Continued from Part III: The Reason for the Battle
Bangor! o'er the murder wail!
Long thy ruins told the tale,
Shatter'd towers and broken arch
Long recall'd the woeful march:
On thy shrine no tapers burn,
Never shall thy priests return;
The pilgrim sighs and sings for thee,
O miserere, Domine! 
The Lost Monastery of Bangor
Bangor on Dee lies in a natural hollow on the right bank of the river Dee between Wrexham and Whitchurch just off the modern A525 road, about 20 minutes south from Chester by car. The site alongside the Dee lies no more than a couple of miles from the curious Wat's Dyke
earthwork running through the northern Welsh Marches, onto Basingwerk Abbey, possibly constructed as a linear boundary to the early kingdom of Powys. Bangor on Dee is well known today for its racecourse south-west of the village. But underneath the natural beauty of this quiet setting persists the faintest glimmer of a Dark Age atrocity.
Bangor on Dee is a contender for the Roman site of Bovium
, later Banchorium
, sited on the ancient road leading northwards to Deva
(Chester), and south towards Uriconium
(Wroxeter) in Antonine's Second Itinerary, the 3rd century Roman road listing. The line of the Roman road here, known as Watling Street, is said to run northwest from Whitchurch, the Romano-British town of Mediolano
, through Bovium
on to Deva
However, it is by no means certain that Bangor on Dee was Bovium
; other contenders such as Holt, Tilston and Grafton have all been suggested. Bangor on Dee would certainly be in the optimum position to be Bovium
providing a fast route along the Roman road to Deva
. This is is the same Roman road that Chester archaeologists found the large Romano-British industrial strip settlement at Heronbridge, 8 miles north of Bangor-on-Dee and two miles south of Chester, standing on the west bank of the River Dee, between the river and the line of Watling Street. It is at Heronbridge that archaeologists unearthed evidence of a Dark Age battle with excavations revealing a mass grave with a number of warriors originating from north-east England thought to be members of the army of the Northumbrian king Æthelfrith who took part in the early 7th century battle of Chester.
It has been suggested that the site of the Roman camp of Bovium
was in a field called ' lolyn's Strand
' or ' lolyn's Beach'
, on the bank of the Dee, near Bangor Bridge at Sesswick in the Parish of Bangor. This field is liable to periodical flooding and was laid totally flat after “all kinds of mounds and hillocks
” were cleared away in the mid-nineteenth century; there being no record of any remains resembling the walls or ramparts of a Roman camp being found. Seemingly the main reason for locating the camp at 'lolyn's Strand
' is that along one side of it runs a narrow drainage ditch with the Roman name of "The Foss,
" derived from the Latin fossa,
and a word sometimes used for Roman roads. But this is very similar to the Welsh word 'ffós'
so may well have no connection and to date no remains have been found that indicate that at one time a Roman camp actually stood at Bangor. 
The fact that the site lies on the flood plain of the river Dee which periodically bursts its banks and changes course over time may have resulted in any remains being washed downstream and the archaeology lost.
In Bede's time he called it 'Bancornburg
,' which over the course of time has developed into the modern anglicised name of 'Bangor on Dee'
referring to the village's location on the river, but 'Bangor
' is a Welsh term. The earliest recorded use of the Welsh name 'Bangor Is-y-coed'
or more commonly 'Bangor Is-coed'
is found from seventeenth century documents. The name 'Bangor Monachorum
' ('Bangor of the monks'), was the preferred form in legal documents, first recorded in 1677, indicating that for the local people the memory of the ecclesiastical establishment that once stood at Bangor Is-y-coed persisted throughout the centuries; the account reported by Bede telling of the monastery and its abbot's dealings with Augustine and their failure to comply with the Roman church resulting in its subsequent obliteration in what history has termed 'the Battle of Chester'.
