Friday 27 December 2019

St Derfel the Mighty

Plotting Camlan: Letters from the Dead

Sixth in Evan Evans’s list of the Seven who escaped from Camlan is “Derfel the Strong from his strength”. Derfel is an elusive character, completely absent from the Triads and the earliest stratum of Welsh Arthurian poetry.

Derfel Gadarn (Derfel the Mighty) is remembered by the later Welsh poets as fighting at Camlan. After the carnage of this battle he turned his back on warfare and entered the religious life, studying at Llantwit. He is said to have become a hermit and founded the church at Lllanderfel, Penllyn, near Bala, in the early 6th century, recorded as the “Old Abbey” in 1291. The churchyard is curvilinear indicating its early Celtic Christian beginnings. The church was extensively rebuilt around 1500. About 350m north-west of St Derfel's Church is Ffynnon Derfel (Derfel's Well).

On the hillside of Mynydd Maen in Gwent, South-East Wales, a shrine was also dedicated to him. He is said to have moved to the monastery at Bardsey Island taking up the position of Abbot, succeeding St Cadfan, his cousin. Derfel is said to have died at Bardsey in 660 AD.

Llanderfel is perhaps best remembered today for the story of the wooden image of the Saint that was sent to London in 1538 and used for the execution of John Forest at Smithfield. Forest had been confessor to Queen Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII, and refused to acknowledge the King as head of the church. Forest was burned to death for heresy, roasted over the wooden statue of St Derfel. This act was said to be a fulfilment of the prophecy that the statue would one day burn down a forest.

 Originally the Saint’s statue at Llandderfel portrayed him as an armed warrior, not a monk, sat upon a horse, some say stag which was a common companion for many of the Welsh saints. Before the Reformation, hundreds of pilgrims are said to have visited the church to see the statue every 5th April, St Derfel’s feast day.

St Derfel's Horse

After special pleading by the local people the red stag known as the “Horse of Derfel” was permitted to remain at Llanderfel church, where it can still be seen today in the north porch, looking worse for wear after its decapitation in 1760 on the orders of the Dean.

The Brother of Arthur
According to the late Welsh genealogical tract Bonedd y Saint, Derfel is listed as a son of the legendary king of Brittany Hywel Mawr (Hoel the Great). In Welsh tradition Derfel arrived with St Cadfan and twelve other saints from either Brittany or Llanilltud Fawr; other tracts claim he was brother to St Tudwal and St Arthfael (Armel).

Barber and Pykitt (Journey to Avalon: Final Discovery of King Arthur), argue that St Armel was actually the name King Arthur took after the battle of Camlan. Arthur, like many of the survivors of Camlan, is said to have renounced the warrior-life and turned to religion becoming a Saint; he went into exile in Brittany founding churches at Plouarzel,  St Armel-des-Boschaux and Ploermel. Barber and Pykitt  concluded that Arthur did not die at Camlan but simply disappeared, leaving his fate, and his grave, unknown to the Britons.

St Armel’s shrine can still be seen at St Armel-des-Boschaux, which, in keeping with the wonder of Arthur’s grave, is of course empty. However, there is no Breton connection between St Armel and King Arthur.

The location of Llanderfel is significant in our search for Camlan as it is in the same region (Bala) where Morfran (Afagddu) came from. Yet if the date of Derfel’s death is correct at 660, he is certainly too late to have fought at Camlan in 537.


We have now looked at six of the survivors from Evan Evans’s list of the seven who escaped Camlan. Last is “Geneid the Tall, from his speed” who has defied identification.

However, Peter Bartrum has suggest that the name “Geneid Hir” is derived from Eueyd Hir or Euehyd Hir, a name from the Second Branch of the Mabinogi as one of the seven chieftains left in Britain by Brân when he took the forces of the Island of the Mighty to Ireland.

Next: Medrawd: Fallen Hero?

