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oxwichchurch_clip_image001The medieval church of St. Illtyd must possess one of the most beautifully situated graveyards in the country. Itself almost buried by the giant canopy of a dense and steeply inclined wood, the church appears to stand aloof from the village and the sandy bay it overlooks, despite being separated by only a few moments walk.

At the height of the summer season, when the sun is roasting all who bathe beneath its unblinkered stare, it is a most disquieting experience to stumble from the bustling sands and head for the chill and shaded solitude of the church grounds. The clammy, twilight atmosphere that clings to this churchyard transports its visitors to a ghostly other-world, a feeling that is undisturbed, perhaps even amplified, by the contrasting sound of the sun-worshipping tourists that flock but a stone's throw from its ivy clad walls.

Given such a picturesque and genuinely eerie setting, it is not surprising that one of the strangest ghosts of curious supernatural beasts on the peninsula has chosen to manifest itself here. This horse-like creature creature, seen striding down through the woodland graves towards the foreshore on its hind legs, is a being more readily identified amongst ancient Germanic folklore than in any other closer to home. The church's spring well, which has now run dry, is also reputed to be haunted - by a ghostly horse that drinks from its water before running into the sea and disappearing!

Within the Church itself, which is unfortunately kept locked for most of the year, are some very interesting items of note. The font, for example, is believed to have been brought to the church by St. Illtyd himself! Looking up, and the beautiful ceiling decorations in the chancel area of the church were paid for by Dame Lilian Bayliss, a director of England's Old Vic theatre, who fell in love with the church whilst holidaying in the area. Whilst in the chancel, the stone effigies of a knight and his lady - believed locally to represent the heads of the Norman De la Mare family, who lived in Oxwich Castle and who drowned in the waters of Oxwich Bay in the 14th Century. The effigies have been nicknamed by villages as the "Dolly Mare."

Despite local belief, however, more recent suggestions have dated the effigies to the early 15th Century, suggesting that they are arepresentation of the Castles later occupants - probably Sir John Penres and his wife, Margaret Fleming. The figures are not, as might be first suspected, sculpted from solid rock but have, instead, been constructed of sand particles which have been cemented together with plaster and coated with a plaster coat.

The Rev. J. D. Davies, local historian, author and rector of several Gower Churches in his day, was born in the old Rectory here, which was situated on the rocks sandwiched between Oxwich Church and the sea. This has now, unfortunately, been completely obliterated by the encroaching tide.

On a final, salutary note, at the rear of the churchyard stands the grave of an unknown soldier whose body was washed ashore upon the neighbouring beach during World War I. Given its anachronistic setting, such a monument provides a perfect moment to reflect upon and honour all those who gave their lives defending their country during those awful and bloody years of conflict.