The tradition of the lost monastery at Bangor prevails although, like the Roman camp of Bovium
, there is little evidence of it on the ground today. It is said that a large monastery existed here in ancient times, but the date of its foundation and founder's name remain equally uncertain. It is said that the monastery at Bangor was founded as a seat of learning by the legendary good king Lucius, said to be the first Christian king of Britain. In the last quarter of the 2nd century Lucius, a son of Coel, was converted by the preaching of one of the Christian Fathers. Bede included the story of Lucius, king of the Britons writing to Eleutherius, bishop of Rome, requesting to be made a Christian, in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum.
Eleutherius became pope around 174 AD. A welsh version of Lucius' (Llewrug Mawr
) letter to the Pope is first mentioned in the Liber Pontificalis
(Book of Popes), c.685 AD, which would appear to be Bede's source, who adds “he soon obtained his pious request, and the Britons preserved the faith, which they had received, uncorrupted and entire, in peace and tranquillity until the time of the Emperor Diocletian, [303 AD]”.
The Welsh name "Bangor
" seems to suggest that there was a monastery here as the name is generally explained as meaning “High Choir”
; 'ban' = high
, and 'cor' = choir,
therefore Bangor = high choir.
But the Welsh word 'bangor'
is also commonly used for 'wattling'
, as in fencing or barrier forming an enclosure; the traditional Welsh name Bangor-Is-y-Coed
meaning a settlement within a wattle fence (bangor
) below the wood (is y coed
). It was originally built with wattles from the local marsh, which in the course of time would have been replaced with a timber construction centuries before a permanent stone building would have been erected on the site.
Indeed, the word 'bangor
' may have had a dual meaning here as early Christian ecclesiastical centres were built of wattle; interwoven branches packed with clay (daub
). As with Bangor-is-y-coed, the first Christian establishment at Glastonbury was said to be a simple church constructed of wattle and daub on the site of the present Lady Chapel by Joseph of Arimathea in the 1st century. Good King Lucius is said to have established an ecclesiastical institution at Glastonbury in the 2nd century accompanied by missionaries from Rome, which he raised out of the ruins of a former church on the site that had been previously dedicated to St. Mary. According to traditional sources King Lucius was responsible for establishing several major ecclesiastical centres in Briton. 
For centuries the story of Lucius as the 'first Christian king'
of Britain was widely held and considered an accurate account of the early establishment of Christianity in Britain and was recounted by many medieval historians.
The Mother of all Monasteries
The red sandstone church standing today at Bangor-is-y-coed was built about 1300 AD and said to be on the site of the monastery, dedicated in the name of St. Dunawd (Saint Dunod, Bede's 'Dinooth'
), who, according to some accounts, was the first Abbot of the ancient monastery thought to have been established in the mid-sixth century, the only Welsh ecclesiastic mentioned by name by Bede in the episode of 'Augustine's Oak'
Little is known of St. Dunawd but some have identified him as king Dunaut Bwr (the Stout
) who was forced out of his kingdom of Dunoting in the Northern Pennines by the Bernicians and fled to north Wales. The Welsh Annals record the death of king Dunaut (Dunod) at the hands of the Bernicians in 595 AD. There is clearly much confusion here as the chronology does not fit: king Dunaut carried out a failed invasion of northern Rheged the year following Urien's assassination c.591AD. If he was fighting the northern British in Rheged at this date he could hardly be the same man who established the monastery at Bangor-is-y-coed thirty or forty years earlier in the mid-sixth century in Powys.
As we have seen above, a religious centre probably existed here long before St. Dunawd (Dunaut?
) arrived. It must have been in existence before this date as St. Deiniol (Daniel
), traditionally the son of St. Dunawd, established a monastery at Bangor (anciently known as Bangor Vawr
= Great Bangor) on the south side of the Menia Straits, in Gwynedd (formerly Carnarvonshire) north Wales, c.525 AD some 70 years before the Abbey at Canterbury was established by Augustine which marked the rebirth of Christianity in southern England. The story goes that having been given land by king Maelgwn, Deniol enclosed it with a fence constructed by driving poles into the ground and weaving branches in between them, typical wattling or a 'bangor'
. Within this enclosure Deiniol built his church, from which the city derived its name. He may even have been the founder of the monastery of Bangor-is-y-coed. St. Deiniol was certainly active in Flintshire as there are nearby churches dedicated to him; Worthenbury originally a chapel attached to Bangor Is-y-coed and Hawarden only sixteen miles distance. Deiniol died on 11th September 584 AD, and according to the Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae
), he was taken to be buried on Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island
), the legendary "Island of 20,000 saints”.