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Tuesday 24 December 2019

St Pedrog and the Spear

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

The Welsh antiquary Evan Evans (1731-1788) included “St Petrog, from the strength of his spear” in his list of the seven who escaped from Camlan. Rachel Bromwich considers Evans's text to be a copy of Lewis Morris's copy of 17th century manuscript Peniarth 185 which in turn would appear to be based on an earlier Welsh tradition.

A tradition of Pedrog’s presence at the Battle of Camlan by Dafydd Nantmoor (or Nanmor), a prominent Gwynedd poet who flourished in the last half of the 15th century, is the earliest account of the saint fighting with Arthur at Camlan.

St Pedrog’s spear was kept at Llanbedrog church on the Lleyn Peninsula and last seen in 1535. This spear was said to be the very same that Pedrog wielded in the battle at Camlan.

Three churches are dedicated to St Pedrog in Wales; in addition to Llanbedrog, he is also the patron saint at St. Petrox near Pembroke and Y Ferwig near Cardigan.

In Dafydd Nantmoor’s 15th century poem he calls on the saint for help in driving away some sand dunes that were threatening Y Ferwig (Verwick), a small town on the Cardiganshire coast. Here he is described as possessing a famous spear and one of seven who survived Camlan. After Arthur’s fateful last battle Pedrog turned away from war and became a monk at Y Ferwig:

"In Camlan there were seven men of the Britons who escaped from the field, without being slain by either side, One of them is a saint because of his spear; Pedrog was renowned with his weapon at the death of Arthur. He was a crowned  king's son, from the ancient kings of Cornwall. He served (and will serve) the Trinity after that day, above Dover, and (he) gave a vow never more to employ worldly weapons. Then he came to y Verwig, the place where he awaits his death-day." [Rachel Bromwich, TYP p.482]

It is of some interest that the poem claims Pedrog came from an ancient line of Cornish kings, which probably is the reason for the confusion with St Petroc of Cornwall. The later Latin Life’s of Saint Petroc, none earlier than the 12th century, all place the Saint in Cornwall in the 6th century, where over 18 churches are dedicated to him. Indeed he is Cornwall’s most famous saint.

The Cornish tradition claims Petroc came from South Wales, landing at Haylemouth and founded a monastery at Padstow (Petroc’s Stow). Some sources claim he spent twenty years in Ireland before arriving in Cornwall. He later lived as a hermit on Bodmin Moor, where he built a monastery for his followers. On his death, around 564, he was buried at Padstow which became the centre of his cult. Exeter and Glastonbury also claimed his relics. Around 1,000 AD, his relics were translated to Bodmin. In 1177 Petroc’s relics were stolen and taken to Saint-Méen (St Meven) in Brittany. At the intervention of king Henry II the saint’s relics were restored to Bodmin but a rib was left at Saint-Méen. At Bodmin, Petroc’s relics were placed in an ivory reliquary. This was hidden during the Reformation but found in the 19th century above the porch of the Bodmin church; today his skull remains in the parish church. Today it is recognised as one of the finest reliquaries in England, made by excellent Sicillian-Islamic craftsmanship.

Reliquary of St Petroc, Bodmin

Cornish Saint or Welsh Warrior?
Apart from the Vitae produced by his Cornish followers, St Petroc only appears in one other Vita. In the Preface to Lifris of Llancarfan's Life of Cadog (Vita I Cadoci), Petroc is one of ten sons of Glywys, grandfather to St Cadog. Nine of these sons are kings of the regions within Glywysing, the ancient kingdom of South-East Wales centred on Glamorgan. One of his sons was known as Gwynllyw the warrior.

St Petroc, Bodmin
The 12th century Gotha manuscript shows Gwynllyw as the brother of Petroc and Cadog's father. This genealogy agrees with the Vita Cadoci which shows Petroc as Cadog's uncle. St Cadog is said to have been born around 497; Petroc, as his uncle, would have been of the previous generation.

