St. Illtyd's Church
Against a backdrop of wooded cliffs that were once quarried for limestone, Llanrhidian Church perches above Llanrhidian's steep sloping village green, overlooking the bleak marshland fringe of North Gower.
The church is reputed to have been founded by the Celtic saint, St. Rhidian, during the 6th Century. Although, dedicated to St. Illtyd, the church is still stongly linked to St. Rhidian. Upon its early Celtic foundation rests the current building, possibly built around 1300, though extensively renovated in 1858 with the nave being completely rebuilt.
With one of the largest towers in Gower, the church had strong links with the military order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, the Hospitallers. The tower was intended to fortify the attached church and supply refuge for villagers during the Anglo-Norman conquest of Wales. Set upon one side of the tower parapet is a raised platform known as the 'Parson's Bed'. This would have been used as the hearth for beacon fires that were lit to warn the locals of enemies approaching by land or sea.
A significant historical find, dating from the 9th century, was unearthed from the ground beside the tower in 1880. Known as the 'leper stone', this 2 metres long, rectangular block of limestone was moved to the porch for safe keeping in 1910. Carvings upon one side depict two stylised human figures surrounded by a pair of grotesque-looking animals. No one is sure exactly what the images represent but the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments theorise that the influence is likely to be Irish, representing the popular Irish theme of St. Anthony and St. Paul meeting in the desert.
Early settlement at Llanrhidian and the subsequent building of the church was most likely influenced by the two natural springs found here, providing fresh water, in spite of the close proximity to the salt marsh. One of the village's springs, which feeds the mill stream, can be found on the western edge of the church grounds bordering a residential garden. The other spring, the renowned St. Illtyd's Well or 'Butter Well', can also be found nearby in the back garden of a house at the bottom of the village.
Visitors to the church grounds will note, when passing through the gates, two memorial plaques embedded in the gate posts from the doomed village of Llanelen.
The church is kept locked but visitors may borrow a key from the petrol station at the cross-roads by the top of the village. The church is open for worship with services at 9.30am and 3.00pm every Sunday.