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Mysterious Removal Of Churches


Source: Welsh Folk-lore


There was a tradition extant in the parish of Llanllechid, near Bangor,
Carnarvonshire, that it was intended to build a church in a field called
Cae'r Capel, not far from Plasuchaf Farm, but it was found the next
morning that the labours of the previous day had been destroyed, and that
the materials had been transported in the night to the site of the
present church. The workmen, however, carried them all back again, and
resumed their labours at Cae'r Capel, but in vain, for the next day they
found their work undone, and the wood, stones, etc., in the place where
they had found them when their work was first tampered with. Seeing that
it was useless fighting against a superior power, they desisted, and
erected the building on the spot indicated by the destroyers of their

I asked the aged, what or who it was that had carried away the materials:
some said it was done by Spirits, others by Fairies, but I could obtain
no definite information on the point. However, they all agreed that the
present site was more convenient for the parishioners than the old one.

Many legends of this kind are current in Wales. They are all much alike
in general outline. A few only therefore shall be mentioned.


In Thomas's History of the Diocese of St. Asaph, p. 687, the legend
connected with the erection of the present church is given as
follows:--The legend of its (Corwen Church) original foundation states
that all attempts to build the church in any other spot than where stood
the 'Carreg y Big yn y fach rewlyd,' i.e., 'The pointed stone in the icy
nook,' were frustrated by the influence of certain adverse powers.

No agency is mentioned in this narrative. When questioned on such a
matter, the aged, of forty years ago, would shake their heads in an
ominous kind of manner, and remain silent, as if it were wrong on their
part to allude to the affair. Others, more bold, would surmise that it
was the work of a Spirit, or of the Fairies. By and by I shall give Mr.
A. N. Palmer's solution of the mystery.


A legend much like the preceding is current respecting Capel Garmon
Church. I will give the story in the words of my friend, the Rev. Owen
Jones, Pentrevoelas, who writes to me thus:--

The tradition is that Capel Garmon Church was to have been built on the
side of the mountain just above the present village, near the Well now
called Ffynnon Armon, but the materials carried there in the daytime were
in a mysterious manner conveyed by night to the present site of the


For the following legend, I am indebted to Mr. R. Prys Jones, who resided
for several years in the parish of Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd. In answer to
a letter from me respecting mysterious removal of churches, Mr. Jones
writes as follows:--

We have the same tradition in connection with a place not very far from
Llanfair village. It was first intended to erect Llanfair Church on the
spot where Jesus Chapel now stands, or very near to it. Tradition
ascribes the failure of erecting the structure to a phantom in the shape
of a sow's head, destroying in the night what had been built during the
day. The farm house erected on the land is still called
Llanbenwch--Llan-pen-hwch, i.e., the Llan, or church, of the
Sow's Head.

In this tale the agent is a sow, and Mr. Gomme in the Antiquary, vol.
iii. p. 9, records a like story of Winwick Parish Church, Lancashire. He
states that the founder had destined a different site for this church,
but after progress had been made at the original foundation, at night
time, 'a pig' was seen running hastily to the site of the new church,
crying or screaming aloud We-ee-wick, we-ee-wick, we-ee-wick.' Then
taking up a stone in his mouth he carried it to the spot sanctified by
the death of St. Oswald, and thus succeeded in removing all the stones
which had been laid by the builders.


The traveller who has gone to Aberystwyth by the Cambrian Line has, most
probably, noticed on the left hand side, shortly after he has left Borth,
a small church, with a churchyard that enters a wood to the west of the
church, the grave stones being seen among the trees. There is in
connection with this church a legend much like those already given. I am
indebted to the Rev. J. Felix, vicar of Cilcen, near Mold, for the
following account of the transaction.

It was intended to build Llanfihangel Church at a place called
Glanfread, or Glanfread-fawr, which at present is a respectable farm
house, and the work was actually commenced on that spot, but the portion
built during the day was pulled down each night, till at last a Spirit
spoke in these words:--

Llanfihangel Geneu'r Glyn,
Glanfread-fawr gaiff fod fan hyn.
Llanfihangel Geneu'r Glyn,
Glanfread-fawr shall stand herein,

intimating that the church was to be built at Geneu'r Glyn, and that
Glanfreadfawr farm house was to occupy the place where they were then
endeavouring to build the church. The prophecy, or warning, was attended
to, and the church erection abandoned, but the work was carried out at
Geneu'r Glyn, in accordance with the Spirit's direction, and the church
was built in its present position.


The following extract is from Mr. A. Neobard Palmer's excellent History
of the Parish Church of Wrexham, p. 6:--There is a curious local
tradition, which, as I understand it, points distinctly to a
re-erection of one of the earlier churches on a site different from that
on which the church preceding it had stood.

According to the tradition just mentioned, which was collected and first
published by the late Mr. Hugh Davies, the attempt to build the church on
another spot (at Bryn-y-ffynnon as 't is said), was constantly
frustrated, that which was set up during the day being plucked down in
the night. At last, one night when the work wrought on the day before
was being watched, the wardens saw it thrown suddenly down, and heard a
voice proceeding from a Spirit hovering above them which cried ever
'Bryn-y-grog!' 'Bryn-y-grog!' Now the site of the present church was at
that time called 'Bryn-y-grog' (Hill of the Cross), and it was at once
concluded that this was the spot on which the church should be built.
The occupier of this spot, however, was exceedingly unwilling to part
with the inheritance of his forefathers, and could only be induced to do
so when the story which has just been related was told to him, and other
land given him instead. The church was then founded at 'Bryn-y-grog,'
where the progress of the work suffered no interruption, and where the
Church of Wrexham still stands.