Gwynllyw (Woolos the Warrior) was King of Gwynllwg in South Wales and is the legendary founder and patron saint of the City of Newport, living around 450 – 500 AD. According to medieval tradition he was a feared warlord and raider who knew King Arthur, but later renounced war and found religion and became a hermit founding St Woolos Cathedral in Newport.

St Petroc of Cornwall is never associated with Camlann, or typically a spear, indeed his icon is often a wolf, or a stag that he rescued from a cruel huntsman. It would appear that in the tale of the seven who escaped from Camlan, St Petroc of Cornwall has here been confused with Petroc Baladrddellt (also known as Pedrog, or Pedrogl Paladrddellt), son of Clemen ap Bledric, a 7th century king of Dumnonia (south-west England comprising Devon and Cornwall), who ruled after his father Bledric ap Custennin who, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, was killed at the Battle of Bangor Orchard (Chester) around 613 – 616. As St Petroc of Cornwall died around 564 he could not have been the son of Clemen ap Bledric.

Pedrog Baladrddellt (Petroc Splintered-Spear) would have succeeded to the throne of Dumnonia after his father died, probably around 630. According to the Bonedd y Saint Pedrog Paladrddellt was a saintly man, who is said to have died at Y Ferwig in Ceredigion, as  Dafydd Nantmoor recalls.

In Welsh tradition Pedrog Paladrddellt is listed as one of “The Three Just Knights of the Realm” having dedicated himself to preserving the justice by the law of arms, in the list known as The Twenty-Four Knights of King Arthur's Court. The 15th century account of Dafydd Nantmoor is clearly evidence of an older oral tradition in Wales; it is likely that the epithet "Splintered-Spear" inspired the Welsh tradition that Petroc was one of the seven survivors of Camlann. After the battle he renounced warfare for the religious life.

Churches in Wales dedicated to St Pedrog

Clearly the saint's spear was known from South Wales to North Wales; apart from Nantmoor's poem it is referenced nine other times in later Welsh poetry, and emphasised his military prowess; without doubt the reason for his attachment to Camlan. The Welsh tradition seemingly isolated from the Cornish and Breton cult sites of St Petroc.

Quoting Wade-Evans, Peter Bartrum has argued that “Clemens is a corruption of Glywys” based on the Cornish tradition being preserved in a Welsh context, as Glywys Cornubiensis or Glywys Kerniw as Petroc's father. But the chronology does not support this; Pedrog Baladrddellt and St Petroc of Cornwall are separated by nearly a hundred years and clearly not the same individual.

Next: Saint Derfel

Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, 4th Edition, UWP, 2017.
PC Bartrum, A Classical Welsh Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000, online at The National Library of Wales 
Karen Jankulak, The Medieval Cult of St Petroc, Boydell Press, 2000.

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Monday 23 December 2019

St Cedwyn, Survivor of Camlann

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

Cedwyn, “from the world's blessing”, is listed among the seven survivors of the battle of Camlann in a 17th century manuscript. There is very little information available for St Cedwyn; he is absent from major accounts of the saints, such as David Farner’s Dictionary of the Saints and Elizabeth Rees Celtic Saints of Wales. However, we can only assume he was a warrior who in the aftermath of the slaughter at Camlann where both Arthur and Modred fell, he turned to religion and finished his days serving the sick and needy.

According to the Welsh genealogical tract Bonedd y Saint (Descent of the Saints) his mother was Madrun, a saint married to Ynyr Gwent, a prince of Caerwent and father of Caradog Freich Fras (Caradog strong arm) a contemporary of King Arthur. St Ceido was the fruit of the union of Madrun and Ynyr.

Madrun, or Madryn, is identified with St Materiana known for her church at Tintagel and also attributed with the foundation of a nunnery at Trawsfynydd in Merioneth. Madrun is said to be the daughter of Vortimer, who later married Gwgon Gwri (Gwgawn Gwrawn), son of Peredur son of Eliffer Gosgorddfawr (of the Great Army) and victor at the Battle of Arfderydd 573 AD, by whom she is said to have bore St Cedwyn. Clearly the chronology is not correct; this is far too late for Cedwyn to have been present at Camlann.

