Sunday, February 10, 2008

Who Killed King Tewdrig? A Celtic Mystery.....Part I

Podcast no 9 (Download free from iTunes)

The place of our mystery

A few miles west of Chepstow, or as it used to be known by its French name Striguil, there are verdant meadows on either side of the A40 which form a pill or a low area of land, which used to be flooded from the Severn at High Tide. This was the Saint Pierre Pill .This was near one of the most important of the crossing places on the River Severn at Porth Iscoed (The Harbour under the wood)which became Portskewett. Apart from Beachey ferry and some stepping stones further down the Severn, this was an important crossing place. The road passing trough Mathern was an ancient British track winding right from the coast to Shirenewton. Here nestling in a small settlement of religious buildings amidst beautiful trees, rests Mathern Church, dedicated to the protection and memory of Saint Tewdrig and miraculously still keeping his relics.

At this time Morgannwg or Glamorgan, was joined to Gwynllwg (Gwent)- extended right to the Brecon Beacons, Gwent above the wood and Gwent below the Wood. This is a truly lovely and ancient corner of Gwent.

Birth of Tewdrig

The king of Gwent and his wife-King Nynniaw had a son called llwywarch who was a fine prince and brought up as a Christian, ;probably training at Caerwent and learning all the things chieftains did at that time-fighting with an axe, sword fighting archery and quarter staff fighting. He married and had a son called Tewdrig. Tewdrig is called Theodoric in Latin documents. Now Tewdrig was educated as a child with St Tatheus monks at Caerwent-as all the local Welsh royalty attended this very special monastery and he loved the rhythm of the day, the liturgy of the hours, he loved the Vespers as the sun went down and adored the way the monks sang their hymn to Our Lady after Compline when they went to bed.

Tewdrig the Christian Prince

Prince Tewdrig was inspired by the ideals of Christianity, the value of Peace and love, service of others and a gentle life of Praise to God for all his goodness in the gift of Jesus as a scapegoat for all our sins. He engaged in lively debate with the monks who saw his joy. Gradually his boyhood turned to manhood and he was needed at home where he was groomed for hid duty as a future king of Gwent and Glamorgan. He was trained in every aspect of warfare, which he embraced gladly. His father told him about the menace of the Saxons who were coming Westwards all the time. They were pagans, not Christians and destroyed monasteries wherever they could. Llywarch explained how important it was to defend these places from the pagans and how one day he would be king and have to defend the Church.

King Tewdrig of Gwent

The Chieftain Lwywarch died and King Tewdrig was made King. He took over all the great offices of state and donated a great deal of money to help the church at Llandaff to set it off on a firm footing. Above all, he wanted to help the church, which but for his rank, he might have joined. One day he saw a beautiful woman at court. Her name was Govan and she was a princess of a neighbouring tribe. At length he and Govan married. They loved each other a great deal and Tewdrig had never been so happy, because Govan was a gentle and loving Christian princess. Nevertheless Tewdrig, always placing his fate in the hands of God gained some startling successes over the marauding English invaders. His joy seemed complete when Tewdrig and Govan found they were to have a Child. But there were no more recorded children and Tewdrig wearied of the world of politics and fighting and desired to enter his green martyrdom. He did his duty by his people, was a brave and fearless fighter and his son had grown into a fine young king and now just wanted to serve God. However no more children are heard of and it is just possible that the saintly Govan died in childbirth, as so many young women did, and it is a possibility that this is why Tewdrig desired to retire from the world when his son had grown to manhood.

Saint Govan his wife

The other possibility, since his wife is also designated a saint, that having produced a son, she also retired to a convent to serve God, but I think it unlikely she would leave her child Meurig.

Hermitage at Tynderyn or Dinas y Brennin (Tin-tern)Wye Valley

Tewdrig went into his desert, where he dwelt on the rocks at Tintern. The very name Tintern is Welsh Ty Deryn (the house of the King). The spot he chose was rocky we know but probably on the site of the present Abbey since it was a beautiful place.It could also have been Dinas y Brennyn (the King’s fortress)Archeology suggests there was something Roman in the site of the abbey. He spent his days in prayer, lived from fishing in the Wye and growing food and was visited often by his son. He was greatly troubled by the tales of Saxon Mercian raids on Christian monasteries in Gwent. Every time a messenger came with tales of another Celtic monastery destroyed in the Herefordhire or West of the Severn , he would become even more angry. In the book containing this story, the Liber Landevensis we read Tewdrig was a great warrior abd while he possessed the kingdom he was always victorious, so that when his face was seen in battle he was always victorious’.

The angel also speaks of the natives and other inhabitants, because clearly these were refugees from the invading Saxon line which had spread to the Severn or the Hafren as it is called in Welsh.