Mr. Palmer, having remarked that there is a striking resemblance between
all the traditions of churches removed mysteriously, proceeds to solve
the difficulty, in these words:--

The conclusions which occurred to me were, that these stories contain a
record, imaginative and exaggerated, of real incidents connected with the
history of the churches to which each of them belongs, and that they are
in most cases reminiscences of an older church which once actually
stood on another site. The destroying powers of which they all speak
were probably human agents, working in the interest of those who were
concerned in the transference of the site of the church about to be
re-built; while the stories, as a whole, were apparently concocted and
circulated with the intention of overbearing the opposition which the
proposed transference raised--an opposition due to the inconvenience of
the site proposed, to sacred associations connected with the older site,
or to the unwillingness of the occupier to surrender the spot selected.

This is, as everything Mr. Palmer writes, pertinent, and it is a
reasonable solution, but whether it can be made to apply to all cases is
somewhat doubtful. Perhaps we have not sufficient data to arrive at a
correct explanation of this kind of myth. The objection was to the
place selected and not to the building about to be erected on that
spot; and the agents engaged in the destruction of the proposed edifice
differ in different places; and in many instances, where these traditions
exist, the land around, as regards agricultural uses, was equally useful,
or equally useless, and often the distance between the two sites is not
great, and the land in our days, at least, and presumably in former,
belonged to the same proprietor--if indeed it had a proprietor at all.
We must, therefore, I think, look outside the occupier of the land for
objections to the surrender of the spot first selected as the site of the
new church.

Mr. Gomme, in an able article in the Antiquary, vol. iii., p. 8-13, on
Some traditions and superstitions connected with buildings, gives many
typical examples of buildings removed by unseen agencies, and, from the
fact that these stories are found in England, Scotland, and other parts,
he rightly infers that they had a common origin, and that they take us
back to primitive times of British history. The cause of the removal of
the stones in those early times, or first stage of their history, is
simply described as invisible agency, witches, fairies; in the
second stage of these myths, the supernatural agency becomes more clearly
defined, thus:--doves, a pig, a cat, a fish, a bull, do the
work of demolishing the buildings, and Mr. Gomme remarks with reference
to these animals:--Now here we have some glimmer of light thrown upon
the subject--the introduction of animal life leads to the subject of
animal sacrifice. I will not follow Mr. Gomme in this part of his
dissertation, but I will remark that the agencies he mentions as
belonging to the first stage are identical in Wales, England, and
Scotland, and we have an example of the second stage in Wales, in the
traditions of Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd, and of Llangar Church, near Corwen.


The tradition is that Llangar Church was to have been built near the
spot where the Cynwyd Bridge crosses the Dee. Indeed, we are told that
the masons set to work, but all the stones they laid in the day were gone
during the night none knew whither. The builders were warned,
supernaturally, that they must seek a spot where on hunting a 'Carw Gwyn'
(white stag) would be started. They did so, and Llangar Church is the
result. From this circumstance the church was called Llan-garw-gwyn, and
from this name the transition to Llangar is easy.--Gossiping Guide to
Wales, p. 128.

I find in a document written by the Rural Dean for the guidance of the
Bishop of St. Asaph, in 1729, that the stag was started in a thicket
where the Church of Llangar now stands. And (as the tradition is) the
boundaries of the parish on all sides were settled for 'em by this poor
deer, where he was forc'd to run for his life, there lye their bounds.
He at last fell, and the place where he was killed is to this day called
Moel y Lladdfa, or the Hill of Slaughter.


There is a tradition connected with Old St. David's Church, Denbigh,
recorded in Gee's Guide to Denbigh, that the building could not be
completed, because whatever portion was finished in the day time was
pulled down and carried to another place at night by some invisible hand,
or supernatural power.

The party who malignantly frustrates the builders' designs is in several
instances said to have been the Devil. We find, says Mr. William
Crossing, in the Antiquary, vol. iv., p. 34, that the Church of
Plymton St. Mary, has connected with it the legend so frequently attached
to ecclesiastical buildings, of the removal by the Enemy of Mankind of
the building materials by night, from the spot chosen for its erection to
another at some distance.

And again, Mr A. N. Palmer, quoting in the Antiquary, vol. iv., p. 34,
what was said at the meeting of the British Association, in 1878, by Mr.
Peckover, respecting the detached Tower of the Church of West Walton,
near Wisbech, Norfolk, writes:--During the early days of that Church the
Fenmen were very wicked, and the Evil Spirit hired a number of people
to carry the tower away.

Mr. W. S. Lach-Szyrma, in the Antiquary, vol. iii., p. 188,
writes:--Legends of the Enemy of Mankind and some old buildings are
numerous enough--e.g., it is said that as the masons built up the towers
of Towednack Church, near St. Ives, the Devil knocked the stones down;
hence its dwarfed dimensions.

The preceding stories justify me in relegating this kind of myth to the
same class as those in which spirits are driven from churches and laid
in a neighbouring pool; and perhaps in these latter, as in the former, is
dimly seen traces of the antagonism, in remote times, between peoples
holding different religious beliefs, and the steps taken by one party to
seize and appropriate the sacred spots of the other.

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