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Calls not to sell church where Welsh hymn-writer and poet is buried

10 May 2024

Museum of Methodism/John Wesley’s House

The hymn-writer Ann Griffiths

The hymn-writer Ann Griffiths

THE church where the Welsh hymn-writer and poet Ann Griffiths is buried in the churchyard has become the subject of disagreement over its proposed sale.

St Michael’s, Llanfihangel-yng-Ngwynfa, in the diocese of St Asaph, was listed with a local agent for a guide price of £30,000; but, after a national outcry, and a petition signed by more than 1200 people at change.org, the Church in Wales has agreed to pause the sale process: “Given the recent expressions of interest in the future of the building, the Representative Body of the Church in Wales will postpone the auction sale for a year to enable further discussions to take place.”

The present church on the site was built in the 1860s, but was closed in early 2020, owing to the need for structural repairs costing in excess of £200,000. These were, an official statement said, “greater than the resources of the local worshipping community”.

Griffiths, who died in 1805, aged 29, is considered to be one of the most significant writers of hymns in Welsh.

The enthronement of Dr Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury, in 2003, featured his own translation of one of her hymns, “The Lord Jesus” (“Yr Arglwydd Iesu”). She also wrote “Behold, standing between the myrtle trees”, which went on to be set in its Welsh version to the hymn tune Cwm Rhondda. In turn, this tune was taken on for a hymn by William Williams Pantycelyn, which was translated as “Guide me, O thou great Redeemer”.

The petition to save St Michael’s argues that “it was here that she was baptized and married.” She died, however, about six decades before the present church was constructed, on the same site. The previous building was the one that Griffiths would have known, and the Church in Wales has stated that “the proposed sale of the building would retain public access to the churchyard, including the memorial to Ann Griffiths”.

One of the signatories to the petition, Arfon Jones, said: “This church and its history is a Welsh national treasure, and it should be owned by the nation. The Church in Wales should take it off the market to allow a community enterprise opportunity to buy the same.”

The Representative Body has confirmed that it has delayed the sale because of representations from the community, and that it is open to all approaches for alternative use. “Anyone interested in exploring possible options for this church should contact the Representative Body.”

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