The monastery at Bangor-is-y-coed is said to have produced the heretic Pelagius, who some say was the twentieth abbot, with Gildas ('the wise'
) also claimed to have been a one time Abbot there. Saint Tudno, one of the seven sons of King Seithenyn whose legendary kingdom in Cardigan Bay was submerged by tidal activity, was said to have been educated there too. Tudno had a cell in a small cave on the headland, and later established a church on the northern side of the Great Orme, from which the name of Llandundo
Bangor's monastery certainly seems to have been a substantial establishment by the middle of the 6th century, when Cyngen Glodrydd, King of Powys, is said to have granted lands. 
Cyngen, known as 'the Renown
' and sometimes identified with Gildas' tyrant Aurelius Caninus, the 'lion's whelp'
, is shown in the genealogical tables in the Harlian Manuscript 3859 as the son of the Powys king Cadell Ddyrnllug, 'of the Gleaming-Hilt
', the Catel Drunluc of the Historia Brittonum
who St Germanus blessed saying "from henceforward thou shalt be a king all the days of thy life”
and thus established the Cadelling dynasty of Powys. 
It is thought that the monastery at Bangor-is-y-coed became such an important religious centre in Britain that during the 5th and 6th centuries the number of monks had increased to over 2,000. However, for such a large ecclesiastical centre no trace of the monastery remains today and its site remains uncertain; some authorities believe that it lies under the present course of the River Dee. But the tradition of the lost monastery persisted. Writing in the early 12th century the medieval historian William of Malmesbury stated that:
“Another proof of his [Æthelfrith] success is afforded by the city of Carlegion, now commonly called Chester, which, till that period possessed by the Britons, fostered the pride of a people hostile to the king. When he sent his exertions to subdue this city, the townsmen preferring any extremity to a siege, and at the same confiding in their numbers, rushed out in multitudes to battle. But deceived by a stratagem, they were overcome and put to flight ; his fury being first vented on the monks, who came out in numbers to pray for the safety of the army. That their number was incredible to these times is apparent from so many half- destroyed walls of churches in the neighbouring monastery, so many winding porticoes, such masses of ruins as can scarcely be seen elsewhere. The place is called Bangor; at that day a noted monastery, but now changed into a cathedral.” 
Although William Malmesbury does report ''half- destroyed walls of churches”
and "masses of ruins”,
which would not seem unreasonable for the remains of such a large monastery,
his account is usually discredited by historians who suspect that he did not actually visit the site and therefore does not provide a first hand account; he is accused of confusing the tradition of the ancient monastery of Bangor-is-y-coed, near Chester, with the more modern see
of Bangor Vawr
(Great Bangor) then in Carnarvonshire (now Gwynedd) with its cathedral and invented his account of the ruins at Bangor-is-y-coed. But in the passage above Malmesbury is clearly referring to the Battle of Chester (Carlegion
) and the monks from “the neighbouring monastery,”
. Bangor-is-y-coed is only 12 miles up stream from Chester, whereas Bangor Vawr is some 60 miles along the north Welsh coast and can hardly be considered as“neighbouring”.
This monastery at Bangor Vawr, established by St. Deiniol as we have seen above, was sacked in 634 and again in 1073 AD. Nothing of the original building survived, the Cathedral being rebuilt on several occasions; the first stone building being erected by Bishop David between 1120 and 1139 AD. It was restored in the 12th century but was destroyed by the English and then badly damaged when King Edward I invaded Gwynedd in 1282 AD. Although not a large cathedral by modern standards the first stone construction was contemporary with when Malmesbury wrote down his Chronicle in the first quarter of the twelfth century.
