Compiled by Noel Walley

Saint Tudno and Blessed William Davies

Llandudno lies between two carboniferous headlands, the Great Orme and the Little Orme,
with the Irish Sea on one side and the estuary of the River Conwy on the other.
The beautiful Church of 'Our Lady Star of the Sea' (in the Catholic diocese of Wrexham)
was built in 1893 to serve the growing Catholic population in the area and
to minister to the many visitors to Llandudno. Click to visit the Church website.

The writer, a Roman Catholic, loves his adopted parish and its fine Gothic revival Church but also the ancient church of St. Tudno. The parish of Llandudno was an island in the ecclesiastical sense and virtually so in the geographical sense until the land reclamation of the early 19th century.

The ancient church of St Tudno (belonging to the diocese of Bangor - Anglican since the Reformation) lies in a hollow on the northern slopes of the Great Orme facing the Irish Sea and two miles from the modern town with its modern churches. These include the fine town-centre Church of the Holy Trinity, which is now the Anglican parish church; but three other Anglican churches in Llandudno (St. Beuno, St. George and the Church of Our Saviour) have been closed in recent years. Llandudno is surrounded on the landward side by the ancient diocese of Saint Asaph and its parish of Llanrhos with its churches of St Hilary, St Paul (Craig y Don, Llandudno) St David (Penrhyn Bay) and All Saints (Deganwy). Much of the modern town was formerly marshland without roads and the medieval Bishops of Bangor, with their palace at Gogarth on the western side of the Great Orme, had to visit by boat.

The Feast of Saint Tudno is celebrated each year on 5th June. 'Y Gwylmabsant' or the Patronal Festival was observed on the Great Orme on that date as late as 1813 (recorded in the Cambrian Traveller's Guide of 1813 as reported in 'The Old Churches of Snowdonia' by Harold Hughes & Herbert North, 1924 reprinted 1984).

Tudno is said to have been one of the seven sons of King Seithenyn whose legendary kingdom in Cardigan Bay was submerged by tidal activity. Each son in reparation for their father's neglect (so it was seen) studied in St. Dunawd's college at Bangor Iscoed. Later Tudno established the Church on Cyngreawdr (the great rock - the Great Orme). The Ogof Llech (a small cave on the headland, difficult of access, but with a clear spring of water) was Saint Tudno's cell.

Saint Tudno's ancient church (see photograph below) has been heavily restored many times until nothing remains from Tudno’s day. The church, built and rebuilt by Catholics over many centuries, achived its final form in the 15th century, before the onset of the reformation. The roof blew off in 1839 and it was not restored until 1855. The medieval wall paintings were all lost in the restorations of 1855 & 1906. The church now has a few ancient features, the font dates from the 12th century and there are early sepulchral stones. In the chancel is an ancient wooden beam bearing a carved serpent, and now being used as a wall plate above the north window. But there is also a remarkable medieval carved wooden roof boss high above the chancel step depicting the 'stigmata' or five wounds of Christ. Otherwise, most of the furnishings are modern. This stigmata emblem is an almost unique survival in Wales, only one other is known in a Welsh church and it is preserved at Saint Hilary's in the neighbouring parish of Llanrhos, where it is mounted on a wall plaque together with three other roof bosses carved with the traditional emblems of the evangelists Mark, Luke and John.

There are more pictures of Saint Tudno's Church at St Tudno's website.

The following history is from 'The Growth of a Parish - Glimpses over a Century', the Centenary booklet of 'Our Lady Star of the Sea' researched and written by Margaret Amiel and Sister Madeline Dunphy, published in 1993.

Since the Reformation there have been few records of Catholic households and the Priests who served them. English influence was very strong in the area, especially along the road to Holyhead, the main route to and from Ireland. Here the law was rigorously enforced which made it difficult for a Priest to minister to his people. Priests had to move secretly from one Catholic household to another and the penalties for discovery were cruel torture for the Priests themselves and also for the households who gave them food and shelter. Consequently many of the landed families drifted away from the practice of their religion, anxious to show their loyalty to the Crown, and safeguard their estates, by conforming to the latest wishes of the Queen.

