Monday, January 7, 2008

A Gwentian Queen and Saint

Todays podcast tells the story of Madryn(St Materiana) a daughter of North Wales . She was loved and cherished as a child and grew up a Christian Princess. Wales and the West Country had long been associated with Christianity-remember the legend of Joseph of Arimathea in Glastonbury. This trader was said to have regularly travelled to Cornwall and in the 80s, a landslip gave credence to this when artefacts and other products from the first century Middle East was found on the site of the Tintagel Castle. Legend has it that it was one of his dwellings. Madryn and her maid Annan (both later Sainted by the Church) made a pilgrimage to Bardsey Island, said to be one of the holiest places in Wales. They slept on the island and had an identical dream, that God was telling them to build his church there. When they awoke-they complied.Of course it was a mud and wattle church. There are numerous Gwynydd sites with namescommemorating her there. In Gwent, or Ewyas as North Gwent was called, a whole dysnasty of Silurian Kings came forth but eventually all came to be dominated by Vortigern's Powys to the North of the country. He saw to it that his only son Vortimer became it's King and Vortimer married Rowena, the daughter of Hengist (remember Hengist and Horsa? Two Saxons who were paid to keep the other Saxons away)

Of course,Vortimer had a son called Honorious by the Romans (Ynyr Guent-pronounced Unnuh Gwent) Vortimer married Ynyr Gwent to the beautiful Princess Madryn , which was to strengthen the alliance of the Western Kingdoms, but the Saxons were relentless and as everyone knows Vortigern and his wife Rowena died in the burning of Caer Guothigirn . This can only be the oron Age Hill fort of Tre'r Cairi (Castell Gwrtheryn) north of Gwent-possibly near Roman Gobannium or Abergavenny. If anyone has a picture or feedback from this I would be pleased to put it up.

It is likely that the Saxons land grab then extended south. The capitol of Silurian Gwent at that time was at Venta Silurum or Caer went, capitol city of ancient Ewyas but either Honorius sent Madryn and two sons, one of which was Ceidio and one other away to a safe place or they escaped when he had been killed. They were anxious to kill him and it was usual to kill the family too at that time. The Saxons were complete pagans at this time and held life cheap. Sure enough Honorius was killed in a subsequent battle and succeeded by Iddon, probably a kinsman or rival, because Honorious was the only son of Vortimer living. None other is mentioned in the Welsh manuscripts.The Vikings continued wreaking havoc rowing up and down the Usk and the Wye.

You can only imagine the sadness, grief and sense of isolation and abandonment which overcame Materiana in her hour of grief.It is possible she had only taken her two youngest sons with her, who were not old enough to bear arms. Where did Materiana go? Either she went via Sudbury to Bristol by boat or coracle. She may have crossed the bridge at Chepstow and gone overland to Bristol, or she may have gone to Caerleon or Pilgwenlly where there were natural harbours, Pillgwenlly being more secret.

The ancient would have seen this as a 'White Martyrdom'. Like St Ea of St Ives, who is said to have floated into St Ives on a leaf, probably a small boat too, Materiana and her small sad band set off in their little boat-maybe even a fishing boat and trusted their lives to God. God took her to Cornwall to the Valency Valley, where of course people spoke the same language. Welsh is one of the most ancient languages in the world and spoken everywhere befir the Saxons' arrival.

Dedicating her work to God in order to atone for what she would have seen as their sins, she raised a shelter, brought up her two sons in the Christian faith. Dedicating herself and possibly her maid Annan to do God's Kingdom on Earth. the grieving widow found a wooded and leay valley near the harbour, where with money she had brought with her she set up a small monastic cell.

She must have been a strong and powerful woman. There are no records about the one son, but the other son Ceidio grew up fearlous and pious and was said to have been a magnificent preacher. A small spring appeared near the cell and so she had a water supply and began to see to the needs of local people who needed help, all the while preaching Christ's good News of Eaternal Life. They dedicated themselves to Holy living. They accepted their exile, their lot. Both had lost home, husband and father, status, been abandoned to great hardship and yet still looked to help thers. They were an example of 'agape' Christian selfless love. Madryn herself became a healer and healed with herbs and water and with prayer.They shared their food with the poor. They gave clothes to people who had none and food to those who needed that and was one of the Holy Band of Women of God who did missions like this, cuminating in our own times with the life of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who made Christ's mission her own too.

Priests were few and far between, and it is believed Ceidio was ordained as a priest , either at Exeter or at Truro, since he was instrumental in having a new church building put up in honour of his beloved mother in another place they worked-Tintagel (Dyndagell in British-Kerniw-Ygrain's Land) She had taught her son all she had learned from the holy French priests at her father's court. He would have been ordained on the Feast of St Peter's Chair (22nd February) as was the custom in the early church.

