Thursday, October 2, 2008



GWYNLLIW and HIS VISION - ORigin of St Woolos


When Dyfrig/Dubricius was Bishop of Caerleon, Glywys-(Glaoo-iss), a local British chieftain governed one of the districts of Gwent. When he died, his land was divided between his sons, but only one Gwynlliw Farfog (The Bearded) was able to fight off marauders and keep the kingdom intact. He exceeded all his brothers in nobility and prowess in battle and was such a worthy prince, and ruled so well that peace ws established throughout the district all his life. He was based in Caerleon, which was still a magnificent city.

After a while, Gwynlliw (Gwinn-thloo)wanted to marry, and found a bride in the beautiful princess Gwladys born at Gwynllwgat Bochriwcarn in Gelligaer, around 497,daughter of a neighbouring prince. Their marriage was happy and they had a noble son, Cadoc, who was a very holy and good person to whom the Church (and hospital)at Caerleon was entrusted in a dedication. he Church was built on the site of a Temple of Jupiter in the centre of the city. Cadoc (baptised "Cadfael" by St. Tathyw)begged his father to think of his immortal soul At a young age Cadoc had been sent away to be educated by this Irish saint (Tathyw) at his monastery in Caerwent. For Gwynlliw had killed many people to achieve his peace

. The saintly Gwladys and Cadoc prayed that Gwynlliw would repent of his sins and turn to God. Fred Hando writes the fierce Welshman revelled in his adventures and scorned the prayers of his saintly wife and son’

Near the mouth of the Usk (Wsg) in a creek called Pill Gwenlliw ,he kept a long fast boat and it was his custom to go out into the Bristol channel with his men and attack passing ships, killing the crews and stealing the cargoes.
One night, so tradition has it, he was visited by his Guardian angel, who told him to leave his worldly possessions.


The angel instructed him that on the hill by the banks of the river, he would discover a white ox with a black spot between its horns. The land where he found the ox would be uncultivated and there he must live and labour. Gwynlliw and his wife went out , and discovering the ox on the side of an ancient hill fort, where the angel had told him , he built a cell on the hillside overlooking the sea, and the site of modern Newport. There he also erected a Chapel for prayer and meditation dedicated to the Mother of God, whom he thought should intercede for him with God, because his sins had been many and he thought Mary would plead for him.


Finally he was became very ill and when he knew he was dying, sent for Cadoc ,his son and Dyfrig (St Dubritius) the Archbishop, who came to comfort him in his last hours. Dyfrig heard his confession and gave him the last Holy Communion (Viaticum)so he would die with Christ. He was buried at a spot which was situated immediately above the entrance to the present tunnel which penetrates Stow Hill. So Gwynlliw is buried underneath the present St Woollos Cathedral (dedicated to Gwynlliw) and the present beautiful Catholic Church of St Mary is also sited nearby and has a stained glass window dedicated to Gwynlliw as well as David .Gwynlliw was regarded as a Saint, because he was a reformed sinner and had devoted his life to Christ.He had been obedient to God’s message by the angel and, like Mary, had been obedient to God’s Will and had done what God had commanded.


The original Cathedral was built of ‘boards and rods’ and was built in the sixth century .This was known as ‘mud and wattle’. The little Chapel to St Mary (Llanfair) nestles between the tower of the cathedral and the nave of St Woolos (St Gwynllw). The sixth century building was replaced by a stone chapel, part of which probably survives in the stone of the walls. Fred Hando says ‘From the ancient chapel the view of the Norman nave is magnificent , seen through a semi-circular arch .This arch was never an exterior doorway and is itself unique , in that its detached pillars have a Roman character and may have been brought from Caerleon.


Two steps lead down to the nave. St Gwynlliw’s has, from earliest times had a close connection with St Peter’s Abbey and now Cathedral at Gloucester.and it may be that Benedictine monks from Gloucester raised the first beautiful arcades in the Newport Cathedral. Of one thing I am certain, no man who has ever attended service in summer under those grand old arches will ever forget them


Fred Hando also mentions that from the rising floor of a chancel is an ancient window, still called the Leper Window so that through the open window, lepers could take part in the Masses and Prayers of the Hours. Lepers were, however sadly forbidden entrance to churchyards and this was a ‘sacring’ window and the sanctus (holy) bell was rung at the consecration of the host, at the hours and at the Angelus so that all the people working in the fields would stop and pray facing towards their church.


