One of the more romantic, true-life elements in Illumination is the pirate’s grave in the churchyard of St. Baglan’s church at Llanfaglan. I’m not sure where I first heard about it, but I investigated it in the autumn of 2009. The church itself is outside the village of Llanfaglan. When I arrived, I couldn’t see a church anywhere, and had to ask a passerby, an older inhabitant who clearly knew about the history of the place, as he said “Looking for the pirate’s grave, are you?” He directed me out of the village to the very edge of the Menai Straits. A couple of times, I thought I’d taken a wrong turn, until I spotted the lonely church standing in a field. Like the characters in the book, I trudged up a ploughed field, and into the graveyard.
An old wall surrounds the site, giving partial shelter, but the trees alongside the church have developed wind-blown shapes from years of buffeting from gales howling in from the Irish Sea. The church itself seemed to me to lean, just like the trees. Apparently, the church is redundant now, and is looked after by the Friends of Friendless Churches. There’s evidence that the site dates from the 6th century, but the present church is 13th century, with the chancel built some time around 1800. It’s a Grade I listed building partly because it escaped tinkering by the Victorians, and so it retains much of its medieval fixtures. It has an oak altar, and apparently the only seven-sided font in Wales.
Like Sian and her brothers, I searched the graves for the skull and crossbones symbol. In the shelter of a gable end, I found one – a very old looking marker made of two slabs, the larger of which had a worn, barely visible carving of the symbol I sought. The grave itself is shown here, along with an annotated version showing the skull and crossbones. There’s very little on the internet about it, but here’s a piece on Caernarfon Online. It says that such symbology actually just represents mortality, and is not uncommon in the region, or even elsewhere in the country. Some believe it has links to Masonic traditions.
However, it’s much more romantic to consider this the last resting place of a buccaneer, and for the purposes of my tall tale, the grave will forever remain the grave of a pirate! Arrrr!