Ysbyty Cynfyn

Wales, United Kingdom. - (OS Ref. Sheets 135 & 174, SN753792)


I drove past this site and had reached the village of Pontarfynach (Devil's Bridge) before realising my mistake. Remembering what I thought to be a tourist information sign a little way back up the road I turned the car around an headed for that. I parked next to the information board supplied by the tourist board:

"In medieval times, Ysbyty Cynfyn was a possession of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. The Knights Hospitallers were founded during the Crusades in the 12th century and were dedicated to providing places of shelter for pilgrims travelling to Christian shrines. The church is dedicated to St John.


'Ysbyty' comes from the Latin Hospitium (hospice) and the name tells us that the Hospitallers had a pilgrims' hospice here, on the pilgrimage route that led to David's, Pembrokeshire, the ecclesiastical capital of Wales. Three pilgrimages to St David's were considered equal to one pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The present church was built in the early 19th century. The old church, according to one account was used once a year for traditional sports, including wrestling. The Methodist revival of the 18th century helped to put an end to such activities. It is recorded that the first Methodist to preach in the area spoke from the churchyard wall here in the 1740s.


There are several very interesting features to be seen around the church including the grave of quadruplets born at Nantsyddion, who all died in infancy in 1856. The churchyard wall includes an enigmatic series of large stones built into it. The largest is over 3 metres high and probably a Bronze Age standing stone. It is said that the other stones once formed part of a prehistoric stone circle, within which the church was built.

At Dolygamfa, on the other side of the Rheidol gorge, are the remains of a Bronze Age burial mound. Much of the mound has been eroded away, leaving only a circle of upstanding stones. At one time, local children were told that the 'Tylwyth Teg' or fairy folk danced in this circle.


A path beside the churchyard leads to the Rheidol gorge, which is spanned by the Parson's Bridge. There has been a succession of footbridges here, the first having been built, it is believed, to provide the local parson with a convenient shortcut. In the 18th century the bridge was a simple log and handrail between two rock ledges, at the narrow point a few metres upstream of the present bridge.


During the 19th century, a lead mine was opened on the opposite side of the gorge. The Temple Mine takes its name from the standing stones at the church, 'a supposed Druidic Temple.' The ore from the Temple Mine was carried on an inclined tramway up the steep side of the Rheidol gorge in the direction of the old mining village of Ystmtuen, where there was a group of important lead mines. The ruins of the Temple mine are now managed by the Countryside Council for Wales and can be seen from the Parsons Bridge."



A mystery, the more I look at and reflect upon the stones at Ysbyty Cynfyn, the more I'm convinced that they have never in their history formed a circle. And then, I look at a satellite image of the site,squinting; I can 'see' a vestigial circle. I sometimes fancy that the stones formed a row or an alignment, perhaps aligned along the valley, towards the peaks either side or with the comings and goings of the sun and moon! I imagine that the mammoth 3m monolith has never been moved since it was erected millenia ago, the others I believe have been moved. Two have been fashioned into gateposts and two form part of the wall, all these stones lay at the eastern quater of the churchyard, (including the more dubious stone gateposts for the public footpath); all are big, over 1.5m tall and all are weighty enough to discourage them being moved any great distance.

We walked along the footpath at the rear of the church to see the place from another angel, bee's buzzed loudly from the blossoming hawthorn trees!


The church, grey and a little disapointing in appearance has one magical saving grace, it has a bell that is rung from outside the tower by way of a long piece of rope. I fought the temtation to pull upon it, had there been a sign saying "do not pull", I'd have done so! We discovered the grave of the Nantsyddion quadruplets and paused for a moment to read the inscription, I finally walked the circumference of the burial ground wall in an effort to find other significant stones and failed to do so.


Ysbyty Cynfyn, it has my head buzzing!