Thursday, May 29, 2008

Up Up into the Airy Mountains!!! To Bedwellty!

I travelled back from Pontypool this morning by a different route, which took me up the Tredegar Road.I had decided to try and look at the Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes Constructed in the grounds of the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Tredegar. Fortunately the Grotto was outside and the church itself locked. It was difficult to park and so I did not stay long. It was also lunch time so I did not feel I could interrupt Father.

On the way, however, I did see the signpost, just before the Rock Tavern to the left for Bedwellty and went to seek out this church as I believe it must have had a Celtic foundation. I had visited two other churches that morning, each one on the steep side of a mountain. Apparently they used to flash shields from church to c hurch if anyone was coming. I found the church easily and -miraculously-it was open.

This Church was originally no doubt a pagan place of worship. The name is a bit of a clue. The Druitd fire deity was Santan and when the Christian missionaries first evangelised the people, they tried to interpret what they already believed in Christian terms. The Druitds already believed in the Otherworld so the concept of heaven was not so difficult for them.Hence the settlement probably quite quickly became a onastic settlement called a Clas.As we have mentioned at Llangwm and other Clas Churches, there would be the holy monks, often married at the birth of the Church marriage was an option for priests. Then there would be laymen and people who grew and produced the food, worked on the land and dd the cooking.This was the established way of such places. We talked about Mamhilad as an important Clas Church, St Cadoc at Llancarfan and St Dyfrig and St Teilo at Llandaff. Here in Bedwellty , south of Tredegar-if you look on the map,The cells of all the people who worked in the clas were located in the walls of a round wall-like an 'island' which is what they were establishing-their own island. In St Materian's church in Tintagel she is shown on the banner standing on a green island-the Green Martyrdom.!

British monks and Bishops studied at advanced Theological Centres and were well trained Notable in Gwent were Caerwent and Caerleon.

Two fields in Bedwelly are stilled called 'Maes Llan'Church fields, probably tilled by the owners of the fields, the lay people in the class and then the lay brothers who worked for the Cistercians, as it was also a Grange of Llantarnam Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey near Cwmbran.(where the Corpus Christi pictures came from.The Clas, however in its Celtic format did not have a ruling body. What it did have,however, was trained monks who studied at theological centres like Caerleon and Nantcarfan.Caerwent was a very great centre of learning, and as we have seen, monks and particularly bishops travelled all over Europe and beyond to spread the word of God. They were well educated and instructed in the teaching of the Church as all the first disciples were. Pages of the gospels were set down to be taken around and some, like St Patrick even wrote letters.St David, St Cadoc, St Teilo and St Padarn all visited Jerusalem and Cadoc made seven different visits to Rome during the reigns of seven popes.This kept them abreast with all of the news of the fledging church.Life at Bedwellty no doubt fitten this pattern. People came and went.Strangers were offered hospitality. If they were staying they allowed their feet to be washed, if only staying for a meal, they declined. They amused themselves with funny stories and anecdotes and songs upon the harp, and the recital of poems.

Royalty, Kingship and the Faith went hand in hand

As we have seen the whole system depended on the royal houses of Gwent and Wales, many of whose sons also held earthly office. Cadoc, for example being a great saint was also King of Gwent. Materiana was a Queen and Ceidio a prince. Unfortunately following the Battle of Camlann, the tribes of Britain, particularly over at the Marches were thrown into terrible Civil War, which weakened the British tribes and allowed the Saxons almost to walk in and take England away, driving the British into Wales and Scotland and razing all British civilisation in England to the ground and putting all the people either to the sword or into slavery. There were many refugees. It was to the heroic efforts of Meurig ap Tewdrig (remember the story and podcast of King Tewdrig-in the archives) following the Battle of Tintern that they were kept out until the final conquest of Gwent by Harold Godwinson. He had been in exils on Ynys Echni (Flat Holm) landed at Portskewett and took South Gwent by force, even coming to worship at St Woolos Cathedral.This was the year before Hastings.

Bedwellty Clas

Returning to Bedwellty Clas-it stood at 1025 ft above sea level.It is on a ridgeway between the Rhymney ad Sirhowy valleys. You MUST visit this Church to see the magnificent views and theaching Cross.

Opening HoursSaturdays from 11-3.30 and sometimes Friday mornings and Sunday Eucharist on the first Sunday of the Month.

Inside, there is much of interest, espcially some fantastic stained glass-three members of the Gwynlliw family Gwynlliw, Cadoc and Gwladys are depcited here as well as David and St Sannan and curiously St George.

