Dale Fort Blog Number 13

10 12 2012

Nadolig Llawen Darllenwyr y Blog

DF at christmas

Happy Christmas Blog Readers

As promised in Blog 12, here is the story of St David.

St David (Dewi Sant)

Born 495, died 589

He was known as “The Waterman” because he only drank water, his followers were sometimes called the Watermen.  Merlin (from Carmarthen (Caerfryddyn)) is supposed to have prophesised his birth.

David’s mum was St Non, a pagan princess who had been raped by Prince Sant.  She was disowned by her family and her father was going to kill the baby.  However as Non’s contractions began a great storm blew up and this prevented him from finding her.  The spot is on the cliffs and a healing spring spouted up.  There is a shrine to the Blessed Virgin and a nunnery and chapel there now.  The water is supposed to be good for eye problems, try it at your own risk.

David was baptised at Porth Clais by St Elvis  who had arrived opportunely from Ireland. Non and David left Wales for Brittany, she died there, he returned.  David was trained for the priesthood at various Christian Colleges.  He became a Bishop but maintained a simple lifestyle.  He dressed in animal skins (like Elvis) and carried a branch with a magical bell hanging from it.  He also owned a magic horse which was ridden across the Irish Sea.  David travelled all over Britain and to Brittany and the Holy Land.  Between 530 and 540 he and his mates St Ishmael, St Teilo and St Aiden established his monastic settlement at present day St Davids.  As soon as he arrived he lit a fire.  This meant he was declaring ownership of the site and was most annoying to the local pagan chief Boia.  His wife was even more annoyed and made him send a bunch of thugs to duff up David and his chums.  Before they got to the settlement they all became ill and couldn’t go on.  They returned home and found all their cows had died.  Boia decided that negotiations were in order, so he came to an arrangement with David and the cows were miraculously restored.  Boia’s wife was not happy so she decided that she would get rid of the Christians if her husband was too weak to do it.  David’s men were celibate and went down to the river everyday for water.  Mrs. Boia assembled all the attractive girls in the tribe and told them to go down to the river, remove their clothes and frolic about in a suggestive manner.  The aim was to excite the Christians to such a degree that they would break their vows and run away in shame.  It failed because David fasted against them and they all went mad. (A response echoed 14 centuries later by IRA hunger strikers).

She then tried a stronger method.  Taking her step-daughter down to the river she offered to do her hair.  When the girl’s head was in her lap she cut it off and threw it into the river as a sacrifice.  This didn’t work either so Boia’s wife went madder and ran away screaming foul curses.  Boia was now extremely miffed and set about destroying the settlement.  Sadly for him he was murdered by the Irish pirate Lysgi before he could begin.

An important event in David’s life was The Synod of Brefi in 545.  On his way to the meeting David restored to life an apparently dead boy.  The boy converted to Christianity and joined David on his journey.  The purpose of the synod was to put down the Pelagian Heresy (a doctrine which rejected original sin).  David began to speak but could not be heard by the large crowd.  The boy put his shroud down at the feet of David whereupon a huge mound grew up out of the ground under the saint.  He could now be seen and heard by all and with a white dove on his shoulder (representing the Holy Spirit) he spoke against the heresy and convinced them all.  This was when the distinctive Celtic version of Christianity began to tow the line and follow more conventional Roman lines.

David died aged 94 having survived an assassination attempt.  3 monks gave him some poisoned bread.  David broke it into 3 pieces and fed one to his dog which died, one to a raven, which died and then (possibly unwisely) ate the last one, he was unharmed.

One day the monks heard voices and David informed them that an angel had appeared and told him he would die on March 1st.  That morning the monastery was permeated by a sweet smell and the sounds of angelic singing.  Jesus appeared to David and escorted him up to heaven.

Look out for the next blog on a topic yet to be decided….


Dale Fort Blog Number 12

7 12 2012

This month the blog returns to the history of Dale Fort.  We take up the story from where we left it in Blog Number 6 roughly 2000 years ago.

Until quite recently it was believed that the Roman Invasion left no visible remains in Pembrokeshire.  The ancient Roman walls at Carmarthen were thought to be the maximum westward extent of Roman construction.  That was before 1992 when the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales took some aerial photographs that revealed a possible Roman Road running east of Carmarthen towards Wiston and Haverfordwest. Near a quarry at Wiston were some marks in the ground that further Lidar analysis (Light Detection and Ranging) suggested might be a Roman Fort.  It has long been thought that the disappearance of the Roman Fleet from the Irish Sea when Britain was abandoned in 383 AD precipitated the invasion of West Wales by Irish tribes.  There are many early stone crosses and some stones inscribed with Ogham script that support this hypothesis.

