I went on a recent road trip in my trusty battered Nissan Micra to see friends, and at some point during this trip I found myself standing on a hill in Abergele, North Wales, staring up at a grand old chapel made out of dark brick with a dark slate roof, unable to take my eyes off it. It didn’t look like the other churches in the area. In a way it more resembled the great many castles dotted around the landscape (North Wales is full of castles. You can barely move for castles) than it did a church. It looked majestic, and imposing, and historic. It looked like this:
This is Capel Mynydd Seion. It was designed by Richard Owens (the second most prolific chapel architect in Wales) and built in 1869 from brick and dark granite that came from Penmaenmawr, a nearby quarrying town, which accounts for it’s rather macabre appearance.
I came across it by accident, while I was walking by on the way to a wedding dress shop, of all places (important to note: I was not shopping for myself). It drew my eye and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I needed to go and explore. The next day I found an opportunity to go and do just that. It was a grey and drizzly day (as it so often is in Wales) and I wrapped myself up in coat and scarf to protect against the wind coming in off the Irish sea, before setting out to walk around the chapel. It turned out to have a somewhat sprawling and beautiful graveyard behind it – picturesque against a backdrop of hills, fields and nearby Gwrych Castle spilling out from halfway up a nearby valley.
I wandered around for a while, reading the gravestones. This being North Wales, there were a lot of Davids and Owens and Jones’s and Gwenyths to be found. The graveyard, in contrast to the sombre looking church, was light and airy and peaceful. I certainly wouldn’t mind being buried with a sweeping view of the tree covered valleys of North Wales.
It was a short visit, and I didn’t go into the chapel, but I couldn’t resist photographing it from all angles, and made a mental note to research its history when I got back to London.
As I circled the building, I imagined the commentary Sheldon would give if he were there. ‘Early Gothic style…’ he’d begin, and then he’d probably look up the architect of the place using Google on his phone – that is, if he didn’t correctly guess the architect purely from looking at the chapel (which has been known). He’d teach me some facts about Richard Owens and then tell me about Calvinist Methodists (at some point during this impromptu lesson, I would learn that they are the only one of the nonconformist denominations that is indigenous to Wales, without any English equivalent).
He’d then do some more research and discover that this chapel was rebuilt in 1868-9 to replace the earlier Calvinist Methodist chapel that had stood on the site since 1791. We’d take a moment to try to imagine what the original chapel would have looked like. Then we’d discover that this grand old building was Grade II Listed in May 1997, and we’d be impressed. As it was, Sheldon wasn’t there, so I did a moderate-to-good job of finding all these things out on my own.
I love finding churches and chapels and historical buildings in general that stand out from their surroundings. You can tell immediately that there’s an interesting history to the place. I wonder what things this particular chapel has seen, and what it thought as it watched the quiet market town of Abergele grow bigger around it over the years, partially obscuring it’s view across the valley of the nearby castle, also standing tall watching the landscape change.
All photography by Christina Owen, Copyright 2015