RELIGION provided one of the strongest foundations for the development of Llantrisant as a hilltop town. Its most prominent landmark remains the parish church, a striking element of the town's impressive skyline. It could not have been built in a more suitable position then on the crest of the hill. For its worshippers it stands as a beacon of faith and guiding light set against the morning sky.
It comes as no surprise as you approach Llantrisant that one early missionary said it was the only place in Britain he could liken to the city of Jerusalem.
An early Celtic community settled on that very site at least as early as the 7th century within a wooden fort-like enclosure and early Christian ceremonies undoubtedly took place here following centuries of pagan worship.
Pure speculation is the belief that the original community was named Llangawrdaf after a local martyr. So too is another fabrication that a spot near the church is said to be called the Tomb of Bronwen, derived from a tradition that a queen of Ireland died there following a blow to the head caused by her husband.
The village was converted by the monks of Illtyd from Llantwit Major who dedicated the church to their patron saints of Illtyd, Gwynno and Dyfodwg, giving the town its name of 'Church of the Three Saints.'
All that is left of that first church is the Resurrection Stone, illustrating an ancient Celtic Wheel Cross, still preserved in the building. A Romanesque-style church was built in 1096, while rebuilding came in 1246 when the neighbouring castle was fortified by Lord Despencer.
Only the font and a section of the south door remains from the original building which became the mother church of a parish that extended to the Breconshire border.
In 1386 it was under the jurisdiction of the Abbot of Tewkesbury until it was dissolved in 1539 and then came under the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester who remained in charge until 1885 when the Bishop of Llandaff took over responsibility.
The late Middle Ages was a time of splendid rebuilding of the church. The 70ft tower and West End were added around 1490 although indications show a medieaval tower once stood on the same spot.
In 1718 a peal of six bells was hung, each one inscribed and evidence suggests they were actually cast in the tower itself. When the additional two were added in 1926 a carillon system was also placed in the ringing chamber.
The vestry became the popular meeting place for leading landowners of the parish and the place where common lands and roads were administered, an overseer of the poor was appointed and the cheese tithe for locals decided upon.
One entry in the parish register read: 'David Harry was allowed 6d weekly for taking care of Mary David being lunatic.' Parish records were allegedly burned in 1728, but many interesting entries were made by Rev Richard Harries. On September 25 1751, he wrote: 'Evan Jenkins buried; last Saturday he was here, Sunday at Gelliwastad, Monday sickened, Tuesday died!!! O Adam!'
On December 26 1758 the Vicar related: 'Mary Bowen sent for me to christen her daughter soon after her father attempted to kill me in my own house. If I had not been strong enough for him, he would have killed me.'
In 1873 the interior of the church was completely rebuilt, costing £3,000 and influenced by architect John Pritchard, allowing a certain charm and beauty of a Victorian Gothic design. In 1894 the West End was completely restored, costing £1,200. The bells were rehung and a 4ft deep white marble baptistry, for baptism by immersion, was placed under the floor of the choir vestry.
The East Window above the altar, designed by Morris Burne-Jones was installed during the renovations of 1874. It is one of the only two known stained glass windows (the other in Cologne Cathedral) depicting Christ without a beard.
An effigy of a warrior was placed on the nearby wall, said to represent Cadwgan Fawr of Miskin who opposed Gilbert de Clare when the Norman lord attempted to suppress Welsh custom in the town.
Prior to 1900 a cottage and garden existed below the tower alongside West Caerlan Farm, and was the property of the same family that owned the Malthouse on Heol Las. A request was made by the clergy to extend the churchyard and the owner of the Malthouse gave it to the church as a gift. Most of the family are now buried there.
The original Vicarage was demolished in 1770 and a new one built under the guidance of Rev Robert Rickards in 1776.
The Vicarage, also home to a large household-staff was demolished in 1965 while Rev Edwin Davies was Vicar and a new house built nearby.
Llantrisant remains a town made up of other religious denominations. Fearing persecution, the meetings of early Non-conformists were held in secret at remote farms, but the eventual contribution made to Llantrisant by them is inestimable. It provided the groundwork through the Sunday Schools for people to develop their talents and education, gave working men the experience of a form of democracy, standards of behaviour were enhanced, a Band of Hope to curb excessive drinking was instigated and the Gymanfa Ganu was born.
The Baptist movement was first recorded in the town in 1650, but existed amidst great peril of persecution. In 1812 a group met in the Market Hall, the site of the present police station, and a request to the Marquess of Bute to use the Town Hall was granted. Increased membership by 1824 saw them acquire land at the rear of High Street to build Tabor, which was opened in 1826 and rebuilt in 1924.
High Street c.1905
The Welsh-speaking followers of the Wesleyan movement built the original Zorobabel Welsh Wesleyan Chapel on Swan Street (opposite the New Inn) in 1813. Although originally enjoying strong support, interest waned and by 1896 they failed to appoint trustees. In the next 10 years it fell into disuse and was sold to the Llantrisant Rural District Council in 1918. The building was later demolished during the 1980s and the remains re-interred at Cefn Parc Cemetery.
The English-speaking followers of the Wesleyan movement, who departed from Zorobabel Chapel, built the new Wesleyan Chapel on the Southgate in 1884. It consisted of two large rooms with a school room, but eventually closed in 1964.
In the building we now refer to as the Church Hall was the original Bethel Chapel, opened by the Welsh Independent Movement in 1808. Better known as Yr Hen Ty Cwrdd Uchaf (The Old Upper Meeting House) the movement is traced to 1802 with a Rev Griffiths Hughes. In 1851 it had an average Sunday attendance of 421, but in 1862 a disagreement broke out and the disenchanted members left for a new meeting placed called Soar. In 1902 they recombined at the new Zoar Chapel.
Bethel was bought by the parish church and the gallery was removed but the adjoining cemetery remained. Members who left Bethel in 1862 held meetings at various houses until offered a large room at Mwyndy Farm.
Zoar Chapel, 1905 - built on the site of Dr William Price's home, Ty'r Clettwr
Unfortunately John Jones left the farm shortly afterwards and Mrs Thomas of the Talbot Inn offered them a long room upstairs. Eventually they acquired, on lease, land at Cardiff Road, Penygawsi where the first Soar Chapel was erected.
When Dr William Price died in 1893 his home, Ty'r Clettwr was later demolished and a new chapel built on the site in 1902.
Opposite was Trinity Presbyterian Church (Elim) built in 1876. Following the influx of English-speaking members to nearby Penuel Chapel, separate meetings of Elim were held at Morgan's Hall, a long room at the rear of a house in High Street. In 1897 they secured a deed on the dwelling and demolished it to erect a new chapel. It was constructed in fine Victorian style and opened in 1898. Elim closed in 1960 to rejoin Penuel with bilingual services.
Penuel (Calvinistic Methodist) Chapel was built in 1775 and rebuilt in 1826. The Methodist Movement was first recorded in Llantrisant in 1741 at Ty Newydd Farm. The leader was Thomas Williams, who drowned in a river in Treorchy in 1753. On February 8 1775, they secured a lease of a house, stables and garden at Ffynnon Newydd on High Street.
Near Treferig, was the site of the Quaker's Meeting House, Ty Cwrdd. The original members were John Bevan (1636-1729) and his wife Barbara (1637-1710) who later emigrated to the USA. In 1820 the house was sold for '25 and in 1903 it was bequeathed by the owner to the Society of Friends..