St Derfel

Dedicated to a saint with connections to King Arthur and a popular pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages, St Derfel's is famous for its 'fasting woman' and its medieval relic that has a connection to a grisly execution.

Llandderfel, Gwynedd

Opening times

The church is open daily, from dawn to dusk. We have been accepted as a Pilgrim Church so everyone is welcome to come in and pray, light a votive candle and explore the history of the church in peace and quiet.


LL23 7HW

This parish church is dedicated to Derfel Gadarn (Derfel the Mighty). A figure celebrated in Welsh poetry, Derfel was, some claimed, a warrior of King Arthur before entering the religious life.

The church came to house a large wooden sculpture of Derfel with an accompanying sculpture of a stag (frequently known as his horse) and the effigy became the focus of a pilgrimage cult during the late Middle Ages. Pilgrims came with offerings of money but also brought their animals with them to be blessed and healed.

A legend stated that the effigy would one day burn down a forest and so, during the Reformation, Thomas Cromwell ordered that the sculpture of St Derfel be taken to London and set on the pyre of Father John Forest, a Jesuit priest who was burned alive for denying the supremacy of Henry VIII as head of the church. The stag, however, remained in the church where it can still be seen today, though without its head which was removed in 1760 on the orders of the rural dean. At that time the statue was carried in procession every Easter Tuesday and used as a makeshift fairground ride.

The present church is an early Tudor rebuilding, probably of the early 16th century and takes the form of a single chamber parish church. It has been suggested that the deep cuts in the old sandstone archway, now enclosed by a more modern porch, represent the flames destroying the image of Derfel.

Another person associated with the church who was also celebrated in Welsh poetry is Gaynor Hughes (1745-1780) who was known for having mystical experiences involving visions of the future and of Heaven and Hell. Stories of her abilities caused many people to come as pilgrims to visit her. She also survived without any solid food for the last four and a half years of her life, something commemorated on her gravestone in the churchyard of Llandderfel. Also in the churchyard are a number of ancient yew trees.

  • Captivating architecture

  • Enchanting atmosphere

  • Famous connections

  • Glorious furnishings

  • Social heritage stories

  • Accessible toilets nearby

  • Bus stop within 100m

  • Dog friendly

  • Level access to the main areas

  • On street parking at church

  • Space to secure your bike

  • Steps to enter the church or churchyard

  • Walkers & cyclists welcome

  • Church in Wales

  • Wolfson Fabric Repair Grant, £5,000, 2021

  • The grant will help to repoint the south wall.

Contact information

Other nearby churches

Christ Church

Bala, Gwynedd

Victorian church set within a churchyard close to the town centre.

St John the Evangelist

Cynwyd, Gwynedd

A Victorian church built by the generous donations of local individuals.