St Rhian’s Church is situated within a polygonal churchyard, at the centre of what was a farmyard complex. The site is thought to be early medieval in origin. The cruciform church is a Grade II* listed building, constructed from random rubble stone with low-pitched slate eaves roofs.
It consists of 2-bayed chancel, 3-bayed nave, north and south transepts from the nave central bay, and 2-storey west tower. The tower is thirteenth or fourteenth century, with a slate saddleback roof with crowsteps and obelisk finials added in 1836. The octagonal oolite font bowl dates from around 1500 and bears the arms of Sir Rhys ap Thomas. The church was rebuilt to its present cruciform plan in 1836. The nave and transepts form a perfect cross, the transepts opening to the nave central bay. If the church looks unusually distinctive internally, it is because cruciform churches are rare in Pembrokeshire.
The chancel is believed to have been restored and enlarged in 1891 when extensive renovation work was undertaken. In 1891 the old irregular high-backed pews were used to panel the walls and were replaced by the present unusually fine oak pews. The oak chancel screen was added at this time, the vestry was screened off and new windows were made, with the perpendicular mullions to be seen today. If you are visiting Pembrokeshire, do make a point of calling in (and perhaps joining us in worship) at this exceptionally attractive and interesting church.
- There has been a church on this site for 1500 years. In those early days this locality, Dewisland, was one of the most thickly populated areas of the country, and lay at the heart of the Celtic world, which included not only Wales, Ireland and Scotland, but also Cornwall and Cumberland and Brittany. It would have been surrounded by an earthen rampart and containing several beehive-shaped huts of wattle and daub, but no more can be told for certain. Later this must have been replaced by a wooden structure, and finally by a stone Church.
- The church’s tower is of particular interest. It is the oldest part of the present building and is believed to date from the thirteenth century. It was probably originally built separately as a coastal watch tower and place of defence; the walls are almost 3 feet thick, and a yard inside. Interesting features are the saddleback form and the battlemented finish, while the western gable is stepped according to a style more common in Northern Europe than in Britain.
- The font is ancient and is panelled in typical fifteenth century style. The decagonal form is unusual. Each of the panels contains an inverted shield and on one there is the coat of arms of Sir Rhys ap Thomas. It has been suggested that since geologists have declared that the type of stone of which the font is made is not to be found in Britain, but bears a resemblance to that of Solomon’s Temple, Sir Rhys brought it from Jerusalem to Carmarthen where he is buried, and that it was later presented to Llanrhian Church by the Archdeacon of Carmarthen who was also Rector of the parish and Patron of the Benefice.
- The present pulpit, lectern and altar have all been added during the present century.
- A full history of the church, In the Steps of St. Rhian, was written by Kathleen Lewis, wife of the then vicar, Revd Edward Lewis, in 1962. The full publication can be found here
Llanrhian: Church of St Rhian
Haverfordwest, SA62 5BG
Rev Diana Hoare: 01437 721205
Rev Canon Michael Rowlands: 01348 831382