The Post-Roman early mediaeval period is sometimes called  The Age of Saints.  It was a time when a distinctive form of Christianity developed in the west.  Sometimes known as Celtic Christianity it developed along more traditional Middle Eastern lines than the unified Roman form developed by St Paul.  The remains comprise inscribed stones, place-names, traditions and beliefs.  Dale Fort’s buildings are named after 4 local saints from this period (with the possible exception of St David (see below)).

Saint Ann

Saint Bride

Saint Cadoc

Saint David


DF jpeg

Astute readers will have noticed that these names begin with A, B, C and D.  This is because the buildings used to be named A-Block, B-Block, C-Block and D-Block.  It became evident that this nomenclature gave a prison like impression to potential visitors.  This was something we did not wish to encourage, hence the renaming.  Using local saints with the same starting letter as the old names allowed ancient staff members (such as myself) to remember which one was which.

Here’s some interesting stuff about them:

Saint Ann

    Saint Ann (or Hannah in Hebrew) is known as the mother of Mary the mother of Jesus Christ.  The story of St. Ann comes from the apocryphal gospel of St. James (also called The Protoevangelium).

Joachim and Hannah lived in Nazareth.  They were wealthy and respectable but childless.  One feast-day Joachim grabbed a goat and made his way to the temple to make the expected sacrifice.  Upon arrival he found his entrance barred by Big Reubin the Bushily Bearded Bouncer.  Reubin was a keen proponent of manly virtues and began hurling abuse at Joachim.  The gist of this was that since Joachim was firing blanks, he wasn’t rugged enough to call himself a man and thus should not be allowed to sully the testosterone rich interior of the temple.

Joachim found all this most upsetting and in his shame decided to go for a long walk in the mountains.  While he was there he asked God to intervene on his behalf and supply him with some live ammunition.

Meanwhile Hannah noticed the absence of her husband and gossip being what it is, soon discovered the reason why.  Hannah was filled with grief and between wailing and gnashing her teeth asked God to make her fertile so she and Joachim could have a child.

God heard their prayers and sent an angel to speak to Hannah thus:

“Hannah, the Lord has looked upon thy tears; thou shalt conceive and give birth and the fruit of thy womb shall be blessed by all the world”.

The angel next visited Joachim and said:

“Get thee out of the desert lad, thou’s had some lead put in thy pencil”

Joachim returned home and did the business.  Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a girl they called Miriam (westernized to Mary).  The child was presented in the temple and Reuben felt foolish.  Joachim died soon after, as happy as a man who is dying can be.

Ann then married a chap called Cleophas.  She had another child who she also called Mary.  This Mary became the mother of three apostles: James the Lesser, Simon, Judas and Joseph the Just.

The first Mary married a carpenter called Joseph, met the Angel Gabriel and you probably know the rest.

St. Ann was not a very popular saint in the Roman church but did attain cult status in France.  An interesting local link is provided by Magnus Maximus (Big Max) who invaded Roman Gaul (France) from South Wales (Pays de Gaul in French) in 383 AD.  The similarities of the Breton and Welsh languages hint at early links between Brittany and Wales as does the Northern side of the entrance to Milford Haven which is known of course as St Ann’s Head.  A chapel dedicated to Ann existed there up until the 19th Century

Saint Bride

Saint Bride (or Saint Brigit, or San Ffred or San Ffraid and probably others) is a Christian saint whose predecessor was a Celtic Goddess called Brigantia (or Brighid and probably other names).

The early Christian church appropriated existing gods as their saints and took on traditional ceremonies, modified for their own purposes.  Modification of existing traditions is easier than wholesale abandonment and it’s no coincidence that the major Christian festivals coincide with the major festivals of the pre-Christian era.  These early saints often had powers attributed to them that were very similar to those of the gods and goddesses they replaced.  It is thus sometimes difficult to separate the earlier figures from the later.  This is especially so for Saint Bride.

Before the Christian period Bride was the tutelary (protector) goddess of the Brigantes, a large tribe that dominated Northern Britain.  She was a triple goddess, representative of the three aspects of femininity: Young girl (virgin), Mother (not virgin anymore), and Hag (wise old bag).  She was one of three sisters all named Bride (or Brigit) each of whom had a power.  One had healing powers, one had smith-craft and one had craft-ship.  The three became one and we are left with our triple goddess.