There seems to be some confusion here in the genealogies as the only historical Ynyr Gwent that can be positively identified is from the mid-6th century, around a hundred years after Vortimer, the son of Vortigern, would have lived. According to the 9th-century Historia Brittonum, Vortimer fought four battles against the invading Anglo Saxons in Kent and died shortly after the final battle. Vortimer’s floruit must have been mid-to-late 5th century with his battles in Kent mirrored in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle record of the advance of Hengest and his son Esc. Known as Gwerthefyr Fendigaid in Welsh (Vortimer the Blessed) he asked to be buried where the Saxons first landed as a talisman against further incursions. However, his request went unheeded by the Britons and the invaders soon returned.

Church of St Cedwyn, Llangedwyn, Powys.
The foundation of the church at Llangedwyn in Montgoneryshire is attributed to St Cedwyn. Cedwyn’s chapel was said to have been in the Tanad valley near Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in North Powys, about 9 miles south-west of Oswestry, not far from the famous the Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall, one of The Seven Wonders of Wales, at the foot of the Berwyn mountains. Claimed to have been founded in the 6th century the church at Llangedwyn was heavily restored in the 18th century.

There was also a Llangedwyn at Brecon, but now long lost, nearby the Cedwyn stream runs into the River Ely toward Cardiff. On the right bank of the Ely, is a wooded valley known as Cwm Cedwyn. According to Sabine Baring-Gould in The Lives of the British Saints, “the Cedwyn of Ynys Cedwyn in North Glamorgan, near the junction of the Twrch with the Tawe, is said to have been a giant”.

According to Terry Breverton in The Book of Welsh Saints, Llangedwen could have been at Trefeglwys in Montgomery. Apparently there is a dedication to Cedwyn in Montgomery and the saint’s presence here may be affirmed by the holy well Ffynnon Gedwen at Trefeglwys. Breverton cites his mother recalling the well being near a haunted house where children used to fill water bottles. He identifies this haunted house as “Dol Gau” where the sorcerer Ifan Huw claimed to have raised demons in the 18th century.

Next: St Pedrog from the strength of his spear

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Sunday 15 December 2019

St Cynfelyn

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

The Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae) record for year 93 (c.537 AD)  the fall of both Arthur and  and Medraut at the Strife of Camlann. The memory of this battle lingered long in the minds of the Welsh Poets and Welsh Tradition as a particularly bloody account with few survivors, indeed the Triads of the Island of Britain (TYP 84) refer to Camlann as one of the “Three Futile Battles of Britain”.

The earliest account of the survivors of Camlann is found in a triad embedded in the earliest Arthurian tale Culhwch and Olwen. In this account three survivors are listed: Morfran son of Tegid, Sanddef Pryd Angel and Cynwyl Sant, who was the last to leave Arthur.

Yet, by the 17th century the number of survivors from Camlann was listed as seven and Cynwyl Sant (the saint) had been replaced by St Cynfelyn. A note in Evan Evans’s (1731-1788) notebook (Panton MS 13) gives seven names for the Survivors of Camlann. Rachel Bromwich considers Evans' text to be a copy of Lewis Morris' copy of 17th century manuscript Peniarth 185.

We have previously looked at St Cynwyl who is remembered at of Aberporth on the west coast of Wales in Ceredigion, where the church is depicted as St Cynfil's on historic maps. Apart from a couple of churches in Carmenthenshire and Penrhos in Llŷn, very little is known of St Cynwyl; he is absent from most books on the Celtic Welsh Saints. His relationship with Arthur and his presence at the battle of Camlann and why he appears listed amongst the survivors remains a mystery. Neither St Cynwyl, or his horse Hengroen, appear to provide any clues in plotting the location of Camlann.

Who then was St Cynfelyn; a famous warrior, a famous saint, or both?