The reference to the cathedral is seen as the flaw in Malmesbury's account; the church at Bangor-is-y-coed could hardly pass as a cathedral and by all accounts was not constructed until c.1300 AD. However, in his Gesta pontificum Anglorum
, (Deeds of the English Bishops), c.1125 AD, Malmesbury makes no mention of a cathedral at Bangor; “a monastery once grand and so populous that, as Bede reports, if it had been divided into seven, each portion would have housed no fewer than 300 men, Certainly the existing remains there, including half-ruined walls of churches, are on a scale seen almost nowhere else”. 
We can forgive William's apparent confusions; it would appear that he visited the site at Bangor-is-y-coed and witnessed first hand the ruins of
the monastery before he wrote the first edition of Gesta regum Anglorum,
In writing Gesta pontificum Anglorum
, c.1125, he again described the ruins at Bangor-is-y-coed. It is only in the later edition of Gesta regum Anglorum
which he expanded up to 1127 that he adds the monastery had now changed into a cathedral. This correctly corresponds with the first stone building being erected at Bangor Vawr by Bishop David between 1120 and 1139, after William had penned the first edition of Gesta regum Anglorum.
William is generally considerable a reliable historian for his time and seems likely that he based his later addition of the building of a cathedral at Bangor on an oral account that he heard after his visit that he interpreted to mean the site at Bangor-is-y-coed.
At Bangor Is-y-coed we should not be expecting to see large scale Gothic style ruins with tall pointed arches like at many of the sites of the destroyed abbeys and monasteries across the country such as Glastonbury and Valle Crucis for example. Most of these magnificent buildings went up in the golden era of abbey and cathedral construction which commenced following the return of the Knights Templar from the First Crusade early in the 12th century and thereafter appeared throughout the Christian west. Most were wrecked by order of Henry VIII in the Dissolution of the Monasteries
in the 16th century. However, we would hope to find some trace of the 'mother of all monasteries'
in this valley by the river Dee.
Seven hundred years after William Malmesbury's time only traces of the foundations could be found. According to 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales'
, third edition published by Samuel Lewis in 1849, “....the only vestiges that can be traced, are parts of the foundations, extending for a considerable distance along the eastern bank of the river Dee, which flows between the sites of two of the ancient gates.”
In 1972 a partial excavation of the site at Bangor-is-y-coed failed to reveal anything significant and nothing now remains above ground. 
Is it possible for such a large monastery to disappear without trace? One could be forgiven for wondering if it had actually ever existed at all; the destruction of the monastery certainly seems to have been eradicated from our history books.
But although hard evidence of the monastery at Bangor-is-y-coed remains elusive the memory of it has prevailed and it appears a Welsh account of the destruction this seat of religious learning has survived.
Next: Slaughter of the Saints (2): Chronicles and Scribes
. March Of The Monks Of Bangor
by Sir Walter Scott.
Iter II lists the land route from Blatobulgio
(Birrens) north of the Wall to Portum Ritupis
(Richborough) on the south east coast of Kent, some 500 miles of Roman road. Bovio
being listed as item 469.3 between Medialano
469.4 (Whitchurch), 15 miles, and Deva
469.2 (Chester), 10 miles. It has been suggested that the main legionary pottery works of Legio XX Valeria Victrix housed at Deva,
was at Holt in Clwyd, and is in fact Iter II 469.3 which would agree with the mileage but must be doubted because it does not lie directly on the route but about two miles west of Watling Street
, sited on a suspected branch road running west from Bovium
to the fort at Ffridd. The name Bovium
may be derived from British *bou- 'cow' implying perhaps a Romano-British 'cattle market
'.– see A.L.F. Rivet and C. Smith, The Place-Names of Roman Britain,
The Roman settlement at Tilston, Cheshire, is also a possible site for Bovio
– A.C. Waddelove and E. Waddelove, The Location of Bovium,
Britannia 15, 1984.
That the Roman road passed through Bovium
a little to the south of the church seems without doubt when it it is reported that when 'digging graves in the churchyard, Roman pavements are occasionally found'
- 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wale
Alfred Neobald Palmer, On the Early History of Bangor is y coed
- Y Cymmrodor,
Following Bede, versions of the Lucius story appeared in the Historia Brittonum
, c.830, which stated that “one hundred and sixty-seven years after the birth of Christ, king Lucius, with all the chiefs of the British people, received baptism,”
and William of Malmesbury included the story in his Gesta pontificum Anglorum
, c.1120, but the most influential was Geoffrey of Monmouth's chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae
, c.1136, which provided a detailed account of the spread of Christianity during Lucius' reign.