The siteof her Monastery, the magnificent Valency Valley is an amazing and explosive site of greenery shot through with daffodils and narcissi and the pungent smell of the wild garlic. She and Ceidio grew their own food with the help of their grateful patients and people they had helped. Cedio went about his business, saying Mass and Confession, adoration of the Sacrament, he ordained others,christened babies, confirmed new Christians and taught them the faith. He officiated at Requiems and commended the souls of the dying to the next life. Other young men came and the monastery flourished . It is worth pointing out that since Materiana and Ceidio both lived there, that the little cell was a 'conhospitae' or home for both holy men and women working together in the service of God. Sometimes they married and their children were also brought up in the religious community. This has again become the case in many Benedictine communities today, largely because land is not so cheap and plentiful and an atheistic style government has removed the charitable status of religious houses. Ceidio, in common with practice at the time would have made his pilgrimage to Rome and even Jerusalrm. Sources are only so rare becaus records were contantly being destroyed by Raids of the Vikings and Saxons. Nearly all the documents of St David;s Abbey at St David's West Wales, perished at the hands of the Vikings. It is only because some monks wrote down the tales of St David that they survived!

Materiana probably counted off the verses of the psalms and the 'Our fathers' on her wooden beads. The local community loved her for all her care of them and her saintliness was later recognised by the church, when it began to organise itself properly. ONly priests could write and so what we do know comes from well proected and hidden Welsh stories. The local people accepted her and so the other people did too.At St Materians's you can see a beautiful stained glass window with her churches of St Materiana and Minster Church in her hands. She is portrayed with a crown on her head and with a halo, as she was later accepted by the Church authorities in Rome. The local people must have built both churches within a few years after her death/Materiana and Ceidio created a haven of peace, and her love given to her pople at Minster. The people flocked there for help. If you want to find St Materiana's church in Tintagel, just turn down a little steep road to the left of the main road which will take you past another little chapel of later date. If you want Minster, you need to drive to Boscastle from Tintagel, not tuen off to the harbour and arry on on the main road. You will see it rather badly signposted to the left. It is a fabulous site in the spring.

After many years of Christian healing and devotion, Blessed Materiana died at her cell and was buried with honour, and her relics interred into the floor of the Chapel in the little Church where she still lies today. Later it became occupied after the Conquest by a small Benedictine Priory from France, who were recalled to Normandy when the 'alien' priories were closed during the French wars. The name 'Boscastle' comes from Bottreaux Castle of the Normans, butthe name is not connected with Minster. The church has been lovingly cared or by the Community and we saw all their attempts to pay for the damage , especially to the ancient flooring of this ancient place, when the terrible floods devastated Boscastle. in summer 2005.

In the Valley to the North of the Minster is the very lovely St Materian;s Well (you can see a photo below)What is amazing is the small size of the original cell-even in its stone incarnation!.
A stone seat has been placed at the top of the road for the less able bodied to see the ancient Church and its wonderful setting.Even though, as an Anglican Church it has devoloped a graveyard, the twittering of the birds, the pungent smell of herbs and garlic and spring freshness pervated everywhere and gave a glimpse of heaven. The church , although small is supported by a tiny congregation is well maintained, having benefitted from the Boscastle Fund and so important work which needed to be carried out , has been more urgently seen to.

I had been to the crowded little Catholic Church in Tintagel for the Vigil Mass and for the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday and tried to imagine how it would have all appened here in this ancient church,.Minster has been untouched by human hand and is in an area of outstanding natural beauty.and very much the church Materiana had kept. Since our visit was timed actually to her Feast Day in the Church on April 9th, it was apt to say a prayer for her work.

St Materiana's other dedication is sited near the location of Tintagel Castle and stands on a wild promontary, although curiously it is always warmish and quiet inside. It is dominated by a huge painted German Crucifix at the back and has a number of interesting statues of Materiana and some Stained glass. The ownership is with St Geroge's Chapel in Windsor.

I have often , mentally gone back to that space in time, that little valley in a time capsule and thanked God for Materiana and her care of the poor Cornish and of course St Ceidio and all his work of evangelisation. It is interesting to note, since I write this at Epiphany, that had God not come down for us non Jews, Ceidio and Materiana would not have taken Christ's promise of a better life in the next world and followed their white and then their green martyrdoms. They would have received many gifts of love from the locals people, but none so great as the folk memories which raisedin their memory two strong stone churches in this formerly poor area of Cornwall. They transformed their abandonment, terrible grief at the loss of husband and father and loss of status and created a haven for other people, where they could find love and care. Francis of Assissi followed this Way later-the Way and the Truth and the Life. Just what you need when life gives you a bum hand.

So perhaps we can say tody a prayer 'Holy Saint Materiana and Ceidio, pray for us'Amen

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