Once visitors step inside St Elvan there is always an exclamation of surprise as they take in the impressive height and breadth. The church truly earns its nickname of the ‘Cathedral of the Valleys.’
Situated in the centre of the town of Aberdare it’s 180ft spire can be seen for miles around. St Elvan's interior white washed walls are the backdrop for impressive stained glass windows, the largest of which tells the story of St Elvan (the Celtic monk to whom we owe our unique dedication) and hints at Aberdare’s monastic past and the pilgrim trail to Penrys.
Hidden away in the Lady chapel is the lancet window that commemorates the church's founder. It depicts St Stephen the Martyr who was stoned to death, an ironic reminder of a challenging man who was as outspoken and contentious as he was benevolent. His contribution to the famous ‘Blue Books’ is still spoken of today.
The design of the Lady Chapel reflects the ideals of the Arts & Crafts movement and High Anglican worship. The walls and furniture overflow with symbols of lilies and foliage on blue green painted backgrounds. Completing the extravagance of decoration is a brightly coloured ‘Crucifixion’ window given by railway workers.
The church was extended in 1911 at the height of the coal production and expansion of the mines. It's benefactors comprised wealthy mineral owners and influential men of the age such as the 2nd Archbishop of Wales, Lord Merthyr of Sengynedd and Canon John Jenkins whose work with the railway men and owners led towards the foundation of the Labour Party. Many of the stories of St Elvan church intertwine with the iron and coal masters who together with Lord Merthyr developed Aberdare valley's mineral resources, parklands and churches. His family is included on eight of the windows.
St Elvan has many fine examples of woodcarving. The finest is situated on the north wall of St Michael chapel. This War Memorial, design by FC Eden, is adorned with five statues and lists the names and regiments of 224 men of the parish who fought in the First World War. Research into the fate of the soldiers is left in the chapel for visitors, their stories were recorded in the book The Men Who Marched Away.
This stunning interior was sensitively altered in 2021 with the addition of a cafe ,spiral staircase to exhibitions on the mezzanine and heritage information which connects the needs of families and lovers of church architecture and furnishings.