Pilgrims and bandits in Ysbyty Ifan

Ysbyty Ifan village and farmland, Snowdonia

This peaceful village with its rolling hills, farmsteads and stunning scenery has attracted many visitors over the years. If we delve back into medieval Wales we find an exciting history of knights, pilgrims, and bandits.

Knights of St Johns 

Until 1190 Ysbyty Ifan was known as Dôl Gynwal (Welsh for Gynwal's Meadow). It was renamed Ysbyty Ifan  (meaning  hospital of St John) after it came to the attention of the Knights of St John, an order of Hospitallers, who were bound to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land and on religious journeys.

They chose to set up a hospital and hostel to care for pilgrims in Ysbyty Ifan as it was located on several ancient pilgrimage routes, including Bangor-on-Dee and Holywell in north-east, and to Ynys Enlli /Bardsey island off the tip of the Llŷn peninsula.

Explore beautiful scenery and farmland in Ysbyty Ifan
Farmland in Ysbyty Ifan, Snowdonia
Explore beautiful scenery and farmland in Ysbyty Ifan

Gwylltiaid Mawddwy

The Knights had the privilege of sanctuary, and in the troubled time after the Glyndwr uprising in the 15th century, Ysbyty Ifan was one of the hideouts to some of Wales’ most famous outlaws and rebels, including gwylltiaid cochion Mawddwy (the red bandits of Mawddwy), and became known as a haven for criminals.

Writing at the end of the 16th century, Sir John Wynn of Gwydir said Ysbyty Ifan had been “a receptacle of thieves and murderers”.

Red dragons and religion

With the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, the hostel was abolished in 1540, but the neighbouring church remained, to act as the parish church. The building was replaced in around 1860 by the present church, in the Victorian 'early English' style.

The church contains artefacts from the earlier church, many of them from the 14th to 16th centuries. Many of which highlight the connections between Ysbyty Ifan and the Tudor uprising. One effigy is said to depict Rhys ap Maredudd, who recruited soldiers to help Henry Tudor, as he was seen in Wales as the “mab darogan” or the son of prophecy, who would rise and lead the Welsh to defeat the English –Henry was born in Pembroke Castle, so made as much use of this prophecy as possible to garner support.

Rhys ap Maredudd  took a local army to meet young Henry Tudor on his way to defeat King Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. Rhys carried the Red Dragon standard of Cadwaladr on the battlefield, and some poets insisted it was he who killed Richard. There is no way we can prove this, but the family did well out of the Tudor victory, with their local power, influence and estate growing.