Our Christian Heritage
Situated in a tranquil location on the eastern tip of Anglesey are a group of historic buildings which include the site of a monastery dating back to St. Seiriol in the 6th century. Originally there was a wooden church which prospered until it was destroyed by the Vikings in 971. During the 12th century the abbey church was rebuilt in stone by Gruffydd ap Cynan and Owain Gwynedd and it is still used today as a parish church.
Cruciform in arrangement, the nave was completed in 1140, followed by the transepts and tower between 1160 and 1170, with the chancel added between 1220 and 1240 during the rule of Llywelyn the Great ( 1173- 1240). At this time the king persuaded all the monasteries in North Wales to reorganise under the Augustinian Order so a refectory, large dining hall, cellars and a dormitory were added during this period.
The monastery was dissolved in 1537, however, during the reign of Henry VIII, and the lands passed to the Bulkeleys of Beaumaris who built a perimeter wall to enclose a deer park and also added a fine square- shaped dovecote with a domed roof and a small cupola for the birds to fly in and out. Inside were 1,000 nesting boxes cleverly accessed via a central pillar with a revolving ladder.
Penmon’s Historic Monuments
The two crosses that flanked the entrance to the early medieval monastery are now housed in the church, the larger one located in the nave and the smaller one in the south transept. The smaller of the two was also once used as a lintel for one of the refectory windows, when one of the arms was cut off for the purpose.
St. Seiriol’s Well is a spring which emerges from a cliff behind the church, reached by a path on which one passes the monastic fish pond. The roofed brick- built inner chamber dates from 1710, although the lower courses and ante- chamber are thought to date from an earlier period.
St. Seiriol was a great friend of St. Cybi who founded a monastery at the other end of the island near Holyhead — Caergybi in Welsh. According to legend the two saints used to meet each other in the centre of the island at Llanerchymedd. Because St. Cybi walked from Holyhead facing the rising sun in the morning and the setting sun in the
evening, while St. Seiriol walked in the opposite directions, with the sun at his back, they were called Cybi the Dark as a result of his sun tan, and Seiriol the Fair.
St. Seiriol also established a community on Puffin Island, half a mile offshore, which the Vikings named Priestholm. It contains a number of monastic ruins including the tower of a 12th- century church where it is believed St. Seiriol and King Maelgwn Gwynedd were buried.
In a publication called Journey through Wales written by Gerald of Wales in 1188, he described an ecclesiastical settlement on the island inhabited by hermits who lived by manual labour while serving God. There was also a legend that whenever there were problems on the island, mice would eat their food. Who knows?
Penmon church and priory, Anglesey.
One of a number of stained- glass windows in the 12th- century church at Penmon.
Viewed from Penmon Point, Puffin Island lies beyond the lighthouse.
Penmon church and priory silhouetted against the Menai Strait and Welsh mainland.
The holy well of St. Seiriol.