|Visiting the House of God
Christianity and its buildings have played an important role in Welsh history and in shaping Welsh communities. From the grandest presbyteries to the most puritan chapel cottages, religious buildings have been central to Welsh towns and villages for centuries. In this edition of Y Tŷ Cymreig Aled and Greg looked at the story behind some houses that were tied to Church and chapel, and uncovered some remarkable historic interiors.
Maesyronnen chapel near Hay-on-Wye is a humble yet beautiful example of an early non-conformist chapel. Formed from an early farmhouse with attached byre (as per a traditional Welsh long-house), the cow-shed became the chapel, and the house was given over to the caretaker. The chapel retains a strong puritan atmosphere, and the attached farmhouse remains a delightful cottage home. There isn’t a hint of extravagance here, but the simplicity of the design is beautiful, and the fact that this is one of our earliest surviving chapels makes the visit worthwhile.
Another religious house featured also dates from the seventeenth century, but it couldn’t be more different to Maesyronnen. You won’t find a more attractive house than the vicarage in Berriw, an oak-framed house purpose built back in 1616. It really is a national treasure and people have been coming to photograph its façade since photography was invented.
Greg says “I had imagined that the interior would be all low-oak beams, a huge inglenook fire and possibly some oak-panelled walls. But the comparatively rustic seventeenth century timber-framing on the outside contrasts sharply with a formal eighteenth-century interior of elegant Georgian proportions. Here is a house that shows the best of Welsh design from two very different centuries and yet marries the contrasting styles with ease.”
Two other houses featured in the programme reflect greatly contrasting approaches to religious architecture. The chapel house and manse at Llanuwchllyn is an important site in Nonconformist history, having been home to Michael D Jones: the architectural style here is subdued and conservative. On the other hand, the former Catholic Presbytery in Machynlleth boasts jewel-coloured tiles, mirrors, gothic fireplaces and walls painted in rich and opulent colours: this house was designed to be the grandest in town.