Saints and Warriors
Peter Bartrum lists no less than ten characters bearing the name Cynfelyn in his Classical Welsh Dictionary. Amongst these are warriors of the Old North and a Saint from Mid-Wales.

Bartrum tells us that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘Kimbelinus’ was based on Cunobelinus, the son of Tasciovanus of the Catuvelauni. In Brut y Brenhinedd (The Welsh version of Geoffrey’s Chronicle) the name is correctly rendered Cynfelyn. However, Tasciovanus was a historical king, known from coinage dated around 20 BC who ruled the Catuvellauni from Verlamion (modern-day St Albans). As pre-Roman king Cunobelinus is totally out of place in relation to the battle of Camlann.

Then, in Bartrum’s list, we have Cynfelyn Drwsgl which at first glance seems more promising. His epithet means Cynfelyn the ‘clumsy’ but Rachel Bromwich (Triads of the Island of Britain) suggest this perhaps should be more correctly rendered as ‘leprous’. Cynfelyn is listed in the genealogies as one of the Men of the North (Gwŷr y Gogledd) and in the Triads listed as one of ‘Three Pillars of Battle’. In another he is listed as one of the ‘Three Horse-Burdens’ which relates to the Battle of Arderydd. A poem in the Black Book of Carmarthen records Cynfelyn as one of the seven sons of Eliffer [Gosgorddfawr] which again links to the battle of Arderydd. According to the Welsh Annals the battle of Arderydd was fought in 573 AD.

Arderydd is the second of “Three Futile Battles of Britain” listed in theTriads of the Island of Britain (TYP 84), fought apparently over a “lark’s nest”. This battle was the inspiration for the Merlin legend, from the poems found in the Black Book of Carmarthen, in which he has gone mad and fled into the forest, in turn founded on Lailoken the wildman of the forest.

St Michael and All Angels Church, Arthuret, Cumbria

The battle site was identified many years ago by Skene as the woods just north-east of the Cumbrian village of Arthuret, near Longtown. Owing to the name, the church here has attracted Arthurian legend with claims that King Arthur, or his head, is buried here, but Arthur was long gone before this battle and it seems a very late association.

The poet Aneirin records an assault by a retinue from the Gododdin, an area in Lothian around Edinburgh, around 600 AD. The poem, a series of elegies remembering the fallen warriors of the Gododdin is famous for recording the survival of just three warriors. It is usually interpreted as an attack on the Angles at Catterick (Catraeth). The original was said the have been composed in Eidyn (Edinbugh) before transferring to North Wales at an early date. It appears that on arrival in Gwynedd the poem was somewhat expanded and modified. At some stage four poems known as Gorchanau were added, although these are not considered part of the original work.

One, Gorchan Cynfelyn, records a contingent from Gwynedd who joined the attack on Catraeth in support of the Gododdin. This particular Gorchan is important in tracing the development of the Arthurian legend, as it provides the earliest reference to supernatural boar the Twrch Trwyth and records an obscure reference to fighting in a river as with Arthur and his men in the river Severn as found in Culhwch ans Olwen. This Cynfelyn is recorded as son of Tegan, son of Cadfan.

Y Gododdin
However, Camlann is likely to have been fought earlier. The date of 542 is the date Geofffey of Monmouth provides for Arthur’s last battle. This is the same date given by Evans Evans. Yet, the  Welsh Annals provides 537; significantly 21 years after the Battle of Badon. The date given by the Welsh Annals for Badon, 516, could be as much as 20 years too late; most historians date Badon to within a decade either side of 500 AD, giving a date range of 490 x 510.

It seems unlikely, although not totally impossible, that if this is the same Cynfelyn who fought at Camlann in 542 he would be an ageing warrior if actively participating in battle at Arderydd in 573 or Catraeth c.600. Mighty warriors they both may have been, but neither are recorded as a saint. Furthermore, neither of these two warriors are associated with churches in their geographic heartlands. It seems we must look elsewhere for a St Cynfelyn associated with the battle of Camlann.

