Saturday, September 25, 2010


Drawing from Roy Palmer-from a Ms in an Oxford Library of St Dyfrig

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Last week I went in  far away Erging, ( Saxon Archenfield) the country of Glywys, father of St Gwynlliw and the birthplace of one of the most famous and most trailblazing of all the Welsh saints. In about 465 AD Saint Dyfrig –(Dubricius as he became known in his Latin title) was born in Madley. The circumstances of his birth are amazing indeed. His mother, having become pregnant whilst unmarried had been cast into a barrel with her new born child, which had been sealed and then cast into the River Wye, rather like an old Druid ‘Rite of the coracle’-if they survived they would live. So Dyfrig and his mother ST EFRYDYL were allowed to live and Dyfrig grew up at the court. His grandfather was always wary of him , but when he became blinded by a terrible illness, it was Dyfrig, who placed mud on his eyes and cured him, by means of his fervent prayers,to the eternal gratitude of his grandfather. Dyfrig proved to be a good scholar and worked hard at his lessons , determined to become a priest and build the Kingdom, he began to feel drawn away to found llans of a monastic nature like the desert monks of whom he had heard so much. I shall write more of Henllan (hên llan (old llan)later, but here at St Dyfrig’s own village of birth, he caused a wooden casket to be made,dedicated to the Blessed Mother and dedicated also to his own mother, which was possibly made out of mud and wattles.

The Ruination of Dyfrig’s Herefordshire llans or British monasteries

The monasteries of Hentland and Moccas survived until the Viking raids 577AD ,twenty seven years after Dyrig’s own death. The dates of Dyfrig’s life are approximate dates, because of the wholesale destruction of the documents which existed. Madley, Dyfrig’s birthplace became a great place of pilgrimage, as his contribution to bring his people to the Kingdom was huge and remembered long after his death. As a founder of ‘llans’at Henland, Moccas, probably at Madley as well, then his development of the old Roman college at Caerleon , the very full part his played in Christianity this time, as bishop in Caerleon, and in summoning the Holy Dewi to help deal with the Pelagian heresy from his cell at Capel Dewi along with Padarn to address the Welsh clergy at Llandewi Brefi.
Christians crowned as ‘Kings and Queens’ of the Kingdom-

One story, surrounding Dyfrig, is that he ‘crowned’ King Arthur at a ceremony at the central church in Caerleon. Since Arthur was more of a Christian mercenary, fighting against the pagan Saxons, this is unlikely as the local king was King Iddon. Arthur (Emrys in Welsh) may have been, in some way sanctified in his work at keeping away the pagan Saxons, there is no doubt the Saxons were seen as devils. We know Teilo cursed them from the top of the Skirryd. Arthur became crowned as a prince of the Kingdom of Christ in the sense that we all are, who are saints. We should not think of these old stories too literally, but spiritually. Maybe the ‘coronation’ was this baptism of ‘Arthur’ with Gwynhafr and mmisunderstood by Prior Geoffrey of Monmouth from his old texts. His coronation, then may have been a a euphemism for his ‘desire for baptism’ or conversion.

Camlan and St Derfyl of Cwmbran

The Battle of Camlan is generally perceived to have been in North Wales now, but there is also a tradition in Cornwall. Wherever it was ,there were few survivors except the saint of Cwmbran, st Derfyl of the Mynydd Maen and a few others, who wearied of fighting turned to Christ, did penance, enacted a ‘Blue Martyrdom’ by donating the rest of his life to the service of others, on the banks of the Mynydd Maen and then at Llanderfel North Wales and possibly as Abbot of Bardsey for the last years of his life.

Dyfrig’s hard work on the Mission

We know a great deal of Dyfrig and his close companions and that he came further into South Wales, first to Caerleon, where he was bishop for a while and caused the old Roman college to be reopened and made ready. He was the Confessor of St Gwynlliw ,Gladws and also gave Gwynlliw the Last Rites ad Extreme Unction before his death. He worked closely with St Tatheus of Caerwent, who had also formed a monastery and seminary there and had instructed St Cadoc in the Christian faith and formed him as a priest. Dyfrig was at the heart of the organisation of the Welsh church, and later invited the Holy Dewi to succeed him following his return from Rome. A great deal of Dyfrig’s life was spent evangelising and explaining the faith to ‘Culdee’ Christians, those Druids, who ostensibly accepted Christ, but denied the authentic teachings of Christianity, which differed from that Druid faith, which they had originally espoused. Even Pelagius himself ( his Welsh name was Morgan and he came from Caerleon-on-Usk)-they called him ‘Brito’ in Rome, where he was a monk and never a priest, was known as a ‘scholar’ (and a most learned one) was steeped in the Druid teachings of his culture. Whilst he himself avoided excommunication many times, by lying to his superiors in Rome and elsewhere, his ideas found resonance with the Welsh clergy, many steeped in Druid tradition and even acting as bards, having learned the ‘secrets’ of the Druid faith in long poems and genealogies , something they continued to do for centuries.

