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St Michael's Church, Myddfai, Carmarthenshire

Dedication: St Michael

Denomination: Anglican

Built: 13th century with later additions
  Photography: John Ball
Date: 22 April 2005
Camera: Fuji Finepix S602 Zoom digital

Note 1: St Michael's has probably been the site of Christian worship for a thousand years or more, although one of the first written references indicating the existence of a church in Myddfai is dated 10 June 1284. It describes how the right to appoint a clergyman to the parish had come into the hands of King Edward I as a result of the forfeiture of the previous patrons. It is an indication of the turbulent nature of those times, and the right was subsequently given by the King to the then Bishop of St David's, with whom it still formally remains.
In the 12th and early 13th centuries, Myddfai was part of the Lordship of Llandovery and was one of the three manors (Maenor Myddfai, Llandeusant and Gwynfe) in Cantref Bychan. It was, like much of the rest of this part of Wales, under Norman domination and it is likely that the actual building of the church was itself the result of Norman influence.
The architectural style and construction of the church, as it is now, suggests that it was built in two stages: the first, the original nave and chapel, were probably completed in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 15th century an aisle was added along the whole length of the church on the southern side, divided from the original by the five-bay arcade of massive arches which are a feature of the church as it is today.
It is this 15th century aisle which now seats the congregation and which has the altar and chancel at its eastern end. Until 1868, when it was moved to its present position, the pulpit was set in a niche halfway along the aisle, against the outside wall.
[Source: St Michael's Parish Church, Myddfai: A Brief Historical Guide, undated leaflet available in the church (author unknown)]

St Michael's Church, Myddfai
Above: St Michael's Church - south-western aspect.
Below: South-eastern aspect.
St Michael's Church, Myddfai

Note 2: In the late 15th century a north aisle and chapel were added to a 13th century barrel-vaulted nave and chancel (see below). The chancel south wall has a corbel table. There are several old windows, but the large south windows and the west window are Victorian. There is a blocked north doorway. The font basin with four lugs has been brought here from the vanished chapel of Dol Hywel.
[Extracted from The Old Parish Churches of South-West Wales, by Mike Salter, published 1994, Folly Publications, Malvern. ISBN 1-871731-19-4]

St Michael's Church, Myddfai
Above: Nave, chancel and east window.

Note 3: St Michael's is a large and rewarding double-nave church, similar to Llanddeusant and churches of nearby Breconshire. The south nave is perhaps earlier, though the detail in both is late C15 to early C16. Both have chancels, the south chancel with a corbel table, unusual in the county. Big south porch with red stone arch, possibly C17. Restored 1874, by R. K. Penson, who added the gaunt bellcote, and in 1926 by C. W. Mercer. The late C15 or C16 Perpendicular windows, in dark red stone, mostly have flat heads, but the north chancel east window is more ambitious, if crude – three-light, with cusped panel tracery. One south window has three grotesque carved masks on the hoodmould. The south nave has a rood-stair projection, lit by a two-light upper window, that looks post-Reformation, possibly C17, over a C15 pointed stair light, the arrangement similar to Llanfynydd. There are dates for repairs: 1819 on the north wall and 1808 on the arched west window of the north nave, which corresponds also to the arch of the south chancel door. Remarkable interior with C15 plaster-panelled barrel roofs throughout, with moulded timber ribs, the longitudinal ribs missing in the south nave. Simple carved bosses, some replaced with designs by parishioners in the careful restoration, 1991, by Roger Clive-Powel1. C15 arcade of four bays, double-chamfered arches on octagonal piers, and a single Tudor arch between the chancels with similar responds. Pointed chancel arches: the south one plastered with plain imposts, undateable, while the north one is C15, stone, matching the arcade.
[Source: The Buildings of Wales: Carmarthenshire & Ceredigion, by Thomas Lloyd, Julian Orbach & Robert Scourfield, Yale University Press, 2006; ISBN 0-300-10179-1]

Below: Chancel and sanctuary, viewed from north chapel.
St Michael's Church, Myddfai
St Michael's Church, MyddfaiSt Michael's Church, Myddfai

Above: Stoup (left) and font (right).

