Mysterious Removal Of Churches



There was a tradition extant in the parish of Llanllechid, near Bangor,

Carnarvonshire, that it was intended to build a church in a field called

Cae'r Capel, not far from Plasuchaf Farm, but it was found the next

morning that the labours of the previous day had been destroyed, and that

the materials had been transported in the night to the site of the

present church.
The workmen, however, carried them all back again, and

resumed their labours at Cae'r Capel, but in vain, for the next day they

found their work undone, and the wood, stones, etc., in the place where

they had found them when their work was first tampered with. Seeing that

it was useless fighting against a superior power, they desisted, and

erected the building on the spot indicated by the destroyers of their


I asked the aged, what or who it was that had carried away the materials:

some said it was done by Spirits, others by Fairies, but I could obtain

no definite information on the point. However, they all agreed that the

present site was more convenient for the parishioners than the old one.

Many legends of this kind are current in Wales. They are all much alike

in general outline. A few only therefore shall be mentioned.


In Thomas's History of the Diocese of St. Asaph, p. 687, the legend

connected with the erection of the present church is given as

follows:--The legend of its (Corwen Church) original foundation states

that all attempts to build the church in any other spot than where stood

the 'Carreg y Big yn y fach rewlyd,' i.e., 'The pointed stone in the icy

nook,' were frustrated by the influence of certain adverse powers.

No agency is mentioned in this narrative. When questioned on such a

matter, the aged, of forty years ago, would shake their heads in an

ominous kind of manner, and remain silent, as if it were wrong on their

part to allude to the affair. Others, more bold, would surmise that it

was the work of a Spirit, or of the Fairies. By and by I shall give Mr.

A. N. Palmer's solution of the mystery.


A legend much like the preceding is current respecting Capel Garmon

Church. I will give the story in the words of my friend, the Rev. Owen

Jones, Pentrevoelas, who writes to me thus:--

The tradition is that Capel Garmon Church was to have been built on the

side of the mountain just above the present village, near the Well now

called Ffynnon Armon, but the materials carried there in the daytime were

in a mysterious manner conveyed by night to the present site of the



For the following legend, I am indebted to Mr. R. Prys Jones, who resided

for several years in the parish of Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd. In answer to

a letter from me respecting mysterious removal of churches, Mr. Jones

writes as follows:--

We have the same tradition in connection with a place not very far from

Llanfair village. It was first intended to erect Llanfair Church on the

spot where Jesus Chapel now stands, or very near to it. Tradition

ascribes the failure of erecting the structure to a phantom in the shape

of a sow's head, destroying in the night what had been built during the

day. The farm house erected on the land is still called

Llanbenwch--Llan-pen-hwch, i.e., the Llan, or church, of the

Sow's Head.

In this tale the agent is a sow, and Mr. Gomme in the Antiquary, vol.

iii. p. 9, records a like story of Winwick Parish Church, Lancashire. He

states that the founder had destined a different site for this church,

but after progress had been made at the original foundation, at night

time, 'a pig' was seen running hastily to the site of the new church,

crying or screaming aloud We-ee-wick, we-ee-wick, we-ee-wick.' Then

taking up a stone in his mouth he carried it to the spot sanctified by

the death of St. Oswald, and thus succeeded in removing all the stones

which had been laid by the builders.


The traveller who has gone to Aberystwyth by the Cambrian Line has, most

probably, noticed on the left hand side, shortly after he has left Borth,

a small church, with a churchyard that enters a wood to the west of the

church, the grave stones being seen among the trees. There is in

connection with this church a legend much like those already given. I am

indebted to the Rev. J. Felix, vicar of Cilcen, near Mold, for the

following account of the transaction.

It was intended to build Llanfihangel Church at a place called

Glanfread, or Glanfread-fawr, which at present is a respectable farm

house, and the work was actually commenced on that spot, but the portion

built during the day was pulled down each night, till at last a Spirit

spoke in these words:--

Llanfihangel Geneu'r Glyn,

Glanfread-fawr gaiff fod fan hyn.

Llanfihangel Geneu'r Glyn,

Glanfread-fawr shall stand herein,

intimating that the church was to be built at Geneu'r Glyn, and that

Glanfreadfawr farm house was to occupy the place where they were then

endeavouring to build the church. The prophecy, or warning, was attended

to, and the church erection abandoned, but the work was carried out at

Geneu'r Glyn, in accordance with the Spirit's direction, and the church

was built in its present position.


The following extract is from Mr. A. Neobard Palmer's excellent History

of the Parish Church of Wrexham, p. 6:--There is a curious local

tradition, which, as I understand it, points distinctly to a

re-erection of one of the earlier churches on a site different from that

on which the church preceding it had stood.

According to the tradition just mentioned, which was collected and first

published by the late Mr. Hugh Davies, the attempt to build the church on

another spot (at Bryn-y-ffynnon as 't is said), was constantly

frustrated, that which was set up during the day being plucked down in

the night. At last, one night when the work wrought on the day before

was being watched, the wardens saw it thrown suddenly down, and heard a

voice proceeding from a Spirit hovering above them which cried ever

'Bryn-y-grog!' 'Bryn-y-grog!' Now the site of the present church was at

that time called 'Bryn-y-grog' (Hill of the Cross), and it was at once

concluded that this was the spot on which the church should be built.

