When I’m not rooting around churches, I am often rooting around castles. Usually I hop around, getting excited, find the chapel immediately, tell whoever I am with “that’s the chapel” and then go and pretend to fall off a battlement.
At Castell Carreg Cennen (Castle on the Rock above the Cennen), that pretty much happened. It is an astoundingly beautiful ruin, that we came upon just by smaller small brown signs. Would it be a mound? Would it be an 18th Century folly? Nope it was a proper this-is-how-Disney-would-do-it ruin.
After I returned from Wales, I began to think about chapels in castles a bit more deeply. Who used them? What did they look like? Were they standardised? It turns out the chapels-in-castles in a bit of an under-studied area, so lots of my questions are currently answerless.
What we do know is that chapels in castles fall into three broad types:
- Small chapels near the bedchamber and hall
- Larger chapels in the castle for the household
- Larger chapels in the out bailey for all those living within the castle complex
At Castell Carreg Cennen, the chapel is in a tower on the east side, with a stairs leading up within the tower. The chapel was at the second floor level. It would seem that here the chapel falls into category one. (Though I understand that castles could have more than one chapel too.)
So who were the chaplains? They were part of the castle staff and were paid by the lord and lady. However, they could double up roles, so be chaplain and accountant or clerk or medic. (Two birds, one stone.) Daily morning Mass and the provision of pastoral care were included amongst their duties.
In general, chapels in castles were dedicated to particular saints – for example St George’s Chapel, Windsor, or St Oswald’s Chapel, Banburgh. I couldn’t find a dedication for Carreg Cennen unfortunately (please tell me if you know) – but looking at local early dedications St Teilo or the Holy Trinity might be candidates?*
St Oswald’s Bamburgh is interesting as recent archaeological investigation tested whether there was a crypt underneath:
The results of the trial trenches disprove the presence of a crypt but have revealed structures associated with the medieval chapel and part of what appears to be a masonry structure of pre-chapel date.
At Pontefract Castle, there have been three chapels on site across its history, moving in and out of use. St Clement’s chapel (Romanesque) fell into disrepair; the Elizabethan chapel was used as for Civil War burials.
Essentially, Castell Carreg Cennen Chapel is a bit of a mysery. It seems that chapels themselves need further academic study (so folks like me can find out more).
However it is clear that the castle itself has fascinated people for a long time. There is even a Dylan Thomas namecheck
… By Carreg Cennen, King of time,
Our Heron Head is only
A bit of stone with seaweed spread
Where gulls come to be lonely …
The castle itself was first contructed in stone in 1197 by Lord Rhy. It was subsequently fought over until a permament grant by Edward I to John Giffard, troop commander. In 1403 it is besieged by Owain Glyndŵr, the walls were damaged, but the castle held out. Repaired in 1409. The finals phase of the castle’s life came in 1461 – as a Lancastrian stronghold it was captured by Yorkists during the Wars of the Roses and they began its demolition.
In the 18th century it became a popular location for watercolourists, including JMW Turner.
There are other sketches in the Dynevor Castle Sketchbook held by Tate.
Enjoy your visit. Think deeply about what you see and who was there before and remember that castles were spiritual places too.