st peter’s church

Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Our Lady of Pen Llyn 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Every commission has its own story, and some go back further than others. This week our blog is the story behind Our Lady of Pen Llyn. It is steeped in a rich history that spans generations and continents. Our thanks go to Father Huw Bryant of Bro Enlli who helped us understand the history and significance. He graciously supplied far more than we could include in this blog, and if it catches your attention, we recommend visiting their Facebook page to find out more, or visiting any of the links.

Early sketches of Our Lady of Pen Llyn by Simon O'Rourke

Early sketches of Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Our Lady of Pen Llyn (Mair Forwyn Y Mor) was commissioned by St Peter’s Church in Pwllheli as part of their redevelopment of the church as a site for pilgrimage. When people think of sacred sites in North Wales, they usually name Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli). However, in centuries past, Pwllheli was also a significant site for pilgrimage. Three years ago the shrine was re-opened. Believers began to come once again to St Peter’s to spend time in quiet, prayer and contemplation.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn in progress in Simon O'Rourke's workshop

Our Lady of Pen Llyn in progress in Simon’s workshop

The idea for this sculpture began when one such visitor donated a relic believed to be a piece of the veil worn by Mary (the mother of Jesus) at the cross. The church began looking for a way of displaying the relic, to make it accessible to visitors. Writings of Hywel Rheinallt describe a statue of Mary in the area, believed to have been lost during the reformation. In wishing to reinstate that heritage, Fr Huw Bryant began to talk with Simon about a new statue.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter's Pwllheli

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter’s Pwllheli

Obviously a figure like Mary has been depicted many times, and one of the challenges with being commissioned to create such a sculpture is where to start. What age should she be depicted as? What mood? Standing, sitting, kneeling?
Simon and Father Huw began their conversation around the original statue, and the ancient seal of Pwllheli which also depicted Mary. Although all images of both seem to have been lost, there are descriptions of a vision of Mary at Uwchmynydd (a holy well in the area). They have been depicted by local artist Su Walls, and these formed the basis for early conversation about the statue.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter's, Pwllheli

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter’s, Pwllheli

Simon’s statue was unveiled last weekend, accompanied by a performance “The Protecting Veil” by Sir John Tavener. The piece is a journey with Mary through Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection in music, and provided a beautiful backdrop of sound for viewing the sculpture.

In keeping with a tradition of religious statues going on tour, Our Lady of Pen Llyn is currently rotating round churches in the area (view dates HERE). She will return to St Peter’s on 15th August and will stay in the shrine area of the church where the relic is already on display. It is hoped she will be part of the devotional life of the shrine, another way of helping people enter the story of faith.

Close up view of Our Lady of Pen Llyn at St Peter's, Pwllheli

Close up view of Our Lady of Pen Llyn at St Peter’s, Pwllheli

Father Huw Bryant has said of the sculpture:

“It’s great to be able to have something that is both ancient and new, something to replace the medieval statue which is part of our cultural heritage that had been lost but made new for a new generation of Christians. What could symbolise such a fresh and new approach to an ancient practice than to carve it with a chainsaw!

It is a privilege over the last 3 years to see a shrine re-born and begin to bear fruit and this statue is the next step in the life of the Shrine being re-established for generations to come. Given that the Image of Our Lady of Walsingham has been used by Christian’s to guide them to Christ for over 950 years, it’s humbling to think Simon’s carving may be helping people find their way to God for hundreds of years to come.”
Indeed, it’s humbling for us think of the people who will view this and be impacted over the decades and maybe centuries to come!
Close up of the face of Our Lady of Pen Llyn by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the face of Our Lady of Pen Llyn

St Peter’s Church and Shrine are open Tuesday – Sunday for pilgrims to visit, and there is a shrine mass every Saturday at 10am.

If groups are interested in coming and would like services and devotions laid on, you can message them via their Facebook page or calling 01758 614693.

As always, Simon is available to talk about similar commissions at [email protected]