Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Saint Tydfil (Tudfal) of Merthyr Tydfil,daughter of Brychan, Mother of Teilo
Tydfil and Teilo at Llandaff Cathedral
Above the Martyrdom of Saint Tydfil
Yesterday I put up a podcast about two South Welsh saints. We have already mentioned a daughter of Brychan Byrcheiniog whose name was Gwladys, who married Gwynlliw (st Woolos) and became a religieuse. and gave birth to another great Welsh Saint-St Cadog (Cattwg)the Wise. Brychan had many daughters Most were married to chieftains and petty chieftains. Gwynlliw’s son Bugi had married his cousin Goleu who gave birth to yet another great Welsh Saint-St Beuno who figures in the story of St Winifride.Tydfil was also married to a chieftain in West Wales in what is now Pembrokeshire. When her husband died or was killed she returned and embraced a life of chastity. Her father , Brychan received a plot of her fathers land at the foothills of the Brecon Beacons, where the land was fair and fertile. She probably planted an orchard-or had one planted for her, had her own small hut and a tiny church built at the centre of hier little Island of land. The women grew their own food and herbs and they prayed the Prayers of the Hours every day dedicating themselves to the service of the small community round about, offering their services as healers, herbalists giving remedies, growing lavender and buying or even growing sheaves of corn to crush it to meal and bake bread.Some of the men would fish too. It was unlikely Brychan would leave his daughters to fend for themselves. They would probably have had a weekly visit from a priest from her father’s court to administer the sacraments and say Mass.
The role of the Priest was important in these times in a court. The Priest would take care of oaths and legalities and be responsible for the care of the relics and church property as oaths were always sworn over the relics. If you want to know more about this and the other Laws ofHywel Dda lstn to thePodcast on Relics and St Teilos Skull-a very interesting story about how St Teilo’s skull ended up agoing around the world!
Life in an Early Welsh Convent
Tydfil and her women as many nuns in the centuries to come would offer theirexpertise in helping women with childbirth when their confinements came. They devoted themselves to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and caring for the sick and the other works of mercy.The Catechism of the Catholic Church says :’The fruits of Charity are joy, peace and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction, it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity (inspires the same generosity and love in those to whom it is given) and remains disinterested and generous. It is Friendship and Communion. Love is itself the communion of all our works. There is the goal, thatis why we run towards it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.’Para 1829.
Work and Mission
Mary was their Patroness, the Mother of Mercy and their inspiration to follow the teachings of Christ, as Mary always points to her son. They would have learned to card and spin wool, weave and knit again with a few male servants to did the harder aspects of animal husbandry. We know St Maches, Gwynlliw’s daughter had worked as a shepherdess. Tydfil was greatly loved locally by all, and made strangers welcome. She tried to live out the vocations to which she had been called in the same was as Mother Teresa and her nuns, and the large number of Franciscan and other sisters and brothers around the refugee camps in Zimbabwe, giving Hope to those for whom life is hard and so the church goes on.
Tudfal and Teilo
Tydfil seemed to love the secure life she had and gained great joy working for the Kingdom of Heaven.The stained glass window shows Tyfil with the child Teilo, who may even have been brought up with his mother at her monastery for a while until he was sent away to school at Ty Gwyn. We can only assume, Teilo having been born at Llandeilo in West Wales, that her husband died, and there were other children to succeed him.. They may even have continued a Roman custom that when children had been born and grown up, a married woman, supported financially by her husband had freedom to go and follow her religious vocation, as Roman ex wives had become successful farmers and business women. With the help of some of Brychan’s servants who came to help them build their strong church and walls, they built a small settlement, probably from wood or mud and wattles, and became a Christian centre, offering Mass to local people, who perhaps had no priest.
Anglo-Saxon Raiding Bands
This was, however during 400-600AD and before the routing of the Saxons by Meurig and Tewdrig at Tintern. (Meurig had been named after St Maurice the Roman Commander who with his whole legion had been martyred for their faith. Many places in Europe too were named for him-eg Saint Moritz. Tewdrig was named for the King Bishop Theoderick (also of the Eastern Catholic Church)who popularised the fate of the Legion. It shows that the Welsh Church was very much part of the Universal Church at that time.)
Fall of Glevum (Gloucester) gave access to Wales
Ceowulf the Saxon had taken Glevum (Gloucester) but did a deal with the Angles who had settled in Mercia. They were just beginning forays into Wales. King Arthwys had stemmed the tide at the Battle of Mons Badonis (Mount Badon) near Bath before his death but the tide of Saxons entering the Country was strong. The Saxon threat was not the only one. Irish raiding parties were rife, moving up from Swansea and the coast up the heads of the valleys track, in search of lucrative 'llans' to raid, young healthy people for slaves as well as gold or silver.