In the earliest account of the survivors of Camlann, we have Morfran son of Tegid, Sanddef Pryd Angel and Cynwyl Sant. A later 16th century account has St Cynfelyn replacing Cynwyl Sant. Perhaps we should be looking within the locations of those three men; both Sanddef and Morfran are associated with the area around Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) and Cynwyl around Aberporth.

Mofran appears in the later tale of Taliesin, again located around Bala. The 'Hanes Taliesin' is a legendary account of the life of Taliesin first recorded in the mid-16th century by Elis Gruffydd, According to ‘Hanes Taliesin’, Taliesin claims to have been ‘in Gwynfryn in the court of Cynfelyn, in stock and fetters for a day and a year.

Midway between the towns of Aberystwyth and Machynlleth in north Ceredigion, is the parish of Llangynfelyn centred on the villages of Tre-Taliesin and Tre'r Ddôl and the settlements of Llangynfelyn, and Craig y Penrhyn.

The parish is named from the church of St Cynfelyn, about a mile north-west of Tre-Taliesin, significantly located midway between Aberporth and Bala, the locations of the earliest recorded survivors of Camlan. The church, a Grade II listed building unfortunately now derelict, is situated within a roughly circular churchyard, indicative of an early Celtic 'llan'. A healing well, Ffynnon Gynfelin, is situated on the north side of the churchyard.

In searching for a saint by the name of Cynfelyn we find there is very little information available about the saint, his festival does not occur in any of the Welsh calendars. Little is known of this 6th century saint, yet he is thought to have been a real person who is said to be a descendant of Ceredig and Cunedda Wledig.

After the battle of Camlann, Cynfelyn is said to have retreated to live as a hermit in a small cell on the edge of a bog, and in time that cell took its name and became known as Llangynfelyn. He raised his cell on the side of Gors Fochno, somewhere close to where his church stands today.

Sarn Gynfelyn
Situated on the Ceredigion coastline, between Borth and Aberystwyth, is a reef or causeway, known as Sarn Cynfelyn, extending some seven miles out to sea. The five causeways (sarnau) extending into the Cardigan Bay are relics of glacial moraine deposited during the last ice age forming natural reefs of boulders and shingle washed clean by the sea over thousands of years.

Further north is Sarn Badrig, also known as St. Patrick’s Causeway, emerging from Mochras (Shell Island) and extending for 14 miles into Cardigan Bay. Legend claims Saint Patrick walked across to Wales along this shingle ridge. These causeways were thought to be the remains of ancient dams or dykes protecting the mythical sunken kingdom of Cantre'r Gwaelod inundated in the 6th century.

Submerged forest Ynyslas
About 5 miles north of Sarn Gynfelyn is the submerged forest at Ynyslas, which is also associated with the legend of the drowned land. Here on the coastline is the exposed remains of a forest of oak, pine, birch, willow and hazel tree stumps is revealed at low tide, estimated to be about 5,000 years old. This is clearly proof that land in Cardigan Bay was flooded years ago; the legend of Cantre'r Gwaelod is based on the ancient memory of a real event.

Legend claims that after the inundation the king of Ceredigion, Gwyddno Garanhir, brother of Maelgwn Gwynedd, relocated his court to dry land, and established his main port at Porth Wyddno (modern Borth). Nearby, between Aberdyfi and Aberystwyth, he had a fishing weir constructed. As recent as the 18th century there were reports of sightings of the remains of human habitation at the far end of Sarn Cynfelyn, where a collection of large stones and boulders some seven miles out to sea form a reef known as 'Caer Wyddno', the fort, or palace, of Gwyddno. This is one of the sites claimed to be where the babe Taliesin was found in the fish weir.

Next: St Cedwyn, from the World's blessing

Rachel, Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, University of Wales Press; 3rd edition, 2006.
PC Bartrum, A Classical Welsh DictionarPeople in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000, online at The National Library of Wales

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