Story from the Liber Llandaff

The angel of the Lord said unto him on the preceding night:
‘Go tomorrow to assist the people of God against the enemies of the church of Christ, and the enemy will turn their face in flight, as far as Pwll Brochwael (possibly Brockweir)and thou being armed stand in the battle, and seeing thy face and knowing it, they will, as usual take themselves to flight, and afterwards for the space of thirty years, in the time of thy son, they will not dare to invade the country; and the natives and other inhabitants will be in quiet peace, but thou wilt be wounded by a single stroke in the district of Rhyd Tyndyrn and in three days die in Peace.(et tu tamen vulnerabis una plaga in Ryl Tindyrn et morieris in pace post triduum’.’

Now 3 days to die is consistent with a head injury. The Saxons under Ceolwulf or a Mercian raider were advancing down the Wye.Meurig, possibly still a teenager, took fright and rode for Tewdrig at Tintern. Reaching Tintern with his men by evening , he jumped off his horse, ran in and told his father the news. Tewdrig was horrified and knew the time the angel had spoken of had come.

The Book of Llandaff continues the story:‘Rising in the morning , when the enemy of his son Meurig came , he mounted his horse and went cheerfully with them, agreeably to the commandment of the angel, and being armed he stood in battle on the banks of the Wye, near the ford of Tintern (that was later known as Pont y Saeson or Saxon Bridge) and on his face being seen, the enemy turned their backsand betook them to flight, but one of them threw a lance, and wounded him therewith, as had been foretold for him, and he therefore rejoiced, as if spoil had been taken on the vanquishing of the enemy.

The dying Tewdrig makes for Flat Holm Island (Echni)

After his son, Meurig returned victorious, and with the spoil he had taken, he requested his father to come with him, who said thus :I will not depart hence until my Lord Jesus Christ shall bring me to the place which I have desired, where I shall like to lie after death, that is, in the Island of Echni (possibly Flat Holm.)And in the morning two stags, yoked and ready were before the house where he lodged, and the man of God, knowing God had sent them, mounted the carriage, and wherever they rested, there springs flowed, until they came to a place near a meadow towards the Severn.’

The Death of King Tewdrig, Saint and Martyr

At this point, we come to the place when Tewdrig needed to rest and have his wound cleaned, and they stopped near a holy spring. Tewdrig was carried to the spring and was cooled by the fresh water and the grass. He called his son to him and ordered that a church should be built on the spot the God had led them to, and he wished to be buried in it. The carriage with the stags was completely broken . He ordered the stags be let loose and then said‘ Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’. Lying there on the grass, he stared at the heavens and waited for God to take him. After a short while, he met his Maker.

The Liber goes on:

’His son, Meurig, being informed of the death of his father, built there an oratory and a cemetery, which were consecrated by St Oudoceus (or as we know him Euddogwy) and for the soul of his father he granted the whole territory to Bishop Odoceus, and the church of Llandaff , and its pastors in perpetual consecration without any payment to any mortal man besides St Oudoceus and the Church of Llandaff. (St Oudoceus’ monastery was at Llan-dogo north of Tintern, on the site of the present church.. The area of the inland water flow is now called Pullmerick (Pwll-Meurig).

Meurig and St Oudoceus when he was made Bishop of Llandaff
The king held the four gospels in his hand and confirmed the endowment of the holy church, with the Holy Cross going before them, and the holy choir singing, with Odoceus singing “May peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces.” “Glory and riches shall be in his house, and his righteousness endureth for ever.” And with the sprinkling of holy water on all the boundaries, he confirmed the same Privilege as had been before given to St. Dubricius. He would not have to go on military expeditions, the church had the right of sanctuary, without human protection forever , together with the kings of Britain whose bodies were committed to Llandaff, forever. The document goes on’ as the Church of Rome has dignity above all the churches of the catholic faith, so the Church of Llandaff exceeds all the churches of southern Britain in dignity, and in privilege, and in excellency; and with complete commonage to be enjoyed by the present and future inhabitants, in field, and in waters, in wood, and in pastures; and with those boundaries, From Cynlais within Taff, and EIei, the whole territory as far as the sea. We are told he was a great scholar and very humble and wise. The Church and monastery at Llandogo was and is still dedicated to him.

Tewdrig’s Feast Day is given as January 3rd.The place where he died was called Merthyr Deryn or the Martyr King-and now shortened to Mathern. Mathern is near the junction of the Wye and Severn. Some historians have argued the battle was at Bath, where we know there was a great battle and come in to the big Hunger Pwll at high tide , transported by boat , This would exactly have brought him to that area. It is also true that Meurig managed to keep the Saxons to the East of the Severn, safeguarding the area now known as Wales (Land of Romanised Britons) .

There is a huge mountain and forest in the Malvern area called Wychwood, and further up the forest of Arden, near Birminham. The superstitious Saxons would not penetrate there not being fond of woods or mountains. This meant Wales kept its identity inspite of individual Saxons settling there. Tewdrig and Meurig are true heroes of Wales as well as the Church, which they defended so valiantly and for whom Tewdrig gave his life.

That is not the end of the tale. I shall continue next time with what happened afterwards.

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