Christianity reached the Gower Peninsular in the early 5th century. At this time, Christians gathered for religious instruction and worship in open spaces. The early Christian instructors of the area are believed to have been missionary monks from Gaul and when these great leaders of the faith died, they were buried in the locations in which they had taught. These sites would then become sacred grounds where further Christian burials would be held. These early Christian graves were commemorated with stones inscribed by local stonesmiths and it is these stones which offer the historian the earliest physical evidence of Christian worship in the region. In later years, these sacred places were enclosed and small stone oratories, measuring some three square metres, were constructed within the perimeter.
The first churches to be constructed in Gower, very often upon these early sacred locations, were wooden in construction, the more familiar stone buildings not arriving in Gower until the later invasion of Anglo-Normans. Of these numerous Celtic period buildings, which spread right across the Wales, only one now remains across the whole of the Principality. This can be found amongst the ruined chapel on the small tidal islet of Burry Holmes.
As the Anglo-Normans settled on the peninsula, the more familiar village churches we recognise today were constructed, again mainly upon the already established Christian worship sites. Of these, only around half now remain standing. These stone churches bore thatched or tiled rooves and possessed saddlebacked towers whilst their earthen floors were covered with rushes. The walls of these building were plastered and decorated with simple illustrations of Bible stories. However, despite the Romantic air one now places upon these early churches, these were very simple buildings and afforded little comfort to their growing congregations.
With the arrival of The Victorian Age, Gower's churches received huge facelifts and, in some instances, complete reconstructions. Their early character was swept aside as little effort was taken to incorporate the old with the new. It is mostly the results of these later Victorian alterations that are viewed on Gower today.
To those familiar with historic churches, Gower's religious buildings may appear a little crude, looking as though they were designed by masons more familiar with building castles than fine examples of ecclesiastical architecture. Nearly all the churches here exhibit some form of military appearance. Their tower walls especially give these churches this air of fortification. Several are around a metre deep and possess arrow slit windows. These bulky exteriors were functional however, for as well as being constructed for spiritual worship, the churches were also designed to protect the gentry of the villages from any attack the Welsh armies might rain against their Anglo-Norman invaders.
Given Gower's history, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that many of the peninsula's churches witnessed troubled and intriguing histories. Walking around their ancient graveyards today is now a quiet affair for the visitor however. But whilst taking in the serene atmosphere these special and revered places now afford their guests, take a moment to reflect upon the many lives, eras and wars these places have stood witness to and survived. Gower's churches are truly places to respect as well as cherish and delight in.