Note 4: One of the above artefacts was transferred from St David's Church at Ddol Hywel, lost as a consequence of the building of the Usk reservoir in the 1950s. Salter (1994) claims the font was transferred, while St Michael's Brief Historical Guide claims it was the stoup that was transferred and Lloyd, Orbach & Scourfield (2006) refer to a "...displaced medieval stoup in the vestry".

Note 5: There have been several periods of major restoration and repair: in 1868-80, when two new windows were put in the west wall of the church and a new pulpit installed: and in 1926, when the vestry was re-roofed, a gas-plant house erected and a wooden screen built to provide a side chapel on the site of the original Chancel. The next restoration and repair work, which included re-roofing the Church and the redecoration of the interior was completed in 1992 but since then more major repairs have been carried out.
[Source: St Michael's Parish Church, Myddfai: A Brief Historical Guide, undated leaflet available in the church (author unknown)]

St Michael's Church, Myddfai

Note 6: The parish of Myddfai is rich in folklore but one tradition, that of the Physicians of Myddfai, is based firmly on historical fact and with which the church has always been closely linked. They healed and doctored and counselled wisely over a period of several centuries, beginning in the Middle Ages, and were knowledgeable in the medicinal properties of the herbs which still abound in the countryside surrounding the village. In the porch is a stone (right) commemorating the last of that long and distinguished line of healers.
[Source: St Michael's Parish Church, Myddfai: A Brief Historical Guide, undated leaflet available in the church (author unknown)]

Lieth the body of Mr:
David Jones of Mothvey
Surgeon who was an
Honest charitable & skillful
man. He died Septmr ye 14th
Anno Dom 1719
Aged 61.
John Jones Surgeon
Eldest son of the said
David Jones departed
this life the 25thr of November
1739 in the 44th year of his
age and also lyes Interred

Physicians of Myddfai

The Physicians of Myddfai
The title page (right) is from the original edition of the book The Physicians of Myddvai: Meddygon Myddfai, published in Llandovery in 1861 for the Welsh MSS Society. The text, which is claimed to have been based on ancient manuscripts in the libraries of Jesus College, Oxford, Llanover, and Tonn, was translated into English by John Pughe of Penhelyg, Aberdyfi, Merionethshire.
The book opens with the legend of the Lady of the Lake. A fair maiden is said to have risen from the waters of Llyn y Fan Fach, a lake situated high on the Black Mountain, 5½ miles south-southeast of Myddfai. The legend tells how a farmer's son was staring into the waters of the lake when he saw a beautiful girl rise from the water. She sat beside the lake combing her long golden hair. He instantly fell in love with her and tried to tempt her with some bread to come to him. Twice she refused, but then the third time, she accepted. Her father then followed her out of the water and granted the boy permission to marry his daughter, promising to give them a herd of cattle as a wedding present. He did, however, impose one condition on the marriage – should the boy strike his daughter three times, she would return to the lake forever.
The couple lived happily for many years, raising three sons. But in time, the old man's words were to return to haunt them, for the farmer gently struck his wife three times. The first was at a christening, to hurry her on. The second came at a wedding, to stop her crying. The third was at a funeral, to stop her laughing. The three strikes had been made, and the Lady returned to the lake, taking the cattle with her. She was lost to her husband forever, but she left behind her a legacy to her sons and their descendants. She left the healing powers of her people with a body of medical lore and teachings, which led to a dynasty of doctors living in Myddfai, who became known all over Wales as 'the Physicians of Myddfai'.
Below are three (out of 815) recorded examples of  "...the most notable and principal methods of healing the human body", as practised by the Physicians of Myddfai:

§ 31. For deafness. Take a ram's urine, and eel's bile, and the juice of ash, expressing the same into the ear, and about the tooth. The actual cautery should also be applied behind the ear and angle of the jaw, a nut being inserted therein. This is a good plan.

§ 49. To induce sleep. Poppy heads bruised in wine will induce a man to sleep soundly.

§ 100. For the bite of a mad dog. Pound ground ivy well in a mortar with lard, or pound leeks and vinegar, or fennel seed, and honey together, and apply thereto.
[Source: The Physicians of Myddvai, published in facsimile, 1993, Llanerch Publishers, Felinfach; ISBN 1-897853-15-7]
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