Pieces of Llanishen's Past

St Isan

Last month we mentioned Ffynnon Llandenis so it now seems appropriate to write about the man who  gave his name to the village of Llanishen and to two churches in the area.

Although the present parish churches in Llanishen and Lisvane date from the twelfth century, the origins of Christianity in the area go back to a a much earlier period in history.

Around 530 AD a Celtic monk, Saint Teilo, established a religious settlement on the banks of the river Taff. This was ultimately to become the site of Llandaff cathedral.

Anxious to spread the Christian faith, Teilo sent fellow monks out to establish similar communities throughout the area.

One of these was Isan who in 535 or 537 AD reached the spot we now call The Oval and decided that the site, with its continuous supply of spring water, would be a suitable location for his “lIan”.

The Welsh word “llan” today means “church”, but its original meaning was  “enclosure”.

Isan’s “lIan” would have consisted of little more than a primitive structure serving as a church and shelter for monks and visitors set in a fertile area suitable for growing vegetables and grazing livestock, all surrounded and protected by a wooden palisade. Water from the spring (which is still there today) would have been used for baptisms, drinking and irrigation, thereby meeting the spiritual and material needs of the growing community.

Although we are uncertain about when Isan arrived, records show that he died on 16th December 537 AD, so although his stay here was brief, its impact was significant

As Latin was the language of the Celtic church many monks adopted Latin  names and Isan took the name of Dionysius.

Isan’s original name has survived virtually unchanged in Llanishen in English and Llanishen in Welsh. But inevitably, in the course of time, the name Dionysius was misheard by the local community and was corrupted to Dennis or Denys. Today Llandennis Road passes around The Oval and the parish church of Lisvane is St. Denys.

We cannot be sure that Isan travelled further eastwards but it is possible that he did as the only other Llanishen in Wales, in Monmouthshire, is named after him and the church there is also dedicated to St Denys.

In 1993, Llanishen Local History Society decided to commemorate St Isan and, with the help of local school children, planted a tree at The Oval which stands today and reminds passers-by of the origins of our village.

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