There are many, many references to Bride in British place names: St. Bride (Pembrokeshire), Brentford (Middlesex), Brechin (Scotland).  There are also many churches named for Bride; Saint Brides in London is known to have been built on the site of a pre-Christian temple to Brigantia.

When she was a girl she was out tending sheep in the rain when a message arrived that St. Brennain had come to see her.  She hurried back and hung her wet cloak on a sunbeam to dry.  St. Brennain was unable to repeat this feat and was miffed but he realised that there was something special about the girl.

In later life ride founded a nunnery at Kildare (Eire) and there a perpetual flame was kept in her honour.  It was said to burn without producing ash and (with a brief period of extinction in the 13th Century) burned for getting on for a thousand years.  Henry VIII’s reformation put a stop to it since it was considered pagan, which indeed it was.  The flame was tended by 19 women, a different one for each day.  This is significant because the moon’s cycle is slightly less than 19 years (the Metonic cycle = the time taken for the moon’s phases to fall on the same days of the week).  The monthly menstrual cycle is also linked to the moon and the feminine principal that Bride represents.  She had the amazing ability to turn her bathwater into beer for the consumption of visitors.  (I bet they didn’t get hangover either).

In some miraculous way Bride is sometimes referred to as the mid-wife for Mary the mother of Jesus.  Given that she was also a contemporary of St. Patrick (who died in about 493 AD) she must have been very young at the time.  Like other female saints she is said to have plucked out her own eyes to make herself unattractive to men.  Placing such a high value on chastity is likely to be a Christian tradition.

Unlike other female saints, Bride put them back again, possibly an allusion to her pre-Christian origins.

Saint Cadoc

A major advantage of using scientific names for plants and animals is that there is only one name for each species.  Common names are not like this, there can be many, sometimes dozens.  This means using the latter can be confusing.  The old Celtic saints are a bit like this in that their names may have many variations.  As well as Cadoc this saint is also known as: Cadog, Caradoc, Carodog, Cadfael, Cadvael, Cathmael, Cattwg, Catwig, Docus.

He was born in 498 AD in South Wales, the son of a local chieften called Gwynllyw y Barf (Gwyn the beard) (“Gwynllyw” means “white leader”).  Gwnllyw was not known for his subtle approach to life.  When Cadoc was born he went on a maniacal drunken rampage with several of his chums.  In those days there were no traffic cones and road signs for wild drunken rampagers to purloin, so they stole a cow from Tathyw the monk.  Tathyw however was a monk of some spunk and confronted the hungover Gwynllyw next morning.  Gwynllyw was so impressed by his pluck that he had Tathyw baptise the baby into the Christian faith.  When he was 7 Cadoc was sent to Tathyw to be educated.  This was how Cadoc began his transition from potential hooligan to becoming one of the greatest of the Welsh saints.

Cadoc as a man founded the abbey at Llancarfan and traveled far and wide teaching and church founding.  There are church and place names that allude to him all over Dyfed, Cornwall and Brittany.  He also traveled to Jerusalem and Rome.

After a large bout of travelling Cadoc settled for a while at Llanspyddid, where he founded another abbey.  One year, the crops failed and everyone was on the brink of starvation.  While Cadoc was praying for divine intervention, he looked up and saw a suspiciously rotund mouse.  He captured the animal, tied a thin thread its leg and released it.  He then followed the thread which led to a forgotten underground grain store, packed with wheat and barley (and probably lot more mice).

Cadoc was distressed by his dad’s dissolute lifestyle and prayed for his conversion.  God sent a dream to Gwyllyw where he informed him he would find a valuable white ox on Stow hill.  He went there next day, found the ox, was very impressed and converted immediately.  He founded the church of St. Mary on the spot and became a saint himself (St. Gwnllyw’s is in Newport S. Wales).

St. Cadoc has a local connection in that he is said to have spent his retirement at St. Ishmaels.  He is also one of the three knights whose mission is to guard the holy grail.

The story of Saint David will appear in the next blog.  Learn why he was different to the earlier saints.  Just what was The Pelagian Heresy?  What actually transpired at Llandewi Brefi?  Was Matt Lucus involved? (No).

Come back to this blog and be the first on your block to read it.