Visit to St. Ishmael’s Church 24 March 2018, Ferryside, Carmarthenshire
lat: 51.750317 lon: -4.374018
Our visit to St. Ishmael’s church on Saturday, 24th March was enhanced by almost spring-like weather. Perched on the side of a hill overlooking the estuary of the River Towy and the magnificent sweep of Carmarthen Bay, this church has been a place of worship for more than a thousand years, and a chapel of ease for pilgrims on the route to St. David’s in Pembrokeshire. It was good to know that the church still holds a service every Sunday.
We were given sketch maps which pointed out some of the highlights of the church, like the holy water stoup at the entrance and the hagioscope or squint which allowed worshippers in the side chapel to see the elevation of the host at the consecration during mass.
The inside of the church is larger than appears from outside and is quite plain with just a few memorial tablets and marked burials. There are possibly burial vaults beneath the floor. A display in the vestry tells of the church’s association with the Rebecca Riots of 1843.
The church is 40 metres from high water mark, and 400 metres away to the south west buried in sand is what might have been the original settlement served by the church. Excavations have been carried out from time to time when the shifting sands have allowed, but no definite conclusions have been reached as to its age. It is suggested that the great flood of 1607/8 (possibly a tsunami) was responsible for its disappearance.
The graveyard was a great source of interest not least because facing towards the east as most of the headstones do, they have not been subject to the scouring action of the west wind, and even older inscriptions are legible. An important nineteenth century tomb is that of Hugh Williams, the radical lawyer who sympathised with the Chartists and Rebecca Rioters: the grave is shared with his brother, William Williams, who served as a Lieutenant in the Brazilian Navy.
Fortunately everyone took heed of warnings to tread carefully over the uneven ground so no accidents were recorded, and we were able to enjoy the tea and bara brith so generously provided by Rhinedd and Wendy.