A History of St Cattwg’s Church, Port Eynon

Port Eynon took its name from the busy village port which had developed in the south west corner of Gower. The church is dedicated to St Cattwg of Llancarfarn and the site is thought to have been a llan founded in the C6 by his missionary to Gower, St Cenydd. The first church on the present site dates from the late C12 and was yet another Gower church whose patron was the Knights Hospitallers of St John before the revenues passed to the Crown in the C16.

A few surviving features from the pre-C19 history of the church can still be seen. The piscina or basin set in the south wall of the chancel has Celtic circular decoration, suggesting that it was once part of an earlier church on the site. Nearby in the chancel is a walled-up recess, partly covered by the wall of the chancel arch. The main doorway with its semi-circular head is C16, as is the carved stone heraldic shield set in the wall above the pulpit. The holy water stoup in the porch is thought to have been donated by a Spanish sea captain in gratitude for his rescue. The C14 font is reputed to be a gift from the Abbot of Llantwit Major. Outside on the chancel’s south wall is the outline of a mediaeval lancet window, thought to have been that of a leper’s squint. The elegant design served as a model for the windows when the church was first restored in 1861.

At that time the Norman style chancel arch was altered to the pointed arch we see today, with the addition of a low pointed arch on its north side leading to the pulpit. The gallery was removed from the nave so that the west end could be enlarged to accommodate the growing population of the parish. The cost was borne almost entirely by C R M Talbot of Penrice Castle and the second restoration in 1901 was funded by his daughter Miss Emily Talbot, whose generosity can be seen in several Gower churches. She also presented the church with an oak altar, designed by Jones and Willis of Birmingham and beautifully carved by the Revd. J D Davies, the Rector of Llanmadoc. The lectern and altar rails are dedicated to the memory of those from the parish who gave their lives in both World Wars whilst the pulpit and supra altar commemorate the members of the crew of the 1916 lifeboat disaster. A recent gift is the jesmonite crucifix by the well known Welsh sculptor, Peter Nicholas of Horton, presented to the church by the artist in 2009.

The Port Eynon-Horton lifeboat. Detail from the Royal National Lifeboat Institute Window at St Cattwg’s Church.
Colwyn Morris, Glantawe Studios, 1995. Photo© Martin Crampin.

An unusual feature of the church is the absence of both East and West windows; instead a large wooden cross hangs on the east wall as a focal point. The chancel is lit by a pair of trefoil lights in stained glass, depicting the figures of the Celtic saints, David and Illtyd on the north side and Cenydd and Cattwg on the south. They were given in 1956 by parishioners and friends in memory of Revd F Atterbury Thomas, Rector from 1914 to 1953. Since then St Cattwg’s has become noted for having a number of distinguished modern stained glass windows, designed by Swansea’s internationally renowned Celtic Studios (1956,1962 and 1968) and Glantawe Studios (1995 and 1996). Beside their inspiring quality as Christian art, the windows reflect the resent social history of the area, including honouring those who died in two world wars, commemorating local benefactors and paying tribute to the work of the Port Eynon-Horton lifeboat service.

The bellcote at the west end houses two bells which were recast in the 1990’s, One is engraved with J&PB for the bellfounders, Jeffries and Price of Bristol.

In1860 the well-known C19 water colourist, Edward Duncan began spending summers in nearby Horton and left a record of fine local views of the Swansea and Gower coast and its activities. Several of his descendents continued to live in Gower including two granddaughters who lived in Horton until the 1960’s. They were very active in the church and gave the vestry in memory of their parents in 1932. They are commemorated in one of the stained glass windows.

The North transept had become the ‘Schoolroom’ but a recent project has transformed the area into comfortable seating for meetings and a kitchen facility. Every Saturday morning this becomes the very popular ‘Caffi Cattwg’ for the community and especially for the many visitors.

The churchyard has a curved perimeter wall, suggesting the outline of the original llan for early Celtic worship. Near the road, the prominent white marble statue of a lifeboatman was erected by public subscription to commemorate the three crew members who died but also to give thanks for the ten survivors of the Port Eynon lifeboat disaster on 1st January 1916.

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