After nearly a hundred years of obscurity the demolition and clearance work of the old church hall at Llwynhendy has revealed the archaeological remains of Capel Dewi, possibly a 12-13 century medieval church. The importance of this ‘chapel of ease’ in the hamlet of Berwick as it was then called, cannot be over emphasised because there is some evidence that the site may date back even further in time to the Early Medieval period or the Dark Age, for its dedication to St David links it with the ‘age of the saints’.
Also, what may have been an Ogham stone was reported to have been seen there in the Victorian era. (Ogham was an early form of Irish /Celtic script, marked on standing stones).
Early travellers through South Wales often describe the ‘small ruin picturesquely accompanied by its yew tree’. There is evidence that ‘Gerald of Wales’ may have passed by in March 1188 on his famous tour of Wales, gathering recruits for the Third Crusade. But the age of its antiquity can be traced as far back as at least the 16 century, for it was reported in a 1552 survey of the Commissioners appointed by Edward VI, to have possessed a ‘chalice’. A number of 18 century plans show a bell tower to the west of the building. One plan also shows a boundary encompassing the church in common with that of a Celtic ‘llan’, i.e., an early Christian church with an enclosed graveyard.
Even as late as the end of the 19 century a substantial amount of the remains of the chapel were still to be seen, for it was described and sketched in 1888 by the Victorian historian and author, Arthur Mee. He stated that….
“Considerable arches and windows can still be traced, with sockets for the timber which of course has long since disappeared. There is no trace of inscription left, but the author learned from an intelligent woman living in an adjacent cottage that a gravestone was to be seen years ago with letters on it, of which the words were neither Welsh nor English. She saw only this one stone. Her account is corroborated by a Mr Meyler Daniel who believes the marks on the stone were hieroglyphics, rather than words”.
As with the recent archaeological discovery of the burials at the ‘chapel of ease’ at Capel, there is strong evidence that the St Davids ruin and its surrounding area will also hold graves which may date as far back in time as the Dark Ages, for Mee continues in his narrative stating that during alterations to the main highway and the building of the present St David’s Church, quantities of human bones were discovered, with teeth in a perfect state. Some of the remains were reported to have been moved to a museum.
Today only part of the south wall and corner of the chapel remain, but this ancient site, along with other sites to the east and west of Llanelli raise the exciting possibility of an early pilgrimage route to St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, passing through or nearby our town. Members of Llanelli Community Heritage eagerly await the results of the carbon dating of the archaeological finds at Capel to give further information to support this theory.