The English churchman and historian Thomas Fuller (1608 – 1661) credits Good king Lucius with establishing several major Christian institutions in the 2nd century:
a) St. Peter’s Cornhill in London.
An inscription in the churchyard here claims that the church of St Peter upon Cornhill is the earliest Christianised site in Britain, founded by the first Christian King, Lucius,
b) A chief Cathedral Church in Gloucester,
c) A Church at Winchester,
d) A Church and College of Christian Philosophers at Bangor-on-Dee,
e) A Church dedicated to St. Mary in Glastonbury,
f) A chapel in honour of Christ in Dover Castle,
g) The Church of St. Martins, Canterbury.
- Thomas Fuller, The church history of Britain, from the birth of Jesus Christ until the year MDCXLVIII,
Alfred Neobald Palmer, On the Early History of Bangor is y coed
- Y Cymmrodor,
This is of course no more than a foundation legend of the Cadelling
dynasty which ruled Powys in the 9th century, the time the Historia Brittonum
was written from the house of Gwynedd against the descendants of Vortigern, whose claim to these parts of Powys are stated on The Pillar of Eliseg
. Set on the lower slopes of the Horseshoe Pass
, standing on a mound in Valle Crucis (Valley of the Cross
), overlooking the ruined Abbey, about 2 miles North of Llangollen in Clywd, stands the remains of the pillar dated between 800-25 AD. The faded inscription on the cross is recorded as stating that the monument was erected in memory of his great-grandfather Eliseg, by Concenn, the last native king of Powys, who according to the Annales Cambriae
died in Rome in 854 AD. Concenn appears to have been asserting not only his inheritance of Eliseg's kingdom, but celebrating his rights of dominion back to the Roman period and the Emperor Magnus Maximus. Much of the inscription contains genealogical matter, which, seems to agrees with the Harleian Genealogies, except that at the beginning Britu is said to be son of Vortigern, not of Catigern ('son' of Catel Drunluc), conflicting with the account in the Historia Brittonum
. In identifying Britu as the son of Vortigern, (Gildas' `superbus tyrannus'
) and Severa (the daughter of Magnus Maximus
), the inscription seems to imply that it was Britu who was blessed by Germanus of Auxerre not
Catel Drunluc. However, the monument is damaged and we depend largely on a 17th century reading by the antiquarian Edward Llwyd in 1696.
In July 2010 archaeologists from the University of Chester started a two week excavation at the 9th century monument, the first time the site has been dug since 1773 when the pillar was re-erected, to gain a better understanding the history behind the monument and why it was erected. The site has never been subject to modern archaeological investigation but the ancient monument is protected by Cadw and stands directly on top of a barrow, an ancient burial mound, which archaeologists are not permitted to disturb. For news from the excavation see: http://www.chester.ac.uk/node/6516.
William of Malmesbury's Chronicle Kings of Kngland - From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen,
c.1120. Translated by J A Giles, 1847. ( Gesta regum Anglorum
originally spanned from AD 449–1120 which he later expanded this in to a "second edition" up to 1127, which is now considered by modern scholars to be one of the great histories of England). William's first edition of the book was followed by the Gesta pontificum Anglorum
(Deeds of the English Bishops) in c.1125 in which he describes the ruins again.
William of Malmesbury Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, The History of the English Bishops,
Volume 1 by – Editors Michael Winterbottom, Rodney M. Thomson, Oxford University Press, 2007
L Laing, The Archaeology of Late Celtic Britain and Ireland c.400 – 1200 AD,
London, 1975 - quoted in History of the English kings, Volume 2 of Gesta Regum Anglorum
, William of Malmesbury - Roger Aubrey Baskerville Mynors, Rodney M. Thomson, Michael Winterbottom, Oxford University Press, 1999.
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