Saint Sannan

There is some confusion as to St Sannan. The first information I found out about him was that he was the Priest of the father of the Holy Winifred of Holywell.Teuyth was his name.He and St Beuno convinced Teuyth to allow Winifred to become a religious sister which grieved Teuyth because she was his only child. Then there is the explanation that it could be St Senen. This is equally plausicble as Irish monks went everywhere in Europe, Boniface even found them in Germany!!Senan (died in 544AD was an Irish Abbot, who founded monasteries, studying in Irruscarra near Cork, Inis Mor (canon Island) Mutton Island (Clare) and Scattery Island(near Kilrush) where the ruins of his abbey still are.The shrine of Senan's Bell is in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin and his feast Day is 8th March.Senan was a close friend of Dewi Sant (st David) and had royal blood.

Rome and Tours

He made several trips to Rome and Tours and made great impression with his earnestness and pietyThen he was Bishop of Inescathy in Ireland but not a favourite with the monks because he was so strict.He was well liked by the Faithful for his piety and uprightness and was canonised after his death by Pope Gregory.

St Senan and St David

There is a legend that st Senan visited Bedwellty to preach with St David. It is therefore possible he accompanied him to Rome and Jerusalem as well and was his anamchara or soul confessor.

An interesting, friendly Anglican church with interesting artefacts
There are two naves joined by Norman arches, perhaps from its time as a Cisterican Grange. The oldest part of the building is the Sanctuary. I was made very welcome by the present incumbant who showed me around and also a gentleman church warden who was chatting after what had obvously been a funeral, which I had just arrived on the back of. There were many familiar artefacts a gold tabernacle with sanctuary lamp burning above next to the Easter Sepulchre-which was made of wood.(see above)

The Wooden Easter Sepulchre called the Bread Chest

This chest is linked with a very old ritual closely connected with Good Friday liturgy. On Good Friday Catholics take part in a service called the 'Veneration of the Cross' .After the readings from St John the priest beings a veiled crucifix into the church, accompanied by the singing of the "Reproaches", the cross is unveiled.

Priest: O My people, what have I done unto thee, or wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against Me. Because I brought thee forth from the land of Egypt: thou hast prepared a Cross for thy Saviour.
Cantor I: Agios o Theos.
Cantor II: Holy God.
Cantor I: Agios ischyros.Cantor II: Holy mighty.
Cantor I: Agios athanatos, eleison imas.
Cantor II: Holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
Priest Because I led thee through the desert forty years, and fed thee with manna, and brought thee into a land exceeding good: thou hast prepared a Cross for thy Saviour.
This is repeated three times.

This liturgy is much longer . The priests and congregation came forward barefoot on their knees-recently genuflecting or kneeling to kees the feet on the crucifix, in early days the pyx (Euchasist container was also kissed)A Host (Holy bread wafer) had been placed in this pyx, and as Eamonn Duffy explains it was the third host consecrated previously on Holy Thursday to emphasis the importance of the Blessed Trinity.Father, Son as the Son of God and Spirit.The priest then takes of his vestment and is only in his surplice. The pyx and cross are then wrapped in a holy cloth and put into the Easter Sepulchre-almost as if they were being put into a tomb. In the wooden selpulchre here in Bedwellty you can see the Sacred Heart and other four wounds of Christ depicted on a panel (see above)Sometimes these could be made out of stone but they were expensive and more usually found in cathedrals and abbey churches.

Adoremus te Christe-We adore you O Christ The Reproaches were followed by the Crux Fidelis (Faithful Cross above all other,) and the words of FortunatusPange Lingua (see last Sunday's post on Corpus Christi)So the Holy bread
Bethlehem was the town of Bread-the Bread of the Eucharist, the chest was the Bread chest this and links it with the broken Body of Christ on the Cross.


CRUX fidelis,
inter omnes
arbor una nobilis;
nulla talem silva profert,
flore, fronde, germine.
Dulce lignum, dulci clavo,8
dulce pondus sustinens

above all other,
one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peers may be;
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee

The adoration of the Holy Crucifix and its veneration on Good Friday is an essential ritual on Good Friday. The Mass is understood in respect of it, and the Eucharist returns to it.The grief is remembered and the Easter duties due-penance and confessions of what we have done to hurt ourselves and others and our little and unforgotten acts of cruelty to others. In days gone by, the sepulchres was blessed with incense, before the Faithful left. Candles burn throughout Good Friday until the Vigil Mass and people keep vigil. In days gone by the Easter Depulchre was regarded as a quasi symbolic tomb, bringing home to an illiterate people what was happening. Even today numbers of people keep a vigil, but generally not all night and we now have fire regulations and locked churches at night.