Dyfrig, Dewi and Padarn at Llandewi Brefi

The threat to Christianity persisted and it needed a powerful bishop or Churchman to put them right. Dyfrig called a great synod at what is now known as Llandewi Brefi to try to speak some sense into them, but was, by now, old and within five years of his death. He spoke with Padarn, his friend (known in Rome as St Paternus) and they decided to go to Capel Dewi, where Dewi was undergoing a life of a hermit’s contemplation, following his visit to Rome and Jerusalem with Padarn. It seems David (Dewi) was famous for his preaching in Caer Salem or Jerusalem where the Patriarch had given him a special cope. Teilo and Padarn had been given gifts as well. David seemed to be charismatic, young, tall and powerful. Padarn told Dyfrig about his gifts. David was an intensely holy man and happy in the presence of his Lord in the Llanthony valley. He refused the messenger’s request to come to the Synod, and finally Dyfrig and Padarn themselves had to seat themselves on horses and travel all the way there and convince David of the threat to the church. This was, after all Dyfrig’s job as Bishop.

Clearly Dewi was the man for the job. His holiness (he only ever drank water)and charisma made the priests sit up and listen to the authentic Church of Christ. His powerful voice carried over the gathering as he preached before five large wax candles representing the wounds and sacrifice of Christ . It is said that the passion of his speech caused him to levitate and that whilst speaking a white dove came and landed on his shoulder, and the person who had recalled this story, put this in as an image of the Holy Spirit ‘taking him over’ as he spoke. He explained again the meaning of the Sacrifice of Christ, the authority Christ had given to the Church and the meaning of the Eucharist as the Passover meal of Christians and real presence of Christ. Following his powerful preaching the untrue teachings of Morgan=Pelagius were gone, and the Faithful were reassured and went back to the parishes with clear doctrine.

St David as Bishop and his mother at Llantarnam

Dyfrig knew he was getting older and that the church needed David to steer a re-evangelisation of the church. He retired as Bishop to his llan at Llandaff. Like so many quiet and holy men, David had to become an administrator now and lead another mission for Christ in South and West Wales. He travelled all over the diocese-even to Leominster where he revived and revitalised the monastery and also travelled right down to Glastonbury, where he rebuilt the church, believed to have been built by St Joseph. It is here he is said to have had his famous dream. Where Dyfrig had shown the way in founding monasteries or ‘llans’which had founded the new structure of life, after the Roman departure, David now travelled around his diocese, especially in South Wales and founded many more . The many dedications in Monmouthshire to ‘Llandewi’ bear testimony to that work. He found Caerleon to noisy and cosmopolitan, however. It was still the capital city and too much for him. He therefore decided to move home to the Pembrokeshire coast where he was born. While David was at Caerleon, there is a tradition his mother, the holy Non also founded a llan at Llan-sant-non, which became known as Llantarnam, the parish where St Derfel founded both his llans at Llanderfel and at St Dials.

Dyfrig’s Last Years

Dyfrig went on to spend the last years of his life at Llandaff, with Bishop Teilo , who succeeded him. He spent his life far from his Ergyng roots. The Church at Madley, dedicated to his mother St Erfrydyl, where she presumably spent her life in Christian service and contemplation on the Mission of Christ, became a place of pilgrimage for those who remembered the service of the great saint.St Dyfrig died at Llandaff and was taken, at his wish, to Bardsey Island in North Wales for burial. This was the legendary ‘Isle of 20,000 Saints’, with a monastery founded by St Cadfan as Abbot and where Derfel is later said to have succeeded him. In Norman ttimes, however, Urban the Norman bishop of Llandaff strove to improve the importance of the see, and had Dyfrig’s relics exhumed and brought back. I read somewhere that St Dyfig had been formally proclaimed a Saint, canonised by Urban, at this time. St Dyfrig had a tomb and effigy, which can still be seen but his remains were desecrated by Protestants in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.


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