The occupier of this spot, however, was exceedingly unwilling to part

with the inheritance of his forefathers, and could only be induced to do

so when the story which has just been related was told to him, and other

land given him instead. The church was then founded at 'Bryn-y-grog,'

where the progress of the work suffered no interruption, and where the

Church of Wrexham still stands.

Mr. Palmer, having remarked that there is a striking resemblance between

all the traditions of churches removed mysteriously, proceeds to solve

the difficulty, in these words:--

The conclusions which occurred to me were, that these stories contain a

record, imaginative and exaggerated, of real incidents connected with the

history of the churches to which each of them belongs, and that they are

in most cases reminiscences of an older church which once actually

stood on another site. The destroying powers of which they all speak

were probably human agents, working in the interest of those who were

concerned in the transference of the site of the church about to be

re-built; while the stories, as a whole, were apparently concocted and

circulated with the intention of overbearing the opposition which the

proposed transference raised--an opposition due to the inconvenience of

the site proposed, to sacred associations connected with the older site,

or to the unwillingness of the occupier to surrender the spot selected.

This is, as everything Mr. Palmer writes, pertinent, and it is a

reasonable solution, but whether it can be made to apply to all cases is

somewhat doubtful. Perhaps we have not sufficient data to arrive at a

correct explanation of this kind of myth. The objection was to the

place selected and not to the building about to be erected on that

spot; and the agents engaged in the destruction of the proposed edifice

differ in different places; and in many instances, where these traditions

exist, the land around, as regards agricultural uses, was equally useful,

or equally useless, and often the distance between the two sites is not

great, and the land in our days, at least, and presumably in former,

belonged to the same proprietor--if indeed it had a proprietor at all.

We must, therefore, I think, look outside the occupier of the land for

objections to the surrender of the spot first selected as the site of the

new church.

Mr. Gomme, in an able article in the Antiquary, vol. iii., p. 8-13, on

Some traditions and superstitions connected with buildings, gives many

typical examples of buildings removed by unseen agencies, and, from the

fact that these stories are found in England, Scotland, and other parts,

he rightly infers that they had a common origin, and that they take us

back to primitive times of British history. The cause of the removal of

the stones in those early times, or first stage of their history, is

simply described as invisible agency, witches, fairies; in the

second stage of these myths, the supernatural agency becomes more clearly

defined, thus:--doves, a pig, a cat, a fish, a bull, do the

work of demolishing the buildings, and Mr. Gomme remarks with reference

to these animals:--Now here we have some glimmer of light thrown upon

the subject--the introduction of animal life leads to the subject of

animal sacrifice. I will not follow Mr. Gomme in this part of his

dissertation, but I will remark that the agencies he mentions as

belonging to the first stage are identical in Wales, England, and

Scotland, and we have an example of the second stage in Wales, in the

traditions of Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd, and of Llangar Church, near Corwen.


The tradition is that Llangar Church was to have been built near the

spot where the Cynwyd Bridge crosses the Dee. Indeed, we are told that

the masons set to work, but all the stones they laid in the day were gone

during the night none knew whither. The builders were warned,

supernaturally, that they must seek a spot where on hunting a 'Carw Gwyn'

(white stag) would be started. They did so, and Llangar Church is the

result. From this circumstance the church was called Llan-garw-gwyn, and

from this name the transition to Llangar is easy.--Gossiping Guide to

Wales, p. 128.

I find in a document written by the Rural Dean for the guidance of the

Bishop of St. Asaph, in 1729, that the stag was started in a thicket

where the Church of Llangar now stands. And (as the tradition is) the

boundaries of the parish on all sides were settled for 'em by this poor

deer, where he was forc'd to run for his life, there lye their bounds.

He at last fell, and the place where he was killed is to this day called

Moel y Lladdfa, or the Hill of Slaughter.


There is a tradition connected with Old St. David's Church, Denbigh,

recorded in Gee's Guide to Denbigh, that the building could not be

completed, because whatever portion was finished in the day time was

pulled down and carried to another place at night by some invisible hand,

or supernatural power.

The party who malignantly frustrates the builders' designs is in several

instances said to have been the Devil. We find, says Mr. William

Crossing, in the Antiquary, vol. iv., p. 34, that the Church of

Plymton St. Mary, has connected with it the legend so frequently attached

to ecclesiastical buildings, of the removal by the Enemy of Mankind of

the building materials by night, from the spot chosen for its erection to

another at some distance.

And again, Mr A. N. Palmer, quoting in the Antiquary, vol. iv., p. 34,

what was said at the meeting of the British Association, in 1878, by Mr.

Peckover, respecting the detached Tower of the Church of West Walton,

near Wisbech, Norfolk, writes:--During the early days of that Church the

Fenmen were very wicked, and the Evil Spirit hired a number of people

to carry the tower away.

Mr. W. S. Lach-Szyrma, in the Antiquary, vol. iii., p. 188,

writes:--Legends of the Enemy of Mankind and some old buildings are

numerous enough--e.g., it is said that as the masons built up the towers

of Towednack Church, near St. Ives, the Devil knocked the stones down;

hence its dwarfed dimensions.

The preceding stories justify me in relegating this kind of myth to the

same class as those in which spirits are driven from churches and laid

in a neighbouring pool; and perhaps in these latter, as in the former, is

dimly seen traces of the antagonism, in remote times, between peoples

holding different religious beliefs, and the steps taken by one party to

seize and appropriate the sacred spots of the other.