In former rites the pyx was taken out of the sepulchre after being censed and and was put back on the the high altar.(That of the Tridentine now called 'Extraordinary Form' of the Mass. At the Easter Vigil Mass (now held at Midnight Easter Saturday) the crucifix is lifted out of the wooden sepulchre and "resurrected". The lage Easter (Paschal Candle) has pins affixed to it as wounds and the light (Lumen Christi=Light of Christ) carried into the Church. The whole congregation are carrying small wax candles. .At a given point nowadays, the electric lights are turned on as the solemn mood changed to one of adulation and the crucifix was carried around the church with bells ringing.The people usually sang the Salve tahn Mary for the gift of her son. This ritual shows that Christ has risen; ("Christus Resurgens".)

Eamon Duffy in his book The Stripping of the Altars writes about the role of the Easter Sepulchre and its function in the pre Tridentaine ritual, which is essentially the same today.The role of the 'pyx' and the Eucharist, where Jesus is truly present, the expression of Christ's torment and suffering

This played an even more important part even than the Corpus Christi ceebration.The Vigil was perhaps the wait of the women (Mary Magdalene, Mary Cleophas and Mary Jesus Mother) who went to the tomb or even the Roman soldiers themselves .

Other Easter Sepulchres carried many symbols of these people, whether they were in wood or stone.There were also, of course the angels.

The two Easter Sepulchres in Monmouthshire , at Coety and Bedwellty are the only ones in Wales of this sturdy wooden type to survive all the various destroyers. It is easy to burn and destroy, can get woodworm and is easily chopped up or made into something else. It is harder to smash stone monuments although detructive attacks can be seen on some of them On the other hand the faithful could more easily have carried them away and hidden them too.

Wood was a good choice. The wood of the cross. The wood of the Tree of Life and even the 'Green Man' became associated with the Christian message.The Welsh had a plentiful supply of excellent wood craftsmen and were pious and devout. Cromwell had knocked out all the stained glass but clearly the most important sepulchre had been removed. The Congregation call the chest, the 'Bread Chest'it has eight panels in all and the most interesting can be clearly seen above.The lily is the symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the rose the 'Rose of Sharon' another title. Bread chest because it held the Holy consecrated bread containging the real body of the Crucified Christ when he died to atone for our sins.

The remaining two panels are as follows. The first panel displays two hands, a heart and two feet. This motif is enclosed within a circle, which itself is enclosed in a square with a flower, a rose or lily, at each corner. As the description indicates, this first panel depicts the five puncture wounds of the Crucifixion. The five wounds had such relevance in medieval religion that each had their own prayers, which were used as meditative aids. The surrounding circle could be interpreted as the rope used to bind Christ to the cross of the crucifixion or the crown of thorns. Two possible interpretations of the flowers at each corner of the scene are that of the roses and lilies suggested previously. Both flowers have religious significance. The lily represents Mary the virgin mother of Christ, a widely used symbol in the medieval world of her purity and virginity. This can be linked with the five wounds as a reference to Mary’s presence at the crucifixion and the suffering she endured as she watched her son suffer and die. Further it also echoes her status as the mother who gave birth to the Church. A third interpretation is that the flowers, as roses draw on another name for Christ, the Rose of Sharon.

The image of the wounds can be seen in stained glass windows and many places and even on prayer cards. Indeed the importance of the five wounds of the passion within the church used to be clearly displayed in churches.

The devotion to the pireced Sacred Heart of Jesus, incorporating the other wounds has devloped from this in recent times.


It was during the Mediaeval times the Dominicans devloped them into a special devotion (now to be seen as a chaplet containing five silver wounds) and individual prayers that would help remind the penitent of the saving power of being washed in the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God. The Faithful were reminded of the importance of repentence and redemption. Redemption was only possible through the Full and Final Sacrifice of Christ.
The prayers contain the same themes as you can see carved on the chest.

I adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, hanging on the Cross, and bearing on your head a crown of thorns: I beseech you, Lord Jesus Christ, that your cross may free me from the avenging angels.

I adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, wounded on the cross, drinking vinegar and gall: I beseech you Lord Jesus Christ, that your wounds may be my remedy.

I adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, placed in the tomb, laid in myrrh and spices: I beseech you Lord Jesus Christ, that your death may be my life.

I adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, descending into hell, liberating the captives: I beseech you never let me enter there. etc. (trans from Tenebrae services)

I will discuss Bedwellty again when we reach the Middle Ages, even though the Sepulchre is from this period.

It was said that the churches on top of the moment used to signal to each other with flashing shields when danger was near, but the greatest danger came from the sixteenth century when damage was done by iconoclasts and later Oliver Cromwell's army. Thank God that beautiful items created with love have been restored to these churches.

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