A whitewashed village church with links to a 6th century saint and the story of a running hare.
High on the rocky cliffs of north Anglesey, the Grade II* listed church of St Patrick is said to be one of the oldest in Wales. Its origins lie in a dramatic story of shipwreck from around the year 440, not long after the Roman occupying army had left the country. St Patrick himself was returning from a missionary journey to Ireland when his ship ran aground on the island of Middle Mouse (Ynys Padrig, Patrick’s Island in Welsh). Struggling to shore, he found sanctuary in a cave with a fresh water spring (now obscured by a rock-fall) and then in thankfulness for his narrow escape founded a church on the headland described in recent times by no less a person than the Dalai Lama as ‘the most peaceful spot on earth’.
While nothing remains of the original wooden building, the present day church dates in part to the 12th and 13th centuries (nave and font), with a long chancel added a hundred or so years later. It was not until 1884 that a significant refurbishment took place, funded by Henry Stanley, 3rd Baron of Alderley and owner of the Penrhos Estate on Holy Island. As a convert to Islam, he stipulated that the stained glass windows should show geometric designs rather than the traditional biblical scenes and characters. The striking blue wall tiles in the chancel employ similar geometric or floral patterns.
The 1884 renovations also uncovered the Icthus Stone now standing at the back of the church. With its simple carvings of the Christian symbols of a fish (the Greek for fish, ‘ichthus’, was an acrostic for Jesus Christ) and a palm tree (signifying victory over death), this is possibly a 9th to 11th century gravestone. Also displayed is a fine wooden altar panel from 1430 showing two men’s faces in profile.
In the 1980s another major restoration took place after the church was badly damaged by fire. It is still used regularly for worship and is one of three small churches designated ‘betysai’ or ‘houses of prayer’ in the Bro Padrig Ministry Area.