quarters of a mile west of Crosby in the parish of Marown. Originally dedicated to the 4th century Scottish saint, Ninian, but later the name changed to Trinian. The 14th century chapel stands on the site of a Keeill – an ancient manx name for chapel – indeed the site is also called Keeill Brisht meaning “broken church”.

It seems that an ancient burial ground and a chapel stood here from the 6th-10th century, but then sometime between 1200-1230 a medieval chapel was established on the raised circular site as a dependancy of the priory of St Ninian at Wigtown, Galloway, Scotland, but that building fell down so another chapel had to be constructed. However, according to local legend, a buggane (evil giant or goblin of manx folklore) kept blowing the roof off and so eventually the chapel was left alone without any roof – just as it is today.

The roofless chapel measures 73 feet by 19 feet with the gable (belltower) some 21 foot in height; the walls are 2-3 feet thick. The nave and chancel survive as does the gable-ended belltower and a rather broken altar. Some of the capitals show ugly carved human heads. Inside the ruin there are a number of incised stone-slabs from the 10th-11th century. One has a thin cross within a circle, perhaps a grave-slab, another has a rather worn cross on it, while a third stone has what is probably a runic inscription on its face.

St Trinian’s Chapel, Isle of Man


St Tecla’s Chapel, Beachley, Gloucestershire

OS Grid Reference: ST5484 9002. On a tiny island in the Severn estuary about half a mile south-west of Beachley, near the Severn bridge, stands an ancient ruined chapel that was originally dedicated to St Tecla (Treacla) and, later to St Triog, Rioc or Twrog. The island called Chapel Rock is frequently cut off by the dangerous tidal waters of the estuary and access can only be had when the tide has gone out. The ruined chapel, now only a few walls and an archway, dates from the 13th century, although there was a older chapel on this site back in the so called ‘Dark Ages’. Inside the ruins there is a holy well that was once well-known for its healing properties. In the 1540s the chapel was abandoned and left to crumble away, the people were now fed up of having to wade across the estuary and sometimes even having to stay on the island for many hours when they were caught out by the fast, incoming tides.

View of Chapel Rocks [Copyright Wikipedia]

Little is known about St Tecla who was, according to legend, a 4th-5th century princess from Gwynedd, north Wales, and daughter of an unidentified Romano-British king or chieftain called Requli or Reguli. St Tecla became an anchoress on the island after abandoning her father’s court in order to seek a religious life, but she was later murdered in her cell by sea pirates. She is probably the same saint who has a couple of churches dedicated to her in mid and north Wales (Llandegley), but her name has often been confused with a 1st century female saint called Thecla, who was a follower of St Paul the Apostle. In the 6th-7th century her cell was used by another Welsh saint called Triog or Twrog and it was he who kept a beacon burning on the island to warn sea vessels of the dangerous rocks (known locally as Chapel Rocks). Today a more modern solar-powered light house stands on the island.

But there was a 6th century St Tecla or Tecychius, who was a disciple of St Tatheus (Athan), according to author Bryan Walters, in his work ‘The Archaeology And History Of Ancient Dean And The Wye Valley’. So could the tiny island chapel and its holy well be dedicated to this saint?

Sources:

Barber, Chris., Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London, 1987.

Barber, Chris., More Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London, 1987.

Walters, Bryan., The Archaeology And History Of Ancient Dean And The Wye Valley, Thornhill Press, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 1992.