Building » Gellilydan – Holy Cross

Gellilydan – Holy Cross

Gellilydan, LL41 4ED

A late-eighteenth century former tannery, sympathetically converted for Catholic use in 1952. Notwithstanding its vernacular industrial origins, this village church now has a simple but definably ecclesiastical character, with some furnishings by Jonah Jones (although his Stations of the Cross have been removed).

St John Roberts, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, was born within the present parish boundary, close to Trawsfynydd, in 1577. He was executed at Tyburn in 1610.

In 1927 a dam project was commenced at Trawsfynydd Lake, to provide electricity for the Vale of Maentwrog. Among the 700 workers were numerous Irishmen, some of who brought their families and settled in the nearby Welsh-speaking village of Gellilydan. Every Sunday they walked the seven mile round trip to the construction site at Trawsfynydd, where Mass was said in the contractor’s offices by Fr Raymond Barker SJ, ‘one of the pioneers in the Welsh Mission field’ (The Gellilydan Story, n.d.). After construction was completed some families remained but Masses in the village were infrequent; occasionally a priest would come from Dolgellau and Mass was said on an old oak chest of drawers in the kitchen of ‘Bryn Awel’, the home of Mrs Anwyl-Jones.

In 1944 Fr Patrick Crowley was appointed parish priest at Porthmadog, eight miles away. He would later become the first Menevia Diocesan Travelling Missioner. Fr Crowley took a great interest in the small Catholic community of Gellilydan and in 1948 instigated a church building fund. An attempt to acquire a disused chapel in the village failed, but after an article about the community and its efforts appeared in the Irish Standard, hundreds of pounds in donations were received. Fr Crowley was able to purchase an old stone tannery, originally built in the late eighteenth century, and set about converting it into a church. M. T. Pritchard, a local architect (see eg St Mary Magdalene, Blaenau Ffestiniog, qv), was employed to lead the alterations, which included the removal of an interior wall and floor. The interior was left deliberately plain and simple with whitewashed walls, slate sanctuary steps and an altar of local slate. The church was formally blessed and opened by Bishop Petit of Menevia on 24 August 1952. The title of Eglwys y Groes Sanctaidd (Holy Cross) was in Welsh as all the descendants of the original Catholic families, like the non-Catholic villagers, had Welsh as their first language. Fr Crowley was himself a fluent Welsh speaker and secretary of the Welsh-speaking Catholic Circle (Y Cylch Cymraeg). The Lamp Society, formed in England to help the spread of Catholicism in Wales was crucial in helping to champion the efforts of the Catholics of Gellilydan.

The building of a nuclear power station at Trawsfynydd in the early 1960s brought more Irish workers to the parish, but a Catholic chapel was established at the worker’s camp in Bronaber with its own resident priest, Fr Joseph Taaffe OMI. Volunteers among these workers built the sacristy and parish hall during this period. 

In 1987 a west porch was added, the grounds landscaped, a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes constructed, and a car park created. The church was served by the Oblate fathers at Blaenau Ffestiniog until they departed in 2007 and has since been served from Blaenau Ffestiniog.


The building is described in the list entry, below, but an internal description is not provided.  A former tannery believed to have been constructed in the late eighteenth century, the building was converted to a Catholic use in 1952, and it retains much of the original character of this conversion. The west porch and formation of a circular window above are later.

Inside the church is quite simple in character. The porch walls are plastered and painted, the nave walls have exposed stone, and the sanctuary walls are plastered and painted. The ceiling is limewashed with exposed beams; the nave floor covering is hardwood block and carpet, and the sanctuary floor is herringbone parquet. The nave is aisleless with buttresses in the centre of the north and south walls. There is a west gallery accessed by a spiral staircase. The sacristy is to the north of the sanctuary. 

Furnishings include:

  • Two incised slate plaques by the entrance of the Madonna and Child and the Crucifixion are by Jonah Jones. A set of slate Stations of the Cross also by Jones were originally in the church but have been replaced
  • The altar is oak with turned columns and a central tapestry of the Last Supper
  • The carved oak celebrant’s chair is from the 1926 Eisteddfod at Dinas Mawddw
  • The font, located in the sanctuary, is polygonal and made of mahogany and pine 
  • The pitch pine benches are a combination of open-backed and panel-backed, their provenance not established. Two embroidered bench cushions dated 1993 record the names of the priests at Gellilydan, signed H.W.M.
  • There is an unsigned and undated oil painting of St John Roberts, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, who was born close to Trawsfynydd, within the present-day parish
  • The stained glass window in the west gable is of the Holy Spirit with a central dove; the creator not established
  • Stained glass in the sanctuary depicts Blessed Eugine de Mazenod, the Madonna and Child, St Thérèse, and St John Roberts; the creator and date  no established
  • A carved oak tabernacle with vine and ‘IHS’ detailing is in the sacristy, it is in memory of Tony Cassidy, who died 10 July 1955.

List description

Reference Number: 4840
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 30/11/1966  
Date of Amendment: 25/02/2005  
Name of Property: Holy Cross Church  
Unitary Authority: Gwynedd  
Community: Maentwrog  
Locality: Gellilydan  
Easting: 268692  
Northing: 339903  
Street Side: E  
Location: Set back from the E side of the A487(T) to W of the village of Gellilydan.

History: Probably late C18 building, formerly a tannery and converted to use as a Roman Catholic church in mid C20. The area had experienced an influx of Irish workers, brought from County Cork to build the dams for the original Maentwrog hydro-electric scheme. Some were said to have stayed on in the area, and the Church is said to reflect this history. Extended by the addition of a gabled porch and a low extension built at right angles to the NW.  

Exterior: Tall gable entry building, built of mortared rubble masonry; slate roof. The main part of the church is a 4-bay linear range with each bay articulated by a tall narrow window with slate sills. There is a stained glass window set in the circular light in the SW gable apex below which is the entrance porch. The porch has a doorway in the L (NW) wall and a window of 4-lights with slate sill and lintel in the SW. The modern addition to NW is a single storey range of 3, 6-pane windows; slate roof and grit rendered elevations.  

Interior: The interior was not inspected at the time of the survey (June/July 2003).  

Reason for designation: Listed as an unusual example of a Roman Catholic church building, retaining some of the character of its early industrial history.  

Heritage Details

Architect: M. T. Pritchard (conversion)

Original Date: 1800

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II