St Tudfal gains a Martyr's Crown
Tydfil chose as her home, the Taff River valley, sparsely populated by Celt farmers and their families. She became known for her compassion and her healing skills as she undertook to nurse the sick: human and animal.
She established an early British monastic community, leading a small band of men and women. She built a "llan" or enclosure around a small wattle and daub church according to common practice.
Her home included a hospice, outhouses and a scriptorium. There she lived quietly, bringing hope and support to the people of the Taff valley.
In his old age, King Brychan decided to visit his children one last time. He took with him his son Rhun Dremrudd, his grandson Nefydd and Nefydd's own son, along with servants and warriors.
They visited his third daughter, Tanglwstl, at her religious community at Hafod Tanglwstl, what is now known as the village of Aberfan, south of Merthyr Tydfil. Brychan wanted to linger with his daughters a little longer, so he sent most of his warriors and Nefydd on ahead, along the homeward journey. The king went on to Tydfil's home while Rhun and Nefydd's son were still at Hafod Tanglwstl.
So the party was spread out along the Taff Valley; a distance of about seven miles and all uphill.
Wales at this time was suffering from raids from the Irish, free to roam around now that the Romans had long gone. Some had even settled at South Radnorshire, near Brychan's kingdom. Perhaps the news of the king's absence had reached the Irish settlement and they decided to take advantage of the king's vulnerability. In retrospect, Brychan would appear to have made a very foolish decision in allowing his party to split up. But he must have known that, being so old, he was unlikely to ever see Tanglwstl and Tydfil again.
Rhun Dremrudd was attacked by an Irish raiding party, a mile from Hafod Tanglwstl and he died defending a bridge over the river at what is now the village of Troedyrhiw (the bridge is still called Pont Rhun). The bridge gave the Irish free access to the King's party and Rhun Dremrudd put up a good fight. The Irish then split into two groups: one devastated the Hafod Tanglwstl community and the other pursued the king.
The king and his followers were robbed of their jewellery, money and clothes. Servants and family; they were all cut down. While the others ran and fought and panicked, Tydfil knelt and calmly prayed, before she too was brutally slain.
Then the Irish retreated over the Aberdare mountain. By then, Nefydd and his warriors caught up with them and avenged the deaths of his family at "Irishman's Hill". Then they returned to bury their dead.
Tydfil was buried within the church she founded, amongst the people for which she had cared
A Celtic Cross was put up in a clearing near the Taff which became a meeting place for the people of the valley. In the 13th century the cross and wattle and daub church Normans replaced the old church to a stone church dedicated to Saint Tydfil the Martyr, which was itself replaced in 1807, and rebuilt again in 1894. The church still stands, at its place by the River Taff and is one of the first things the tourist sees as she enters the town centre from the south side.
In recent times we have seen such cruelty ourselves, or heard of it. It is unlikely Tydfil was as young and beautiful as in the portrayal of her Martyrdom in the stained glass window, yet such a sacrifice for God made her beautiful in the sight of many. She was brave and fearless and merciful.
Stained Glass at Llandaff, and Corporation of Merthyr Tydfil. 'Mertyr means 'Martyr'
The picture of this martyrdom is contained at Llandaff Cathedral, where you can see her just before she was beheaded. She met her death bravely offering no resistance. She was not a women the Saxons would have liked or understood. These Angles were puzzled by what religious women were and may have feared them or even offered them to their many gods. The Welsh word for ‘Martyr’ is Merthyr and Merthyr Tydfil means ‘The Martyr Tydfil’to this day, she remains on the crest of the town of Merthyr Tydfil.She was buried on the site where the Church of St Tydfil now stands. The Catholic church and Priory re established in the nineteenth century was also dedicated to this remarkable woman.
Merthyr Tydfil is not a beautiful town today. It was not planned and developed during the industrial revolution into an important coal mining town and further disfigured by ugly council estates in the 1960s. The Coal Mine owners the Crawshay family were closely connected with the town and eventually funded an important concert Brass Band, famous throughout South Wales. The collapse of the mining industry has brought difficult adjustments but the town is proud of its martyr princess.The views are wonderful and to drive slightly north into Brecon brings you through the most amazing countryside and solitude, similar to that St Tydfil would have enjoyed. She gave Birth to one of the greatest Welsh Saints, Teilo who founded the College at Llandaff following his trip to the Patriarch of Jerusalem and being consecrated Bishop by him, and so she enriched the Catholic and Christian life of the whole of Wales.