Site: Bardsey Island

Name:Bardsey Island CISP No:BARDS
Place:Bardsey Grid Ref:SH 1206 2214 (GB)   Map
Parish:Bardsey Stones:1
County:Caernarvonshire (Caernarfon) , Wales Saint(s):Mary
Site Type:ecclesiastical

Site Notes

RCAHMW/1964, 17, `The Island of Bardsey, or Ynys Enlli, lies nearly two miles S. of the extreme W. end of Lleyn. The total area is nearly 450 acres. The Island is dominated by Mynydd Enlli (summit 500 ft. above O.D.) which falls precipitously to the sea on the E. The remainder of the surface is nearly flat, and is good agricultural land, but the S. part is very exposed...A survey by Whitchurch made in 1790, although drawn to a small scale shows about 12 dwellings at the foot of the W. slope of the mountain near the 130 ft. contour; of these only Carreg-bach (at SH 11982202) survives. A large building apparently about 150 ft. E. of Hen-dy (at SH 12052223) is noted as `ruins of church barn etc.'; it has left no trace. In 1806 it is recorded that there were 12 to 15 houses occupied by about 60 people mainly dependent on fishing; in 1960 there were seven permanent residents. Between 1870 and 1875 the farms were rebuilt and form an interesting example of 19th-century agricultural planning. Carreg and Plas-bach formed separate units, but the remaining eight were built as semi-detached houses, each pair with out-buildings set around a shared yard...The island was an important place of pilgrimage and monastic settlement throughout the Middle Ages, possibly from as early as the 6th century, but apart from a ruined tower belonging to the monastery (No. 1518) little remains visible except a few loose pieces of dressed stone, a fragmentary inscribed cross-slab and a medieval gravestone. Some of the huts of which traces remain on Mynydd Enlli (No. 1520) may have formed part of the early monastic settlement, but no certain attribution can be made on the evidence of their present appearance...

`The Abbey of Enlli or St. Mary of Bardsey stood at about 150 ft. above O.D. at the N. end of the Island. The tower within the present burial-ground is the only part of its structure remaining above ground.'

The tower dates from the 13th century constructed of rubble with local sandstone dressings. It is 19 ft. square and 23 ft. high (RCAHMW/1964, 18). This ruined tower is the only surviving remains of the Abbey.

RCAHMW/1964, 17--18: `The Island was famous in Wales by the early 12th century as a monastic retreat and a place of pilgrimage, being the reputed burial-place of such 6th-century saints as Dubricius (Dyfrig) and Deniol `of the Bangors'. The earliest contemporary reference, however, appears to be in 1011, the obit of a monk of Enlli, of about the same period as a fragmentary cross-slab found there...The church of Enlli is named among those leading churches of Gwynedd to which Gruffydd ap Cynan made gifts shortly before his death in 1137. The monks are described as Culdees in 1188, like those of Beddgelert...; that is to say, they were still Celtic, not attached to any Roman monastic order. But shortly before 1212 two canons of Bardsey appear as witnesses to a charter in favour of the Augustinian abbey of Haughmond (Salop) and its church at Nyfyn (No. 1680), a context which suggests that they were already canons of the same rule. Such a change is reflected in 1252 in an agreement between the abbey of Enlli and the secular canons of Aberdaron (No. 1456). Its terms imply a previous connection between the two bodies, and this reappears in the 16th century. The abbey certainly belonged to the Augustinian Order from the early 14th century until the Dissolution.

`No direct record of building is known, but ca. 1305 the abbey was provisionally allowed to take timber from the woods of Merioneth. In 1346 the abbot and the canons were able to shut themselves up when the Island was raided. As granted after the Dissolution the site contained the `monastery of small priorie' with `the church hows & steple', as well as rooms and barns, orchards and gardens.

`No demolition is recorded then; the buildings must have been left to fall into ruin. In 1662, John Ray the naturalist noted a ruined church, adding,`three more they told us of'. Pennant in 1773 writes of `the abbot's house...a large stone building inhabited by several of the natives' and `not far from it...a singular chapel, or oratory, being a long arched edifice, with an insulated stone altar near the east end'. The abbot's lodging was still inhabited in 1814, but by 1846 only the ruined tower remained.'