It was here in Llandudno that Blessed William Davies worked. Father Davies was born in Croes yn Eirias, which is now part of Colwyn Bay. In those days it was a small hamlet included in the parish of Llandrillo yn Rhos. He was ordained Priest at Rheims in 1585 and was sent almost immediately, at his own request, to serve in the mission in North Wales where he knew the need for Priests was very great and where he was well aware of the dangers he faced. He had many friends in this area, people who had known him since boyhood, but, of course, the very secrecy of his movements means that few records are available of the families he served. However, it is known that he was a friend of Robert Pugh of Penrhyn and it is also known that they were linked together in an interesting and important event on the Little Orme.

From May 1586 life became even more difficult for Catholics. The Queen was incensed to learn that laws against 'recusants and obstinate persons in religion' had not been enforced. The local Magistrates were accused of negligence and ordered to condemn forthwith the unlawful assembly of Catholics. This was an order that could not be ignored, even by Magistrates sympathetic to Catholics, but a friendly warning was given to Robert Pugh and William Davies and they were able to escape, taking refuge, along with several others, in a cave on the Little Orme. They remained there in comparative safety for about nine months and even managed to produce a small book on a printing press they had hidden there. The book was ‘Y Drych Christianogawl’ – ‘The Christian Mirror’ and its importance lies in the fact that it was possibly the first book ever printed in Wales. In April 1587, the cave was discovered and the local Magistrate, Sir Thomas Mostyn, informed. He went to the cave with a large band of people but did not enter – preferring (so it was said) to wait until the following day. He left several of his own men on guard, but when morning came – it was found that all the cave dwellers had managed to escape!
Nothing more was known of Robert Pugh and William Davies until five years later, in March 1592, when they were arrested in Holyhead, Angelsey. They had gone there to assist four student Priests on their journey to Spain, but all six persons were arrested – Robert Pugh being the only one to escape. The others were thrown into Beaumaris Castle dungeons where Father Davies regularly said Mass. Beaumaris rapidly became a centre for all the Catholics of Angelsey.

William Davies was convicted at the next Beaumaris Assizes of being a Priest, but popular feeling was so strong in his favour that he was removed to Ludlow, where attempts were made to represent him as having conformed. When these attempts failed, he was sent to several other prisons, before eventually being returned to Beaumaris to be tried again. At the Assizes he was sentenced to death and put in the 'Black Alley' in Beaumaris Castle. When the day of his execution came, the deed had to be postponed until men from Chester could be hired to carry out the sentence. Not one person in Angelsey would have anything to do with it! William Davies was butchered on July 27th 1593, and parts of his body were affixed to the castle gateways of Beaumaris, Conwy The chapel in Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, and Caernarfon.

By the 17th Century the Creuddyn Peninsula (site of present day Llandudno) was almost the last refuge for Catholics in Caernarfonshire, but in spite of great bravery, fierce determination and great devotion to the Faith, Catholic families were simply not able to continue to support each other and their Priests in the face of such terrible oppression, and so the restoration of Catholicism in North Wales lapsed; for the time being it slumbered, awaiting the advent of more tolerant days when Priests and laity might once more openly celebrate their Faith.

The three hundredth anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr. William Davies occurred just days before the dedication of the present Llandudno Church in August 1893. Much later, in 1987, the re-organisation of the Llandudno Catholic schools occurred at the time of the Beatification of the English and Welsh Martyrs. Among them was the local priest, Blessed William Davies, and it was decided as exceedingly appropriate to name the new school after him. It was a great joy that on the occasion of the beatification ceremony His Holiness Pope John Paul II gave a personally signed blessing to the new school.

There is today very great co-operation between the Churches of Llandudno, which regularly come together under the banner of 'Cytûn' meaning 'of one accord' as the Churches together in Llandudno.

Llandudno Tourist

Compilation and photograph by Noel Walley. Updated December 2008

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