Rhoscolyn has a fascinating history, with its patron saint, Gwenfaen, first making her home and church here in 630 AD. Some say that the druids’ last stand against the Romans, who invaded Mona (Anglesey) in 60 or 61 AD, was at Cymyran, the inland sea between Mona and Holy Island and the open sea, south of Four Mile Bridge. Anglesey itself also has a very interesting history.
It is actually very difficult to find any substantial history of St Gwenfaen.
She was the daughter of Paul Hen of Manaw (who was also known as Old Paulinus), and sister of Peulan and Gwyngeneu, both saints who also lived on Holy Island. She was known for healing mental illness.
Gwenfaen was probably a member of the order of religious devotees known as the Colidei. She is mentioned in the following extract from a description of Llanddwyn: “Our native Colidei, who were of ancient fame and of pure and holy lives, such as Cybi, Tysili, Genivenna (Gwenfaen) and Donwenn (Dwynwen) seem to have been particularly fond of, and as it were fascinated by, lonely abodes such as this; for in such corners and recesses, removed from the noise of men, and therefore admirably suited to their peaceful life and habitual pursuit, these despisers of worldly affairs, no doubt for the sake of devotion and solitude, built their oratories, waited diligently upon God and obtained and peacefully enjoyed the most profound tranquillity as well as security”.
While being chased by druids, Gwenfaen is said to have climbed a nearby rock stack (in Saints Bay) and was carried away by angels when the tide came in.
St Gwenfaen’s church
The church is on a raised site with spectacular views over a wide area of Anglesey as well as Snowdonia and the Lyn Peninsula. Since St Gwenfaen set up the original church on or near the site a subsequent church, built around the 15th Century was destroyed by fire. The present church is the result of a reconstruction in the 1870’s, using some of the masonry and the door from the earlier building The architect was the eminent Sir George Gilbert Scott who restored Bangor Cathedral and St Cybi’s church in Holyhead. It was later enlarged in 1879 by the addition of the chancel, to the design of architect, R G Thomas.