Building » Tonypandy – St Gabriel and St Raphael

Tonypandy – St Gabriel and St Raphael

Trinity Road, Tonypandy, CF40 1DQ

A plain lancet Gothic design of the 1880s, much altered in 2013. Furnishings of note include an important historic oak shrine statue of Our Lady of Penrhys, formerly at the church in Ferndale. The contemporary presbytery has group value with the church.

During the medieval period the Rhondda Valley was home to one of Britain’s major pilgrimage sites, that of Our Lady of Penrhys. Part of the estate belonging to the Cistercians at Llantarnam Abbey included a chapel and Holy Well – possibly of pre-Christian origin – where a statue of the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in the branches of an oak tree. A shrine was established, attracting pilgrims who made their devotions and sought cures from the healing waters. Known as Ffynnon Mair (St Mary’s Well), it is the oldest recorded Christian site in the Rhondda Valley. Writing around the turn of the sixteenth century, the poet Rhisiart ap Rhys gave an account of the healing waters, and the antiquary John Leland wrote of the site following a visit in the early sixteenth century. At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries Bishop Latimer wrote to Thomas Cromwell requesting that the shrine be destroyed; this duly took place, with the statue removed to London where it was publicly burned outside St Paul’s Cathedral, along with other well-known Marian images.

In 1912 excavations revealed the location of the original chapel, on a hillside about three miles north of Tonypandy. At this time also Miss M. M. Davies of Llantrisant, a Catholic convert, provided funds for the construction of a church dedicated to Our Lady of Penrhys at Ferndale (about six miles north of Tonypandy), designed by F. R. Bates. Miss Davies obtained for the church a carved oak re-creation, believed to date from around the 1860s, of the original shrine statue. In 1936 the Rev. P. J. Gibbons, parish priest at Ferndale, re-established pilgrimages to Penrhys and in 1939 the local authority undertook work to preserve the Wellhouse, also erecting railings around it.

On 2 July 1953 Archbishop McGrath of Cardiff blessed a Portland stone statue of Our Lady of Penrhys on the site of the original shrine, and on 16 July the Rt Rev. Malachy Brasil, Abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Mount St Bernard, Leicestershire, formally unveiled it. The design was an enlarged version of the original one, based on surviving descriptions. Over 20,000 people attended the first pilgrimage after its unveiling. The statue and Wellhouse are still visited by pilgrims today. The Wellhouse is listed Grade II as ‘a surviving small medieval building and for its historical importance as the focus of medieval pilgrimages in South Wales and for its literary interest’. The church of Our Lady of Ferndale (also listed Grade II) was closed in 2010 and sold in 2013. Its oak statue of Our Lady of Penrhys was transferred to the church of SS Gabriel and Raphael in Tonypandy.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century a priest would come from Treforest to Tonypandy to celebrate Mass in the Red Lion public house in Dinas. The community of largely Irish immigrant workers had settled in the Rhondda Valley seeking employment in the local collieries and ironworks. In September 1885 Bishop Hedley laid the foundation stone for a church designed by Charles C. Jones of Lion Chambers, Charles Street, Cardiff; the contractors were Messrs Morgan & Williams of Tonypandy. The first resident priest was the Rev. Joseph Thomas Bray, who remained until 1899; he also oversaw the building of a school in the 1880s. In 1926 the Rev. Thomas Crowley was appointed parish priest; he built the parish hall in 1929. The church underwent reordering following Vatican II, when a number of original furnishings were replaced.

In 2013, with an injection of funds following the closure and sale of the churches at Ferndale and Treorchy, extensive renovations were carried out at Tonypandy. The church was re-roofed and problems of damp and dry rot addressed. Its orientation was also reversed, with the entrance moved to the former sanctuary end, the latter becoming a narthex. As well as the oak shrine sculpture of Our Lady of Penrhys from Ferndale, imported furnishings included a stone font from Treorchy. Today the Rhondda parishes comprise the churches of SS Gabriel and Raphael and St Mary Magdalene at Ynyshir (qv).


Built in 1886 and much altered in the early twentieth century, the church is in a simple lancet Gothic style, with rendered masonry walls with red Ruabon brick and Bath stone dressings and slate roofs with clay ridge tiles. The entrance is now at the west end, through a projecting gabled narthex (originally the sanctuary) with a modern timber framed entrance porch. A statue of the Virgin Mary is placed on the ridge of the porch. The narthex is flanked by lean-to’s, housing a sacristy and a WC. The north side is of four bays with lancet windows in uPVC frames and with buttresses marking the bay divisions. The easternmost bay has a new opening for an emergency exit. The east end has three windows and a high-level triple lancet window with stone sill and central mullions. The south side is similar to the north; at the southwest corner the sacristy adjoins the presbytery.

Inside the church, the porch has a WC to the south and a parish room and store to the north; the porch has two skylights and is separated from the nave by glazed doors and a screen. At the rear of the nave there is a confessional beside the porch screen. A doorway in the southeast corner leads to the sacristy and presbytery, the organ console is in the northwest corner and the pipes are located in a pseudo-gallery over the porch screen. There is a painted and boarded dado around the perimeter walls and the floor is carpeted throughout. The roof is of open timber frame construction, with arched braces springing from stone corbels and panelled under the collars. The carved and panelled oak pews are original or imported. There is no structural division between the nave and sanctuary, but the sanctuary is raised by two steps. The following fixtures may be noted:

  • In the southeast corner is the shrine statue of Our Lady of Penrhys, previously at the church in Ferndale. It is constructed of two pieces of solid oak, carved in the appearance of an oak tree, with the Madonna and Child set within a niche. It is believed to date from around the 1860s. The carving is of the highest quality.
  • To the south of the sanctuary, the font is octagonal and tapered with an oak cover; it came from the church at Treorchy in 2013.
  • The altar, newly made in 2013, is a block of limestone with central Greek cross detail. It contains relics of St Pancras, St Maria Goretti, St Raymond of Penyaford, and Bl. Dominic Barberi.
  • The tabernacle is modern and silvered with a relief of Christ with the Twelve Apostles.
  • The oak ambo was given in 2013 in memory of William and Emily Collins of Tonypandy; it has carved reliefs of SS Gabriel and Raphael by Mother Concordia Scott OSB of Minster Abbey (1924-2014).
  • The oak crucifix with painted corpus has a brass plaque stating it was donated by the Familie Kinstley (sic) in 1908.
  • The Stations of the Cross are modern traditionally-styled oak reliefs.
Heritage Details

Architect: C. C. Jones

Original Date: 1886

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed