Up until the early 19th century the main centre of population in the valley, albeit very small, was the hamlet of Nant Peris, Snowdon, which then had the name Llanberis (Llan Peris, the church of Peris). As the modern village lower down the valley developed and took the name Llanberis, the original village became known as Old Llanberis and finally taking its modern name from the valley in which it stands.
The church of Nant Peris is dedicated to Saint Peris, who is said to have settled and died here. In the 16th century the valley was called Nant y Mynach, or the Monk's Valley, and the lower part of the valley was distinguished from it by the name Nant Padarn. Peris is said to have drank daily at the well, Ffynnon y Sant nearby the church. Many local legends are associated with this well, which for a long time held two trout, fed and looked over by the tenants of the adjacent cottage. Apparently, crowds used to flock here to secure relief from various diseases, and their grateful offerings, deposited in an oaken box, formed a substantial part of the income of the parish clerk. The fish were supposed to signify by their appearance that a cure would be wrought.
The old church has been the focal point of the continuous life of the district for centuries. The present building is believed to be partly of the 12th century, but the earliest datable features are parts of the roof and the screen, which are 15th century. Much of the church, however, is more recent, having been altered during the 16th and 17th centuries and considerably restored during the 19th century. Some of the fittings are of interest, though over the years many must have been lost or taken to other places. The bell is said to be 1610; in the fine oak screen there is a Poor Box with three locks, inscribed Cyff Peris Sant, which is probably 17th century. Until recently there was an old bench sat in the church inscribed in black paint Ty Du.
I'm sure you'd agree that there is a wide appeal for this small historic church. There's a certain quietness and serenity integrated in the building along with a strong character and uniqueness.
Little is known of Peris, and it is doubtful who he was. His festival, which was kept up as late as the early years of the nineteenth century, is given by Rees as 26th June, but all other authorities assign it to the 11th December.
Paden, after whom the lower lake is named, had his chapel on the lakeside at Llwyn Paden, of which the remains were visible a little over two hundred years ago, between the railway station and the Victoria hotel. It is doubtful if he was the same Padarn as the founder of Llanbadarn Fawr in Cardiganshire.
The church of Peris is of unusual plan. There is a nave about 42feet long by 14 feet wide, which judging by its length, was built under Latin influence, and is probably of fourteenth or early 15th century, having a doorway of similar outline to Betws y Coed. It seems most likely that the nave and chancel together reached as far east as the piers which stand on each side of the present Sanctuary, making the total length about 55 feet as against 50 feet at Betws y Coed. What were apparently the two eastern principals of the roof now cover the north transept.
The first addition made to this plain parallelogram was by throwing out two transepts, of which the south may be the older, as it has its own roof and the walls are thicker than the north. They may have been built at the same time, but it is not unusual to find two transepts added together; still we have an example at Llanllyfni, and the quasi-transepts at Llanrug are another exception.
So far the plan is normal and contained the High Altar and two side Altars. Then comes the remarkable eastward addition of the early sixteenth century, in the shape of three aisles with valleys between the Sanctuary and the two chapels. Whether the object was to obtain a more dignified effect, or to accommodate, as is very likely, two additional Altars against the two piers cannot now be known, but the result is quite unique in this district.
There is little of interest outside the church. The greater part of the north wall of the nave and the upper part of the west end have been rebuilt and all the windows are modern.
The entrance doorway though covered with plaster appears to be original, but the porch is comparatively, if not quite, modern. The only feature of interest is the set off round the chapels and east wall of the chancel.
The Bell is dated 1610.
Lewis’s “Dictionary” tells us that there was a good east window to each of the chapels and also to the chancel “and that the church was in the later style of English architecture”. Probably the windows were of three lights and flat headed. There must have been some means of lighting the nave, most probably through the south wall in the positions of the two modern windows, as this is an old wall and it is unusual to find windows on the north or west.
Sir Steven Glynne visited the church in 1853 and the alterations had then been completed, but Mr G J Bennet writing slightly earlier, tells us that “upon entering the doorway, there is a small stone Font placed upon a pedestal which is approached by three stone steps; it resembles a small washing tub”. It has been replaced by a small modern Font.
The Screen, which in mediaeval times stood doubtless just westward of the transepts, had been moved to the east side of the entrance doorway, and in the space that was the west wall a loft had been constructed. At the alterations the loft was taken down, and the screen moved to the west of the entrance where it now stands. The mortises on the top of the screen are exactly similar to those in Dolwyddelan and show the probable positions of the images on the east side of the loft, the loft being wholly to the west of the screen, not centrally over it. The tracery panels are all modern; pieces have been added to the ends of the screen to enable it to fit its new position, the nave being 4ins wider at the west end than further east in the position where it originally stood. The old cornice, now fixed to the beam, probably came from the top of the parapet of the loft. On the top are some wooden candleholders for Plygain and Gosper Canwyllau, in the same position as at Dolwyddelan. In the sill of the openings, on the south side, is hollowed out a small alms box, known as Cyff Peris, of later date with three locks. There are two of the old eighteenth century seats fixed against the screen. The whole church was doubtless seated in this manner; there was only one square pew near the Altar.
Coming now to the chancel and chapels, the intersection of the transepts with the main roof is now entirely modern. Normally the chancel roof would have run through unbroken to the screen, carried on beams extending from the piers to the angles formed by the western walls of the transepts and those of the nave, with the transept roofs built on to it. But here we find, as we before mentioned, what are apparently the two eastern principals of the main roof refixed, at some uncertain date, in the north transept, so that it is impossible to say definitely what the original arrangement was.
The wooden framings at the west end of the chapels extending to the masonry piers are interesting; that on the north is original, but the other was replaced in the eighteenth century. At the same time the chancel roof was strengthened by inserting flat purlins the principals and ribs are apparently original of early sixteenth century date. The wall plate of the south chapel is battlemented, that of the north, plain moulded. We may suggest that the south chapel contained the Lady Altar, and the north that of St Peris, and if, as we have suggested, there were two Altars to the front of the piers, with the High Altar there would be five in all. In later times the north transept was known as Capel Ty Du. The beams from the east wall to the piers are modern, but replace the original. The later principals can be distinguished from the earlier by being slighter and pointed in outline. The crooked setting of the early sixteenth century work is remarkable; so strongly bearing towards the south, it could not be accidental. (Signifying the Lords head drooping to one side on the cross).
The Holy Table is of seventeenth century workmanship, of curious design, but has been much repaired at various dates. A terrier of 1776 tells us that one candlestick stood on the Altar as at Llanfairfechan.
About a quarter of a mile to the north east of the church is the Ffynnon y Sant by a cottage called Ty’n Ffynnon. It is enclosed in a small building 7ft 4ins by 6ft 8ins the wall itself being 3ft by 2ft 9ins and 1ft 6ins deep. There is no sign that the well has ever been roofed over. It was only enclosed with a wall in Pennant’s time. (tours ii 320) He mentions the fish kept in the well, and the present (1924) occupant is a big trout well over a pound in weight. Two fish are put into the well together and have been looked on as sacred. When one dies the survivor lives alone till his death, when two more are put in. It is said that the lives of the fish average half a century. (Lives of British Saints, 1v p93)
We learn from terriers of 1776 and 1814 that the clerk was chiefly paid with the “money that was taken yearly from a box made in timber in the body of the church, which are put in by strangers that now and then come to a virtuous well” We have mention of persons who either bathed their children, or came themselves for that purpose.
Leaving Nant Peris, we make our way past Cwm Patric on our left, up the narrow and solemn pass, called by Leyland, Nant y Mynach, the monks valley, between the giant buttresses of Snowdon and the rocky towers of Glyder Fawr, the silence deepens as the sound of water lessens, till we reach Gorffwysfa Peris, the resting place of Peris, at the summit. This is the “Sedes Peris” of Llewelyn’s charter to the Abbey of Aberconwy, dated 1198. (Lives of British Saints iv. p93)
“I have seen a fellow march nine times about Gorffwysfa Peris, a Carnedd near Snowdon Hill, repeating ye Lord’s Prayer. And casting a stone at every turn, whence I am apt to imagine ye St Peris or someone else buried there, though their tradition be only that was used constantly to rest there after he came up ye steep hill below”.