Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Blessed Virgin Mary, Penmark

Pretty without being chocolate-boxy, Penmark is a small village near Cardiff, with a good local pub and an interesting mediaeval church. Its peace is only disturbed by the aircraft taking off from nearby Cardiff-Wales airport, but its character could not be more different.


The village was the site of a 12th century Norman castle, overlooking a natural ravine carved by the Waycock River. Originally built in wood by Gilbert de Umfraville, it was rebuilt in stone in the 13th century. A good review of the castle (now in ruins) can be found at

The church was probably built around the same time, and its generous proportions may reflect the patronage of the local lord: the oldest part is the chancel arch, dating from around 1200. The tower arch dates from 1400 and most of the windows (some restored) date from the 15th century. All the main elements of the fabric (including the South Porch) are mediaeval. Charles Wesley preached here on 26th July 1777,after breakfasting in near Fonmon Castle. In 1811 the church is recorded as being dedicated to St Mark. Repairs to the roof and walls were undertaken and new seating was installed in 1893-5. The Preaching Cross in the churchyard was restored in 1888, on the original mediaeval steps. The nearby Yew Trees are said to be 300-400 years old.

The church

The church has a south porch, nave, chancel and tower. The most notable interior feature is the peculiar chancel arch, comprising a simple and very crude pointed arch with similarly crude zig-zag carving, dating to around 1200. More impressive is a tall and beautifully proportioned late Gothic tower arch dating from around 1400. The nave has a well preserved staircase for a long-vanished Rood Screen. Most of the windows are perpendicular in style, dating from the later 15th century, some restored.

The church has some interesting fittings and furnishings: pride of place goes to the Jacobean pulpit, from which Charles Wesley preached in 1777. The nave side altar opposite dates from 1709, and above are memorials to Jones family of Fonmon Castle. In the chancel are late 17th century alabaster memorials to the Lewis Family of Penmark Place, with coats of arms and skulls. The nave has a plain turned Norman tub font, presumably dating from the founding of the church.

The church is an integral part of village life - details of special services can be found in the newsletter at Regular services are part of the joint benefice of Benefice of Penmark with Llancarfan with Llantrithyd.

Penmark, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan CF62 3BP


  1. A heavy Norman tower with a bit of Gothic. Do most parishes in Wales have free-standing altars? Or tables placed in the nave? Or does the celebrant still face east?

  2. Despite appearances, I think the tower is contemporaneous with the tower arch, around 1400, though it may have replaced an earlier tower. Norman towers in the Vale of Glamorgan tend to be massive and defensive - this is positively slender by comparison!

    Most altars in country churches are still in the sanctuary, but brought forward enough to enable the celebrant to face the congregation.