The first Church on this site was probably built by Bodfan, a Celtic Saint of the sixth century. This Bodfan may have been the son of Helig ap Glannog whose territory was destroyed by the great inundation that formed the Lanvan Sands which lie between the Great Orme's Head and the Menai Straits off the North Wales coast. After the disaster both Helig and his sons embraced a religious life. The Church at Aber, in Gwynedd, is dedicated to St Bodfan and he may be the same Saint associated with Llanaber. One of Bodfan's brothers was Celynin, who likewise has a Church dedicated to him at Llangelynin in the Conway Valley and at Llangelynin near Llwyngwril, a few miles south of Llanaber. Other brothers were Brothen, who founded the Church at Llanfrothern and Boda and Gwynin who founded the Church at Dwygyfylchi near Penmaenmawr.
Bodfan, no doubt, built his Church of wood and wattle but of that building no trace remains. With the coming of the Normans the art of building in stone was also introduced and, following their custom, many Welsh dedications were either changed to, or coupled with, the names of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Apostles. Ancient maps refer to the Church as St Bodfan's and an association with the Saint is preserved in the name of the nearby Bodfan Farm, but the Church is today more popularly known as St Mary's.
The present church dates from the early thirteenth century. One of its great benefactors was Hywel ap Meredydd ap Cynan, the Lord of Ardudwy, the commot which has given its name to the Rural Deanery of Ardudwy in which the Parish of Llanaber is situated. This Hywel was a near relative of Llewelyn the Great.
The plan of the church consists of a Nave, with North and South Aisles, and a long narrow Chancel. Entering the Church by the South Porch, rebuilt in the nineteenth century, the visitor notices the very fine South Doorway, reputed by many to be one of the finest examples of Early English architecture in the country, This doorway, built of yellow sandstone, is deeply recessed and is composed of six shafts on either side. The north door opposite is much narrower and of simple design.
The Nave is divided on either side into five arcades. Here we see a wonderful example of transition from Norman Architecture to the Early English Style. The piers are Norman in character with foliated capitals from which spring pointed arches. The four Clerestory windows on either side of the Nave are delightful examples of Early English Lancets, whilst the two long Lancets of the west wall are part of the nineteenth century restoration.
The Chancel, which is separated from the Nave by an Early English arch, approached by a flight of steps, necessitated by the sloping nature of the site on which the Church is built. The East Window is a perfect example of a single Early English Lancet with very wide splays and shafts in the inner arch.
The main Roof Timbers, both in the Nave and Chancel, date from the sixteenth century, whilst the ceiling above the Sanctuary is panelled and its bosses and carvings picked out in gilt and colour.
In 1860 extensive work of Restoration was carried out. The Bell turret was rebuilt as well as most of the west wall with its heavy buttresses. The small vestry adjoining the North side of the Chancel was also constructed at the same time on the site of a previous building.
The glass in the windows dates from the latter part of the nineteenth century and is on the whole good with the design in the Clerestory windows depicting angels with musical instruments.
Most of the monuments date from the nineteenth century.
The Calixtus Stone. In the north west corner of the Church will be found two ancient stones. One is the Calixtus Stone, placed in the Church in the 19th century and having been previously used as a footbridge on a neighbouring Farm. The inscription has been read as:
CAELIXTUS MONEDO REGI
and is supposed to mean Calixtus King of Mona.
The parish registers date back to the year 1750. Interesting relics in the Church comprise two wooden collection boxes with handles and dated 1756 and 1774 respectively, whilst near the south entrance may be seen an old Church warden's chest, cut out of a single log of wood.
The Font is octagonal in shape. The bowl is modern and it stands on a very much older shaft.
In 1969 the year of the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, the Church was again extensively restored. The timbers of the roofs were treated against woodworm and new timbers inserted where necessary. The seating of the church was also renewed with surplus pews from St John's Church, Barmouth. The Compton Two Manual and Pedal Organ, a memorial gift, was dedicated by the Bishop of Bangor, in whose Diocese the Parish is, on Trinity Sunday, June 1st 1969 (the eve of the feast of St Bodfan) at the time of the re-hallowing of the Church after Restoration.
The Parish of Llanaber with Barmouth, of which this Church is the Mother Church, contains two other church buildings. In 1830 Saint David's Church was built near the Harbour at Barmouth in the Neo-Gothic style popular at that time, whilst in 1895 was completed the magnificent Church of St John the Evangelist, Barmouth, built in the Perpendicular style and with its fine central tower a prominent landmark. Another church associated with the incumbency is St Philip's Parish Church, Caerdeon, which is situated about four miles from Barmouth in the Dolgellau direction. It was built in 1862 in the style of a Basque Church of Northern Spain. These three Churches are also well worth a visit.
To the Wayfarer, we hope you have enjoyed your visit to this ancient Church. Before you leave pause to offer a prayer for all who worship and minister in this place. Pray too that this Church may continue to speak of God and of the things which endure and which provide for man's well being and eternal destiny. May God's Blessing be on you and send you on your way rejoicing.
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