Rhossili Church of St Mary the Virgin

Has been described as a Questionable Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameRhossili Church of St Mary the Virgin
Alternative Names
Historic CountryGlamorgan
Modern AuthoritySwansea
1974 AuthorityWest Glamorgan

A much restored church of the C14, unexpectedly incorporating a fine Norman south doorway of the C12. St. Mary's church probably consisted originally of nave and chancel only. Early mediaeval features include a low-side-window and the slight inclination south of the axis of the chancel. The tower is evidently an addition, blocking an earlier high level west window. It has a transverse saddleback roof of unknown date. The very fine Norman entrance arch, unique in Gower, is unlikely to be in situ, as the hilltop situation of the church suggests a post-Norman foundation. In mediaeval Rhossili there were two village settlements, the older one below the Down with the old church (SAM 414) and the newer village on the hilltop, with this church. The two settlements and their churches appear to have coexisted until the late middle ages. There is a theory (supported by local tradition) that the arch came from the older church below the Down, and excavation has confirmed that dressed stonework appears to be missing from the chancel wall of the older church. Furthermore, the arch in its present position appears to have been rebuilt with poorer craftsmanship. It may therefore have been salvaged and inserted at the time of abandonment of the older church. A finger sundial scratched on the left column cap of the Norman arch shows it was at one period an external door. St. Mary's church was much restored in the C19. A drawing in 1855 by Caroline Lucas suggests considerable dilapidation. Glynne in 1847 refers to the east window as 'modern pointed'. This may have been a first improvement. The floor was bare clay and the roof was much lower than at present. The north and south lancet windows of the chancel had by then been blocked up. There was a stone bench along the chancel east wall, but this is now lost. In 1856, under the Rev J Ponsonby Lucas, £500 was spent on restoration, including the re-opening of the chancel lancet windows

In 1890, still under Mr Lucas, £905 was spent on further restoration and reseating, for which Ewan Christian was architect and H Rosser contractor. Most of the cost was paid by Miss Talbot of Penrice. The church was re-roofed and repaved; the porch rebuilt; the two windows were added in the west end of the nave, a window in the south wall of the tower, and the low-side-window was re-opened and glazed; also the base of the tower was formed into a vestry. The roof was further repaired in 1970, and a screen erected at the west of the nave to enlarge the vestry.

Nave and chancel with a small west tower and a south porch. The tower is low and has a transverse saddleback roof, without parapets. Local axe-dressed conglomerate sandstone masonry apart from the dressed stone of the windows and doors; the north and south windows of the nave and its coped gables in sandstone and the windows and coped gable of the chancel in oolitic limestone. Slate roofs with tile ridges to the nave, chancel and tower. The tower has single slit belfry lights to north and south and a round chimney. The east window is in Decorated style with two cinquefoil main lights and a quatrefoil top light. Label-mould to this window only with carved heads as terminals. The north and south windows of the chancel are broad trefoil-headed lancets. The low-side-window in the south wall of the chancel is a re-opened mediaeval window, with a slight ogee point. The three windows to the north of the nave and five to the south are all broad featureless lancets. Plain half-round outer arch to the porch. The inner doorway is the special feature of St Mary's: a two-order arch, the inner order plain apart from a jamb chamfer with decorative upper stops. The outer order is decorated with two bands of outward-pointing chevrons and nook-shafts with carved caps. There is some misfitting at the crown of the chevron arch. Dogtooth label-mould with small oval carved head now slightly left of centre; carved heads as terminals. The left terminal head is more worn; the right head is larger and may be later. Finger sundial in the abacus of the left cap. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Towered church suggested as defensive by Harrison. Part of a group of Gower churches that Harrison suggests where fortified against the welsh but what protection such churches had was likely to be against pirate raids and it is arguable if such protection can be considered as 'defensive' or 'fortification'. It should also be noted it was standard for all churches to use martial symbols like battlements to represent God's dominion on earth and that church towers are structure which have to hold heavy, moving and vibrating bells and which need to be strongly built for this reason, particularly in places, like much of Wales, where mortar is of poor quality. This church, and a number of others in Gower, were controlled by the Knights Hospitaller, a military monastic order for whom martial symbols of God's dominion would have had particular resonance.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

This is a Grade 2* listed building protected by law

Historic Wales CADW listed database record number
The National Monument Record (Coflein) number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSS416880
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  • Harrison, Peter, 2004, Castles of God (Woodbridge; Boydell Press) p. 82, 106
  • Newman, J., 1995, Buildings of Wales: Glamorgan (Yale University Press) p. 541
  • Orrin, G., 1979, The Gower Churches (Rural Deanery Of West Gower) p. 77-80


  • Harrison, Peter, 1995, 'The tower churches of Gower' Gower Vol. 46 p. 15-23 online copy
  • Glynne, 1897, 'Notes on the older churches in the four Welsh Dioceses (continued)' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 52 p. 303 online copy

Guide Books

  • Lucas, R.L.T., 1982, Rhossili Parish Church and the Old Church in the Warren (Rhossili Parochial Church Council)