Can­dlelit com­mu­nion

Sur­rounded by hill, sand and sea on the Ceredi­gion coast is a small, white-walled church, at its most mag­i­cal on Christ­mas Eve, says

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - Julie Bro­minicks

Mwnt, Ceredi­gion

Some­times, be­tween on­slaughts of wind, you can hear the snort of an At­lantic grey seal in the tur­bu­lent wa­ters be­low Foel-y-Mwnt, the prom­i­nent con­i­cal hill that rises above low-ly­ing pas­ture and cliffs of clasts and boul­der clay. Of­ten, you see bot­tlenose dol­phins. Kestrels hang poised in the air, and choughs kite-sail over the sum­mit.

Shel­ter­ing from bru­tal south-west­er­lies be­neath the hill is Eglwys y Grog, the Church of the Holy Cross. That it’s ded­i­cated to a cross rather than a saint sug­gests an­tiq­uity. It’s pos­si­ble that a stone cross once stood on Foel-y-Mwnt in the 5th or 6th cen­tury. It would have been clearly vis­i­ble to the early Chris­tians who trav­elled here in small wooden boats in search of wilder­ness and soli­tude, many of whom went on to found churches that bore their own names. It’s likely that the present 14th-cen­tury build­ing, vis­ited by me­dieval pil­grims head­ing to Bard­sey, Cardi­gan or St David’s in the foot­steps of those prim­i­tive saints, re­placed an ear­lier struc­ture.

CHRIST­MAS ON THE COAST

Nowa­days, in July and Au­gust when the beach is busy, bilin­gual ser­vices are held ev­ery Sun­day, at­tended by hol­i­day­mak­ers and parish­ioners from the sis­ter church in Y Fer­wig. Eglwys y Grog is open to vis­i­tors ev­ery day of the year and, on Christ­mas Eve at 9pm, Holy Com­mu­nion is held by can­dle­light.

You can walk there from Aber­porth, branch­ing off the Wales Coast Path to fol­low finch-flocked hedges across the fields where thrushes, field­fares and red­wings hus­tle for hips and hawthorn berries, be­fore dip­ping into the val­ley at Mwnt.

The church is small and stoic with white­washed, rub­ble-stone walls, the squat bell tower rem­i­nis­cent of a Mediter­ranean chapel. Turfy ground, be­tween the

“IN­SIDE, THE RICH QUIET­NESS SEEMS LOUDER THAN THE SOUND OF THE WIND”

church and its sur­round­ing en­clo­sure, slopes to the top of the dry­s­tone walls, per­haps to let the sheep out but not in, though they tend to use the open gate. You can hear them munch the grass en­croach­ing over the paving slabs. The sheep rub against the graves, some of which are neat and spruce, while oth­ers are splin­tered into shards.

WARPED WITH AGE

In­side, the rich quiet­ness seems louder than the sound of the wind, fil­tered through the stone walls and the hill. The 12th-cen­tury Pre­seli blue­stone font is a sim­ple square. The walls are white. The win­dows are clear, though some of the glass is warped with age, wob­bling the land­scape out­side.

Like ship­wreck tim­bers, frag­ments of a 15th-cen­tury rood screen are dis­played on the wall. The re­mains of crudely carved fig­ures once painted in red, blue, green and gilt, pos­si­bly saints or apos­tles, are still dis­cernible. The soft­wood pews are smooth, speck­led in places by wood­worm, scored in places by penknives. The oak roof, with cusped king-post trusses, arches over­head like an up­turned boat.

Out­side, sheep shel­ter, and the wind shep­herds clouds across the sky. Waves scud up the deep beach of clean brown sand where the early Chris­tians landed.

Fol­low the wind­ing coast path back to Aber­porth, pass­ing spec­tac­u­lar cliffs and out­crops, watch­ing for red kites over brack­ened hills, and bask­ing seals, while the sea rinses the rocks.

“THE OAK ROOF, WITH CUSPED TRUSSES, ARCHES OVER­HEAD LIKE AN UP­TURNED BOAT”

Watch the sun set from Eglwys y Grog on the west coast of Wales, just as me­dieval pil­grims would have done cen­turies ago

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Don’t for­get your binoc­u­lars: Mwnt Bay is home to bot­tlenose dol­phins, har­bour por­poises and seals

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