St Cwyfan’s Church is situated on the tiny island of Cribinau – a small tidal island off the south west coast of the Isle of Anglesey in Wales and because it is enclosed by a sea wall it is fondly known as the ‘Church in the Sea.’
Dating back to the 12th century the church is thought to be dedicated to the Irish preacher, St Kevin, who founded a monastery at Glendalough in Co Wicklow. The church once stood on the end of a tiny peninsula between the bays of Porth Cwyfan and Porth China but sea erosion slowly carved away the coastline cutting off the peninsula and turning it into an island. A causeway from the mainland was built allowing parishioners access to the island so that they could continue to worship at the tiny church. However, at high tide the causeway was under water and parishioners had to relocate to a nearby house on the mainland that had been consecrated to hold services.
Although the church dates back to the 12th century very little of its original structure remains as most of the walls were rebuilt in the 14th century and in the early 16th century an aisle was added to the north side of the building accessed by three arches. Sadly, these were demolished during the 19th century as the sea and weather conditions continued to claim more and more of the land even washing away part of the graveyard. By this time the church was derelict and the parishioners had moved to a new church further inland.
In 1893, local architect Harold Hughes, concerned that the island and church would be lost forever if the sea was allowed to continue to wash over the land, decided to raise funds to build a wall all around the outside of the island encasing the church behind it. He then set about restoring the old building.
The church underwent further refurbishment in 2006 when all the old mortar was removed from the building; once again some of the parishioners were angry as it was ‘lime washed’ which has made the walls very white, changing it from its original old grey colour.
The church can be reached at low tide on foot from the mainland and it is still used today for weddings and christenings.
Throughout its long history the church has not been without controversy. The early inhabitants of the island were Welsh speaking and in 1766 the Bishop of Bangor appointed Dr Thomas Bowles as the parish priest of Trefdraeth, which included St. Cwyfan’s. Unfortunately, Dr Bowles spoke no Welsh and only five of the 500 parishioners understood English. This caused great protests as the islanders felt that he should not have been appointed and priority should have been given to Welsh speaking clergy. The case was heard in the ecclesiastical court in 1770 and 1773 and the judge ruled that Bowles should not have been appointed, and worse, that Bowles had tried to deceive the court will false witness statements. However, due to the difficulties in removing a priest that was already in post, the Judge ruled that he should be allowed to stay. Within six months Dr Thomas Bowles was conveniently dead.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Tyddyn Sianel, Llanystumdwy, Criccieth
Gwynedd, Wales, LL52 0LS
+44 (0)1766 522 855
- Address: Cribinau Island, Aberffraw, Anglesey, Wales, United Kingdom
- GPS: 53.18551389,-4.491908333
- Part of UK: Wales
- Sat Nav Postcode: LL63 5TF
- Entrance Fees: Free Access
- Disabled Access: Very poor
- Visibility from Road: Good - but from a distance
- Image Credits: Header Image: Gail Johnson