Friday, August 9, 2013

The Removal, Reassembly and Reconstruction of St Teilo’s Church

Judith Arnopp

All over Wales you will find ancient medieval churches, many of them in out of the way places, the sole reminder of a once thriving rural community. St. Teilo’s church in Llandeilo Talybont was just such a building. 

Saint Teilo was from Penalun in Pembrokeshire, a British Christian monk, bishop and founder of monasteries and churches. ‘Llandeilo Talybont’ translates as 'the church of St.Teilo at the head of the bridge' and refers to the first crossing point of the river near the Roman fort of Leucarum. The site of the church, on a tidal marsh, gives it the local name of 'the Church of St.Teilo on the Marsh'.  

Although worship at the site dates back to the 6th century the only remaining parts date to the 13th century. Additions were made in the late 14th century and further alterations added to the south of the nave in the 15th.   Mercifully it was left untouched by the Victorians. 

 Graveyard at the old site of St. Teilo's - photograph Hywel Williams
The church was cared for, cherished, the hub of village life and in constant use until 1852 when a new, larger parish church was built in the expanding town of Pontarddulais.  Services continued to be held at Talybont, three times a year until 1971. Built on marsh land, St Teilo’s was always vulnerable and when in the autumn of 1984 thieves made off with the roof slates, rain and periodic flooding quickly undermined the fabric of the walls, leaving the church in ruin.

Local societies and groups fought to save the building but access made repairing it on site very difficult and in the end, when the Welsh Folk Museum became involved, it was decided to dismantle the church, stone by stone, and relocate it to the museum at St. Fagans.

St Teilo's reconstructed - photograph by Wolfgang Sauber
I was sceptical about this at first. Although the motives of the museum were noble, I feared the restoration might result in a horrific Disneyfication of our medieval past. I have now come to review that idea and confess that the positives far outnumber the negatives.

The earliest painting (circa 1400) depicts St. Catherine, while scenes from the Passion and a large painting of St Christopher were added around 1500 and painted over during the Reformation. They were photographed and recorded by the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in Wales and then a team of Archaeologists from Cardiff University began work to conserve them. Once the paintings were recorded and preserved the church was carefully measured and slowly dismantled, each stone numbered. It must have been a nervous moment for the mason who removed the first stone for, at the time, St Teilo’s was the only church to have been reassembled on another site.

Photograph by Wolfgang Sauber
The project, which took twenty years, brought together Wales’ greatest craftsmen and during reconstruction only medieval techniques were used (where health and safety permitted). This involved pit sawing, splitting and adzing of timbers, carving the arch-braced collar beams, mixing the lime and finally reapplying the wall paint.

The church now provides an excellent resource for students, writers, historians. It is refurbished to an approximation of its appearance around the year 1530, complete with all the elements associated with a late medieval church, including a rood screen and loft, altars, carvings and brightly coloured interior.

The rood loft - photographed by Wolfgang Sauber
St Fagan’s, now known as The Museum of Welsh Life, is a fascinating place with over forty buildings making it possible for visitors to travel through time, passing through furnished homes and businesses from different historical periods. For me, of course, the church of St. Teilo has to be favourite. To arrange your visit click on the link below.

Judith Arnopp writes historical fiction including

The Song of Heledd
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The Forest Dwellers
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All Judith's books are available as paperback or on Kindle. She is currently working on a novel about Anne Boleyn, The Kiss of the Concubine will be available soon. for more information please visit her webpage:


  1. Wonderful article. Thanks for sharing Judith.

    Here's something you may be interested in:

    'The re-opening of St Teilo’s Church, 1879'
    on my website Freaky Folk Tales:

    Kind regards, Paul

  2. More information here:

    Freaky Folk Tales, a collection of macabre, supernatural and amusing tales, from the haunting of ancestral homes to the malignancy of inanimate objects. It also features rare illustrations and artwork inspired by the Victorian era.

    Thanks, Paul

  3. I enjoyed your post very much, Judith. I would love to visit St Fagan's-it sounds fascinating.


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