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St Mary's Church, Brongwyn

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Map ReferenceSN24SE
Grid ReferenceSN2874943677
Unitary (Local) AuthorityCeredigion
Old CountyCardiganshire
Type Of SiteCHURCH
St Mary's Church is situated within a rectilinear churchyard, bounded by a road on its south side and a track on its west side. Some 120m to the south-south-west, adjacent to where the road crosses the Gwenffrwd, is a dwelling named Porth-y-fynwent ('cemetary bridge'). The church was formerly a chapelry to Penbryn parish, but by 1833 was Brongwyn parish church. It is thought to stand on the site of a medieval church belonging to the Deanery of Sub-Aeron and is known to have been established by the seventeenth century. The church was formerly known as Betws Ithel. The fact that there is no hagiographical record of a St Ithel suggests that it may have been the 'chapel of the sons of Ithael' that was granted to Talley Abbey around 1200, but there is also a possibility that the reference may relate to Llanannerch Chapel.

The church lies in an isolated location above the valley of Nant Gwrog. It is a small, single chambered church which reflects the largely forgotten first phase of church rebuilding in the early nineteenth century when many decaying churches were cheaply rebuilt. A simple box with pointed windows, rebuilt in 1828 by John Morris. A cheap restoration of 1875 added bellcote, timber tracery and the west porch/vestry, and also the thin roof and matchboard panelling. The church now consists of three-bayed nave and chancel, constructed of limestone rubble, the west porch/vestry of two bays constructed of slate rubble.

Sources include:
Cambria Archaeology, Churches Gazetteer (2000).
T.Lloyd, J.Orbach & R.Scourfield, Buildings of Wales: Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion (2006), p.441. (images)

RCAHMW, 3 July 2015

St Mary's Brongwyn is a redundant church of medieval origin currently (June 2017) offered for sale. The church has an elevated siting with the ground dropping steeply to the S, W & E between road and river. The graveyard is well filled with interesting memorials; several late C18th gravestones flank the south wall of the church.
The church is a C19th remodelling of the earlier church: `a simple box with pointed windows?, but retaining a significant amount of earlier masonry. The coursed rubble walls have a significant (four-inch) batter and ragged footings. Pointed windows were inserted in the C19th and the walls lime plastered/rendered. The render has weathered away revealing blocked earlier windows in the centre of the south wall and (less certainly) in the north wall and with a lower E window. The earlier windows were flat-headed, possibly post-Reformation.
The Buildings of Wales: Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire (2006 ), p. 441, supplies details of the C19th work: the church was rebuilt in 1828 by John Morris. The single chamber without structural division between nave and chancel probably reflects the earlier plan. A `cheap restoration? of 1875 added bellcote, timber tracery with coloured glass in the E window, and W porch/vestry. The numbered pews (1-13), and the pulpit (N) and desk belong to this phase as does the stepped chancel, altar rail and quarry tile floor. The five C19th collar-beam trusses are archbraced with V-struts and may replicate what was there earlier.

Bell and font have been removed. A C19th fireproof iron box for registers etc remains between pulpit and chancel. There is a single memorial inside the church on the W wall: an oval slate plaque to Thomas Jones of Newcastle and Postuma his wife (both ? 1796) erected by their son, another Thomas Jones of Newcastle [Emlyn]. Traces of the original colouring (white letters, gilded oval border) remain.

Brongwyn was a chapel attached to Pembryn. Early references (collected by Iwan Wmffre) sometimes refer to it as `Betws Ithel?. The element 'betws' probably denotes a pre-conquest chapel. The farm to the S is called `Porth-y-fynwent?, suggesting that Brongwyn had a significant cemetery. The archaeological potential of this site must be regarded as high. See further Cadw Historic Churches Project: Ceredigion Churches (DAT 48, 2000), which notes a section of walling to the E. of the present chancel.

Visited 28 June 2017
Richard Suggett/RCAHMW/30 June 2017.