The churches in Wales began to recover from the shock of the Romans leaving Britain, the Welsh then started new centres monastic institutions of which the heads might or might not be bishops. Some monasteries were attached to tribes and ministered to their religious requirements. Bishops were retained by the abbots but they had no jurisdiction and they were subject to abbot or abbess and were retained for the purpose of conferring order and that alone.
Celtic Churches were shaped in the way of ones in Brittany but there the proximity to and influence of the Gallo-French Church and in the insistence of the Frank Kings, rapidly brought the Celtic Church into shape as them. Such a tribal organisation was in conformity with Celtic ideas and followed on that existed in Pagan times. Then there would have been the Secular Tribe with its chief at his head and alongside of it there would be tribe of the ecclesiastical these were of the bards and druids.
With this acceptance of Christianity the saints simply occupied the void left vacant by the Druids who had disappeared. Among the Celts all authority was gathered into the hands of hereditary chiefs of these were two kinds the military and the ecclesiastical chief each occupying separate lands, but the members of the ecclesiastical tribe were bound to render military service to the secular chief, and the ecclesiastical chief on his side was required to provide for the needs of the secular tribe be educating the young of both sexes and by performing religious ceremonies, every tenth child , tenth pig, calf, foal went to the saint and his tribe was thus recruited.
Saints and their duties
The saints were expected to minister in sacred things to those of the tribe stands to reason, in his first duty was to be the education of the young; his second was to conduct worship, and to bury the dead. The churches were small, usually made of wattle and dab and could not contain large congregations, wooden crosses were erected at these places in different localities occupied by the tribe, from whence the saint preached and probably he also ministered the sacrament.
There was a public house called “The Bon Y Groes Inn” Stem of the Cross which stood where the old town hall is if this is the case how old is St John’s Church?
The duties of the saints were to instruct the young of the tribe, to provide for the religious services required, and to curse the enemies of the head of the Secular Tribe. The institution of the schools for the young was certainly much older than Christianity in Britain and Ireland. We know well as from the Irish writers of the heroic legends that the druids formed communities, that these were presided over by an Arch-Druid, that in them were educated the sons of the kings and nobles, and that the heads if these schools had lands for their support. There is no other way you can explain the marvellous expansion of the educational establishments which took place after Ireland became Christian than on supposition that the saints entered upon an institution already existing and brought into it a new life.
Some of these great schools or monasteries contained females as well as males, and the double monasteries so prevalent among the Angles were formed on the Celtic model. St Brigid at Kildare in Ireland ruled a double house of monks and nuns. The course of education in these schools consisted in the arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy.
It is said that the Cistercians Monks arrive in Wales in 1131 when a colony from L’Aumone arrived at Tintern under the patronage of the Anglo-Saxon lord of Chepstow Walter Fitz Richard de Clare, Walter interest with the monks may be his friendship with Bishop William Giffard, who brought the monks over three years previous. There were not the first new monastic order to arrive in Wales, they were preceded by the Savigniacs which had a monastery in Neath by Richard de Granville, constable to Earl Robert of Gloucester around 1130 In the late 11th Cistercians moved into the valley and built monastic farms called granges or small farms in the Cynon Valley or some times they were called mini-monasteries, we are not sure how many but most probably one. The monks came into the valley because they liked sparsely populated areas to settle. These were run by lay brothers (Conversi) and aided by labourers (Mercenaries) who run the farm/granges for the monks. The land was divided between two Abbey Llantarnum (Carleon) and Margam Abbey. The lay brothers mostly looked after the sheep; the wool was then taken all over Great Britain and Europe.
Diets of the monks
The diet of the monks consisted of bread, milk, eggs and fish on Sunday a dish of beef or mutton was usually added, beer and mead were drunk and sometimes so freely that in the “Penitential of Gildas” provision had to be made for punishment of drunkenness. On the island of Ynys Byr “Caldey Island” an abbot tumbled into well when drunk, the liquor drunk was not only ale but water mixed with the juice of trees, or that of wild apples.
At Llantwit Major it was usual to express the juice of certain herbs for good for health that were cultivated in the monastery garden and mix this extract with the drink of the monks, by pressing it by means of a little tube into the cup of each monk so when they returned from the of Tierce they found this tipple ready for them prepared by the “pistor” this was clearly a sort of Chartreuse.
Llanelvan’s Church and well Plasdraw
Even though Margam (Margan) was founded by Robert Consul in 1147, there are facts stating that this cell/church which once stood in the Cynon Valley, known as St Elvan’s Church in Plasdraw, not to be confused by St Elvan’s in Aberdare town centre, may have been the original cell that moved from the Cynon Valley to Margam. The monks used the cells at Penrhys and Plasdraw in Aberdare and, because the use and importance of the cells increased, they grew into churches or chapels and gained great prestige such was the case with the cells at Penrhys and Plasdraw. These churches had wells, essential for thirsty travellers, but the well at Penrhys became blessed with miraculous powers and thus the monastery there became a place of pilgrimage and took precedence over ours at Plasdraw.
The way monks and pilgrims would have used to go Margam would be using the trail, which was up Monk St past a place called Ty’r Mynach, and then onto the mountain, there is a trail know but you get to it you will have go through the Dare Country Park in Aberdare. This trail would have connected to Penrhys and the sacred well. St Elvan’s well was a natural spring called Llanelvan’s well, which is now gone due to the mining works around the area. Mr Ivor Morgan wrote in a book about this church and said was stop off point for monks going through the valley to go Penrhys, Llantarnum and Margam Abbey. There are many places in the valley which have kept the old names places where the monks lived in Aberdare.
There have many attempts to find out about this cell for over 200 years, it has only been surveyed once. Local scholars such as Rev. Ivor Parry, Mr Ivor Morgan and many people like them who have researched into this church, say that this site needs to be investigated.
The strange about this cell that it may be built on a manmade mound, which may prove that this church was a fortified church, around that area is a place called “Ty Draw” many people who have been down the cellar said that there are carved stone chairs and table, besides them there is an arched tunnel which runs from there to nobody knows where it goes, perhaps to this cell which is not that far away. This may have been the site of something larger.
If you go back in time in Welsh History the name Elvan turns into Evan, which also means John. So this means at on time there were to St John’s Churches in Aberdare Town in 2006 a minor excavation took place around the church, they found the well and artefacts of pottery and roofing tiles going back to the twelfth century.
In 2007 people who have researched Cistercians Abbeys said that this chapel is not Cistercian.