Llanrhian – Church of St Rhian

What can you expect at a Sunday Service at St Rhian? Sometimes it can be daunting to walk into an unfamiliar building for the first time, but be assured of a warm welcome. A member of the congregation is always on duty to greet everyone and to hand them a hymn book, service sheet and weekly notice sheet.

You can sit anywhere you feel comfortable or ask to be shown where to sit. Special spaces are available for disabled/wheelchair users if required. A box of toys is available for young children, just ask if they are needed.

In every pew you will find a bible if you wish to follow the readings and envelopes for the collection if you are a tax payer. An invitation to free will giving during the offertory hymn will be made, don’t feel uncomfortable if you can’t!

The service will normally be led by the vicar with a little help from some friends! He will announce the hymns and the various parts of the service so that following the service is easy, even when to sit or stand.

Usually there are two bible readings, several hymns/songs, a sermon lasting about 15 minutes and an invitation to come forward for communion or a blessing.

After the service, refreshments are held in the church hall opposite, and everyone is welcome. This is a social time to catch up with neighbours and friends and find out what is going on in the area and what we are involved in as a family in the church and community of Llanrhian.

We look forward to welcoming you whether a single visitor or a whole family on holiday or living in  Pembrokeshire.

There has been a Church on this site for 1500 years. In those early days this locality, Dewisland, was one of the most thickly populated areas of the country, and lay at the heart of the Celtic world, which included not only Wales, Ireland and Scotland, but Cornwall and Cumberland and Brittany. It would have been surrounded by an earthen rampart and containing several beehive-shaped huts of wattle and daub, but no more can be told for certain. Later this must have been replaced by a wooden structure, and finally by a stone Church.

Little is known of this saint, and we know of no other dedications. A few suggestions have been made:

  • The name may originally have been Rian, Rayn or Ryan, as early documents spelt it this way, and he could have been one of St David’s followers.
  • He could have been Rein, or Rhun, son of Brechan Brycheiniog, whose children have churches dedicated to them in various parts of Pembrokeshire.
  • The name could have been descriptive – rian was an old Irish word for a trackway and Llanrhian might refer to the church on the trackway, i.e. the pilgrimage path to St Davids.
  • It could recall some local diminutive chieftain! (rhi = king, an = little)
  • A Welsh word for maiden is rhiain, so the dedication might be to the Virgin Mary

The truth is, we do not really know!


Cruciform Churches are rare in Pembrokeshire. The nave and the transepts of the present Church were probably rebuilt in 1836, and the chancel is believed to have been restored and enlarged in 1891 when extensive renovation was undertaken. In 1891 the old irregular high-backed pews were used to panel the walls and were replaced by the present unusually fine oak pews. The oak chancel screen was added at this time, the vestry was screened off and new windows were made, with the perpendicular mullions to be seen today.

The Tower

This is of particular interest, it is the oldest part of the present building and is believed to date from the 13th century. It was probably originally built separately as a coastal watch tower and place of defence; the walls are almost 3 feet thick, and a yard inside. Interesting features are the saddleback form and the battlemented finish, whilst the western gable is stepped according to a style more common in N Europe than in Britain.

The Font.

The font is ancient and is paneled in typical 15th century style. The decagonal form is unusual. Each of the panels contains an inverted shield and on one there is the coat of arms of Sir Rhys ap Thomas. It has been suggested that since geologists have declared that the type of stone of which the font is made is not to be found in Britain, but bears a resemblance to that of Solomon’s Temple, Sir Rhys brought it from Jerusalem to Carmarthen where he is buried, and that it was later presented to Llanrhian Church by the Archdeacon of Carmarthen who was also Rector of the parish and Patron of the Benefice. The present Pulpit, Lectern and Altar have all been added during the present century.

Ancient Cross

An ancient cross-incised slab belonging to the period of the 7th-9th centuries is to be seen outside the Church, at the base of the wall at the NW corner of the nave. A double circle can be seen, with 4 pits in the centre. It must have been part of a rough monument in the early wooden Church, broken up and thrown out by the Anglo-Normans, it was later used in the construction of a stone Church, but its presence proves the existence of the earlier building.

A full history of the Church, “In the Steps of St. Rhian” was written by Kathleen Lewis, wife of the vicar Revd Edward Lewis, in 1962. The full publication can be found here: In the Steps of St Rhian

North Dewisland Benefice, St Davids Diocese, Church in Wales