A History of St Madoc’s Church, Llanmadoc

Llanmadoc Church, dedicated to the Celtic saint Madoc, is one of the smallest church in Gower and evidence suggests that it was the site of the earliest Christian community in the peninsula. Set in the window sill of the south wall of the nave is a late C5 or early C6 Latin-inscribed memorial stone of red sandstone, commemorating Advectus, son of Gvanus. In recesses on the west wall are two other early Christian stones dating from the C7 – C9. The first is a quadrangular block of red stone, engraved on one side with a Latin cross and on the other a large cross with a circle at the intersection. The second is a broken pillar cross which may have been an old churchyard cross.

With the arrival of the Earl of Warwick early in the C12 the living was presented to the military Order of the Knights Templers who protected pilgrim routes during the Crusades and were the first mobile bankers. After the end of the Crusades in 1321, the Order was suppressed in 1312 and the living was given to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem until the Reformation when it passed to the Crown.

The present building dates from the C13 and consists of a chancel, nave, western tower and south porch but owing to the extensive C19 restoration few features remain from earlier centuries. The chancel arch is semi-circular and the doorway to the rood loft can be seen to its left. Some lancet windows remain and the square shaped font is thought to be C12 but the base is modern. The tower has a saddleback roof within a parapet and houses a single bell, dated 1675 and is thought to have been cast in the churchyard by itinerant bell-founders.

Much of the fabric of the present structure is the result of a C19 major restoration. The latter was realised as a result of the vision and contribution of the notable Rector from 1860 to 1911, the Revd. J D Davies. On arrival he described the church’s conditions as ‘deplorable’ and quickly initiated a restoration which began in 1865, was completed by 1866 and the cost was borne entirely by him. His own work can be seen in the magnificent carved oak altar frontal as well as on a fine wall panel and many candlesticks, one of which was given to every bridal couple. His craft work can be seen in generous donations he made to several Gower churches.

The restoration included rebuilding several areas – much of the south side of the nave, the greater part of the east wall of the chancel as well as of the tower. New windows were installed at the east end and in the south wall of the nave, as well as a new roof and pulpit of pine, inlaid with walnut, and a new floor of red and black tiles. During the work traces of the mediaeval wall paintings were discovered under several coats of whitewash.

With support from local landowning families, particularly the Talbots of Penrice and Starling Benson of Fairy Hill, the Revd. J D Davies was the first priest to introduce to Gower the principles of the Oxford Movement which emphasized the Catholic element in the Church of England. This brought richer ceremonial, a surpliced choir (he was a very gifted musician and choirmaster) and he wore the clerical dress of an Anglo-Catholic priest – cassock, sash and biretta. He influenced Starling Benson in funding a day school on Llanmadoc Hill and took full responsibility for its management and finances. The school was very successful and finally closed in 1935 but its ruin can still be seen today. In addition to his vision, knowledge, skills and energy, above all J D Davies was remembered as a ’most loveable man’. He died in 1911. On the north wall of the chancel he is commemorated on a brass plaque erected by his grateful parishioners and a hundred years later he is still revered in Llanmadoc, Cheriton and the villages he served.

The design of Llanmadoc Rectory nearby, in a distinctive Alpine style with its high roof and overhanging eaves, is said to have been influenced by the Rector’s holiday in Switzerland and possible contact with the famous French architect Viollet-le-Duc. To those interested in Gower’s history Revd. J D Davies is known widely for his four- volume ‘History of West Gower’ which is a fascinating miscellany of information, accurate topographical details and many tales from seven Parishes. Copies can still be found in some local families and are highly collectable.

Valerie Beynon
June 2021

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