Puzzling Pictures 7: Fact And Fiction

Where were we? (See Blog Entry for Saturday 21st of July, “Puzzling Pictures 7: This Little Gem”.) Answer: The Chapel Of St Trillo, Rhos-on-Sea, as I’m sure some readers will have recognised. It’s famous. You’ll find it mentioned in almost every guide book and website about this area of North Wales, billed as “the smallest church in Britain” - though “The Guinness Book Of Records” awards that distinction to Bremilham Church, on Cowage Farm at Foxley, near Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

Be that as it may, it’s certainly small - and, when you step inside, it seems even smaller. The National Churches Trust describes it thus: “This tiny, plain stone roofed building is about 11 feet by 8 feet altogether with walls 2 feet thick. It is said to date from the Middle Ages, though there was obviously a chapel or hermit's cell on this site before that. Inside, under the altar, is St Trillo's holy well.”

The more you read about the history of the chapel and its association with St Trillo, the more you wonder how much of it is fact, and how much of it is fiction. Read a couple of accounts for yourself, and notice how many times the words “probably”, “possibly” and “perhaps” pop up.

What is clear is that the present chapel is of relatively recent construction.

One account says: “It’s a simple stone and mortar structure with integral walls and roof and has a heavy wooden door. It was heavily restored in its present form with new external walls and roof about 120 years ago.” New walls and a new roof? Wouldn’t that amount to a new building, in effect? Elsewhere, we read: “In 1935 the chapel was carefully restored and reconsecrated by William Thomas Havard, Bishop of St Asaph.” What else was there to do, in so small and simple an edifice?

In St Trillo’s Church in Llandrillo there is a “St Trillo Window” (Geoffrey Webb, 1936). On that church’s website, we read: “The window gives a little of the history of St Trillo. St Cadfan, Abbot, together with Ithel Hael, crosses from Brittany to land in Wales. Ithel Hael's son, Trillo, is shown holding the tiny church built on the foreshore at Rhos at the place of landing. The church is still there. From that spot, St Trillo wandered, founding this church near where the Ceidiog and the Dee meet. The date is thought to be late sixth century.” I note that the tiny model church that he holds looks remarkably like the modern chapel, rather than anything that might have existed at that time.

Be that as it may, there is no doubt that the chapel is well loved and well cared for by the local folk. A sign outside says: “Every Thursday St Trillo’s Seafront Chapel 8.30am Said Eucharist”. There are six wooden seats inside; I suppose that a dozen or so communicants could be accommodated, at a pinch. The floral decorations outside were in full bloom when we were there, and inside there were tealights and vases of fresh flowers.

I quite liked the interior, on account of its simplicity: the walls and ceiling roughly plastered and whitewashed, the bare stone of the end wall, the cobbled floor, even the two small stained glass windows (St Trillo above the altar, St Elian on the left), the plain wooden chairs - all pleasingly, deliberately, olde worlde.

However: there’s always something, isn’t there? Look at all that clutter on and around the altar! A certificate (third place for the chapel in “Colwyn In Bloom 2017”) draped with a rosary, another rosary, a couple of cuddly toys, a bowl of plastic flowers, a child’s sailboat, a pebble with a message on it, a picture of a blue-clad, blonde-haired Mary, a reproduction of an icon, a Christmas tree star decoration, a wooden flower, more plastic flowers, a pottery ornament in the shape of book, a pottery candle-holder with “MUM” on it, and other assorted items of pottery and fragments of junk jewellery.

On the right was a small noticeboard, with cards on which prayer requests could be written, though the cards pinned up were mostly sentimental messages to the dear departed.

The maudlin Mariolatry was bad enough, but then, above the “Colwyn In Bloom” certificate, I noticed a framed copy of “A Prayer To St Trillo”. I won’t reproduce it in full, but here are just a few lines: “Intercede with Christ God to/ Keep me safe as I journey/ That He may/ Protect me from harm...” Shades of St Christopher!

Right in front of the altar is a “holy well”. A local historian writes: “For centuries, this well supplied the water for baptisms across the extensive medieval parish of Llandrillo. It also had a long tradition of being a healing well.” It was covered over when I went, or I would have put some in a plastic bottle. If bitten by a vampire, I would then be able to cauterise the wound and pour holy water over it, causing it to disappear in a matter of moments. It worked for Peter Cushing in “Brides Of Dracula”!

Is there any need for me to assert that praying to or through a “saint” and/or Mary is entirely unbiblical? Hebrews 4.16 tells us that we, believers here on earth, may “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 1 Timothy 2.5 declares: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. Furthermore, Hebrews 7.25 assures us that Jesus Christ Himself speaks on our behalf before the Father: “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

Dear friends in Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru and elsewhere in the Anglican communion: the stories associated with St Trillo and “his” Chapel On The Shore are clearly a mixture of fact and fiction, and it’s not of any great importance that we cannot easily disentangle the one from the other; but when it comes to the claims of Jesus Christ, getting to the absolute truth is of the utmost importance, now and for all eternity.

Jesus declares: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

And that’s a fact.