Grid reference: around SS 857 888
The medieval church at Llangynwyd had a rood screen with a carving of the Crucifixion which was so powerfully carved that it was believed to be capable of performing miracles. Several of the local bards wrote poems in its honour, and it was a popular focal point for pilgrimages. The chancel arch has a squint high above the pulpit which may indicate the position of a rood altar.
Outside the church is a memorial to Ann Thomas, the ‘Maid of Cefn Ydfa’, and her lover Wil Hopcyn. She was the daughter of a wealthy local farmer. Her parents planned to marry her to the son of a local landowner but she fell in love with Wil, who was a humble plasterer but also a fine poet. She was forced to marry the landowner’s son and Wil was compelled to leave the area. In a dream he heard her calling to her; he came home to find her desperately ill, and she died in his arms. Wil Hopkin’s poems to her, including the famous Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn (‘Watching the White Wheat’ - the poet says he has watched the wheat ripen but another man will have the harvest), have passed into folk tradition. Ann and Wil are both said to be buried in the church.
Llangynwyd is also one of the last places in Wales where the Christmas tradition of the Mari Lwyd is still celebrated. This wassailing ritual may originate in pre-Christian horse cults. A horse’s skull on a pole is decorated with ribbons and carried from house to house. The group with the horse improvise songs asking for admission to the house. The people of the house refuse, also in music. Eventually the horse is admitted and the followers are given food and drink.
At the valley bottom, Llangynwyd Castle can be seen through the trees to the left, next to Castell Farm. The castle was built by the Norman lords of Glamorgan as an advanced base against the Welsh lords of Afan. It was burned by rebels in 1294 and never rebuilt.
More on the castle on the Castlewales site.