Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 2, 2004
St. Teilo's prayers stopped wars
Magical Welsh town houses two historical churches
Saint Teilo -- Feast Day -- February 9
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Tenby, on the South Wales coast, is a fairytale little town with just the right mixture of beaches, headlands, vistas, castles, cafes, fortifications and offshore islands to attract visitors with varied interests. And there are two noteworthy historical churches in the old town core.
Because of its strategic position on the Bristol Channel, the town, whose Welsh name Dinbych means little fort, was frequently the target of Viking raiders. Newly-arrived Gerald of Windsor replaced an early fort here with a proper Norman castle in the early 1100s. Later on, substantial defensive walls protected Tenby's inhabitants from Civil War attacks.
Early churches here were replaced by Norman-built St. Mary's which remains today as a prime tourist attraction, one of the largest parish churches in Wales. Its 51-metre high steeple dominates the local skyline.
St. Mary's became an Anglican church after the Reformation and it was not until penal laws were relaxed three centuries later that a Catholic church reappeared in Tenby, and then only to occupy a lesser site outside the town walls.
Built in 1893, this church is officially Holyrood (Holy Cross) and St. Teilo, but to the congregation it's St. Teilo's. Oriented with the west front facing away from the street (St. Florence Parade) and with the main doors accessible only from a small enclosed courtyard reached via a walkway beside the church, its position is a compromise between an available site just outside the main town gates (the Five Arches) and the desired traditional setting with the celebrant (until Vatican II) facing east at the altar, towards the sunrise, the Resurrection.
The building was made more church-like from the street with the addition of a niche, high up on the apse wall, containing a stone effigy of the parish patron, Bishop St. Teilo.
Known as a sagacious leader and an important personality in sixth century Wales, Teilo was born near Tenby and went on to become a companion of the country's famous patron, St. David. He founded a monastery and became its first bishop/abbot at Llandeilo (Teilo's Church).
The saint is buried at Llandaff just outside the capital of Cardiff on the site of another monastery founded by him in about 560. He is said to have worked at establishing peace between warring factions and once, with his prayers, helped to repel a Saxon invasion.
St. Teilo is honoured today in France, where he spent seven years at Dol in Brittany. He is one of the patrons of the Anglican cathedral at Llandaff where his 13th century effigy reposes prominently in the presbytery. Known by variants of his name - Thelian, Teliou, Dillon - Teilo's feast day is celebrated in the Cardiff Catholic Diocese as well as in Tenby.
Attending morning Mass on a rainy May Saturday gave one visitor an opportunity to appreciate the church's d‚cor, particularly with the help of a little guide graciously offered by a lady parishioner. Recitation of the rosary by several dozen people preceded the Eucharistic celebration beneath the timbered, steeply pitched peaked ceiling.
A four-panelled west stained glass window honours the Welsh Martyrs while others, even on this dull day, illuminate the church interior through brilliant images of St. Paul, St. Mary Magdalen and, of course, Sts. Teilo and David.
The parish is administered by members of the Cistercian community at Caldey Island, 20 minutes by boat from Tenby. Part of the Menevia Diocese, St. Teilo's is an active parish with two weekend Masses and daily Eucharistic celebrations. Churches at Saundersfoot, Pembroke Dock and Narberth are also served from Tenby.