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Wales St Mary's Church, Conwy

The present Church of St Mary is on the site of the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary and All Saints’ in Aberconwy, which founded in 1109 by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Llywelyn the Great and Prince of Gwynedd.

It was the principal religious centre of the area and many of the Princes of Gwynedd were buried here. Its Abbots were key political figures in the power struggles with England.

After the crushing defeat by Edward I in 1282 and death of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Edward chose to exert his authority by building a castle and walled town on the site of the abbey, which was associated with Welsh pride and independence.

The monks were forced to move to Maenan, further up the Conwy Valley near Llanrwst, taking the body of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth with them. The Abbey church was rebuilt as the parish church for the town.

Parts of the north wall and tower buttress with its narrow lancet windows date from this time.


The rest of the church dates from the C14th, with the tower finally completed by the C15th. The rood screen, choir stalls and font are also C15th. There was a major restoration by Sir Gilbert Scott in 1872.



The church is in the centre of Conwy and is surrounded by its large graveyard, and the We are Seven Grave. After a visit to Conwy, in 1798, William Wordsworth wrote a poem about a conversation with a child in a churchyard. The poem quotes the child saying: “And two of us at Conway dwell.” The conversation seems to have fired Wordsworth’s imagination because the child insisted she was one of seven siblings. She was confident of this total but her explanations of her siblings’ whereabouts – including the two buried in the churchyard – didn’t satisfy Wordsworth’s more rational mind.

The grave is reputed to be the site of the conversation. Souvenir hunters broke pieces off the tombstone until little remained above the ground. The iron cage was constructed in the early C20th century to protect what was left.

The church feels a big church inside with octagonal pillars and low pointed arches separating the nave and side aisles. It has a wood barrel ceiling. A simple parclose screen encloses a small chapel at the end of the north aisle with a small alter and reredos. On the south wall are two lancet windows with Burne Jones glass.


The font at the back of the nave dates from around 1500 and the steps are thought to be from the market place cross.


Low down on the south wall are two tomb recesses. One is that of Mary, the mother of John Williams, a Welsh clergyman who was a political advisor to James I and also Archbishop of York in the 1640s.

The beautiful 1500s rood screen marked the marriage of Catherine of Aragon to Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII. It is regarded as one of the best in Europe and has a panelled base with delicately carved tracery above with fan vaulting below the loft. Along the top is a carved border with grapes, roses, birds, dragons and Prince of Wales feathers.



The choir stalls are of a similar date and have carved fronts, sides and poppyheads.



Behind the altar is a wooden reredos with carved panels and open fretwork border. The altar rail was carved by Robert ‘Mousey’ Thompson of Kilburn in 1960.


Near the altar is the table tomb of Robert Wynn, builder of Plas Mawr, who died in 1598, who was a major benefactor of the church. It is set set under a stone arch, carved with his coat of arms.


On the wall above is a memorial to John Wynn, who died in 1637.

The floor of the chancel is covered with old grave slabs, including one to Nicholas Hookes, 41st child of his father and who fathered 27 children.

The Church is opn from Easter to the end of October 11-3.

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