The ancient church of Our Lady and St Gwynlliw on the hill served as a beacon for King Harold and his Saxon brothers, his mother sister and daughter had viewed it during the twelve long months refuge on the Holmes. William the Conqueror and William Rufus had looked on the church: outside the walls the solders of Rufus had camped and then knelt inside. Henry II had travelled past on at least two occasions.


Gwynlliw was named after his kingdom From this name comes, as I have said ‘Pill Gwenlly’(Pill), Wentloog (Gwynlliwg-gwinn-thloog) (The area around the ‘Lighthouse’ Peterstone and Church of St Brides)Wentwood (Coed Gwynlliw) ‘Gwynlliw’s wood’(situated to the left of the A48 if you are travelling to Chepstow. There is ‘Netherwent’ as in St Bride’s Netherwent-Lower Gwent. Even the Royal Gwent Hospital is named for St Gwynlliw. The legacy of Gwynlliw is all around and he recently gave his name to the Welsh medium secondary school in Pontypool.

The County called Monmouthshire was created because it was attached to the Oxford court circuit (assizes)in the time of Henry VIII, who was also trying to 'extirpate 'Wales '. It should me mentioned again, that large tracts of Gwent were owned and colonised by Saxons (English ) before the Norman invasion of William the Conqueror as seen in the deeds of the monasteries who, in turn took their lands. The charters of Bassaleg names –Kenered, Wilfrid, Kadmor, bear testimony that there were established Saxons wielding power in the twelfth century, since Harold Godwinson’s Saxons had conquered most of lower Gwent by the time of the Battle of Hastings.

We shall return to St Woolos again, as it contains many treasures from later times, but it was a monk of St Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester who wrote down the details of the Life of Gwynlliw, and we must be grateful for that.

Harold Godwinson attended Mass here.

Gwynlliw married the glorious Gwladys of Brecon, one of the holiest families in Wales , decended from the family of Joseph of Arimathea. His son, Cadoc was one of the three Grail Guardians and one of the greatest monastics and saints of Wales.His children , Maches (martyred) Cynydir and many others I have written about here. St David probably visited here on the way to see Dyfrig/Dubricius at Caerleon.

This hill saw Gwynlliw’s ‘bull’ vision, where he had to build his church of Our Lady.

It was from here the Angelus prayer would be rung by morning and evening to people working in the fields from earliest times, and to tis building they would turn in their prayer.

Here existed a long standing llan, an early monastery , founded by Gwynlliw and tended for hundreds of years by successive monks and clergy. Here Mass would be offered and St Woolos part of a network of such ‘llans ‘ where the early holy saints of Wales moved around and on route to Rome and Jerusalem. Cadoc made 7 separate journeys to Rome during the time of 7 Popes.

Gwnlliw’s bones became holy relics and a shrine emerged in Mediaeval times, where many implored the help of the Soldier Saint for help with their prayers, where they left flowers and votive offerings and candles.


All this was, of course smashed up during the sixteenth century, but it seems the relics of Gwynlliw were thankfully kept and buried under the floor of the nave (see picture above)


This is a Welsh medium school in Pontypool.

Today the podcast ‘Praystation Portable’ carries all the morning and evening prayers right into your iPod, as well as the Rosary. Good to sit up at St Woolos and pray the Rosary, a meditaion on the life of Christ , or the Liturgy of the Hours. The Benedictines cared for St Woolos until the sixteenth century, and were responsible for the buildings.Interestingly there is a lot of evidence of stone and columns and pillar being brought from Roman Caerleon. A Knight of the Crusades lies buried here. There is much to enjoy and an excellent Guide Book. St Woolos now belongs of course to the Church in Wales. It was extended with stone from Kemys Inferior Church, in the 1960s I think and is very interesting to view.

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