Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Catholic New Media Celebration Atlanta USA

St Elen or Saint Helena of Llanelen near Llanover Feast Day May 22

St Elen of Wales

Llanelen, Gwent

Today I thought I would focus on a lesser known Saint of Gwent particularly, but she has a dedication here. There are two possibilities. The chuch near Llanover in the village of Llanellen (South of Abergavenny) could have been named for the mother of the Emperor Constantine who legalised the Christian Church throughout the Roman World.

More likely is that there was some confusion with another Saint, a holy woman
(known in Welsh tradition as Elen Luyddog;who was a late 4th century founder of churches in Wales who is remembered as a saint. Traditionally she is said to have been a Romano-British princess and the wife of Macsen or Magnus Clemens Maximus, Emperor in Britain, Gaul and Spain, where he died seeking imperial recognition in 388AD.

A Wife and a Mother

Elen was mother of five, including a boy named Constantine, but she could not have been Helena of Constantinople , the mother of Constantine the Great with whom she has, in times past, been confused. who lived about sixty years earlier. She is Patron of Llanelen in Monmouthshire .This small Church lies off the main road from Pontypool just south of Abergavenny.

The Norman Church based on the original foundation was stripped out of its Catholic appearance suring the sixteenth century and very little of the original form of the church survives inside. There is a lovely stained glass window over an altar table and the original form of the chapel seems to have been left.

Elen is said to have introduced into Wales the early form of monasticism from the Catholic Church in Gaul. Saint Gregory of Tours and Sulpicius Severus records that Maximus Wledig and Elen met Saint Martin of Tours while they were in Gaul!These were really high saints of the Catholic Church. She had two sons, Cystennin (Constantine) and Peblig (Publicius. It is likely that the Church site was originally an old Welsh Monastic foundation.

She is also patron of Llanelan in West Gower near Swansea and of the church at Penisa'r-waun near Caernarfon, and may have lived in both or all three places as they form a sort of triangle in the whole of Wales.We are not exactly sure where she was born.

A Road Builder-Patron Saint of Road Builders

Elen's story is told in The Dream of Macsen Wledig, one of the tales associated with the Mabinogion.. She is remembered for having Macsen build roads across her country so that the soldiers could more easily defend it from attackers, thus earning her the name Elen Luyddog (Elen of the Hosts). Many other Roman roads in Wales bear her name (e.g. Llwybr Elen) and she is thus acknowledged as the patron saint of British roadbuilders[ and the protectoress of travellers.

How she and Macsen met-the Romance

Elen is discovered by Mascen in a dream. Her beauty is compared with that of the Sun: She is radiant and Queenly. When Macsen finds the vision of his dreams and when they meet,they embrace, and marry within a day.

As his Empress, she requested the land of three chief cities as her bride gift. and supervises the building of roads for defence from one major caer or Roman fort to the next, to assist in their protection. The Feast day of Elen of the Hosts is May 22nd, connecting her to Spring, around the time of Beltane.

St Helen of ConstantinopleFeast Day 18th August in Roman Calendar

It is possible this dedication was actually to St Helena of Constantinople and Elen is just the Welsh form of 'Helena'.However it is certain that the Welsh Elen was named after the great St Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, which suggests a Christian upbringing and Baptism

However the earlier St Helen came later to Christianity.Born around 250AD she married Constantius Chlorus, co-regent of the western Roman empire. Mother of Constantine the Great. Her husband put her aside for a second marriage with better political connections. On his death, her son ascended to the throne, brought her home, and treated her as royalty. She used her high position and wealth in the service of her Catholic faith and helped build churches throughout the empire.She is the patron saint of Archeologists

At the age of 80 she led a group to the Holy Land to search for the True Cross. She and her group unearthed three crosses in 326. At the suggestion of Saint Macarius of Jerusalem, she took them to a woman afflicted with an incurable disease, and had her touch each one. One of them immediately cured her, and it was pronounced the True Cross. She built a church on the spot where the cross was found, and sent pieces to Rome and Constantinople; the Feast of the Holy Cross on 14 September celebrates the event. Thus in art, she is usually depicted holding a wooden cross. She also found there the bones of St Sicarius and another child whose bodies had been preserved in Bethlehem and were victims of the massacre of the Innocents. These bones were later given to the Abbey in Brantome in Mediaeval times where they are preserved in a golden reliquary.

Haut de la Garenne
There has been no news today, but it is good that a group is to be set up to support former victims of the treatment in the home.Campaigners for victims of abuse in care are planning to visit Jersey to set up a group for former residents of Haut de la Garenne.

The UK Care Leavers Association campaigns for people who have been abused in care or foster homes, helps care leavers get access to their care records and pushes for better standards in care provision.

Chairman Will McMahon has approached former Health Minister Stuart Syvret to arrange a meeting with Islanders who were residents in the care home, which is the focus of a police inquiry into historic child abuse spanning decades.

Mr McMahon plans to visit the Island in the next couple of weeks to talk to abuse survivors and to set up a Jersey branch of the CLA.

I think we can only rejoice that such tremendous evil has come to light. The Catholic Church has reported increased instances of possession in this century, and the point where evil hardens the heart and makes these perpetrators blind and deaf against the tears and entreaties and begging for mercy of their child victimes, vulnerable and entrusted to them because they were already going through hard times. The daily prayer of the church , The Invitary psalm Psalm 94 says:

O that today you would listen to his voice
Harden not your hearts as at Meribah....
For forty years I was wearied of these people
and I said 'Their hearts are astry,
And these people do not know my ways.
Then I took an oath in my anger
"Never shall they enter my rest".

If ever there was evil and suffering perpetrated on the poor broken bodies of these children, in them we can see the poor broken body of Christ suffering for the sins of this world.The one image superimposed on the other. The great St Bernard of Clairvaux once said that evil enters the soul at the point where someone hardens or her heart and inflicts evil and cruelty and anger on the weak and vulnerable. May God bless them all, those who are with him and those who suffer on in this world and let justice prevail.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Early Church in Gwent and Monastic settlements


Spring on the land recovered from the sea by Romans and Benedictine Monks from Goldcliff Priory.

The Early Church and how it worshipped

Essential Elements
Jesus Tradition only gave us the essential elements of the Church’s prayers, the Eucharist and the Sacraments, and did not specify their practice or celebration. The essence of matter, form, and intention (found in every Sacrament) is drawn by the leading scholars of the Church (including the Pope of course) from what God has described in the Bible and from the way the earliest Christians and scholars worshipped. These essentials are not changeable by the Church. However, when the Apostles of Jesus’ time brought the Gospel to major cities, they adapted the Christian practices (Liturgy, fasting, etc.) into the culture of the area they were evangelising. The tradition of a particular way of celebrating a Sacrament is called a "Rite".

Form of the Early Rites, Common to all Christians including the Tradition brought to Britain

This evolved from a Hymn of Praise to God for the wondrous favour culminating into account of life and death of Jesus and the narration of the institution of the Body and Blood found in John Chapter 6. Sacramental ritual was sacred and conservative and other prayer books of the time (Bishop Seraphion’s Prayer Book) all contain similar things.Some people read the accounts of the people trained by the early disciples(Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Justin Martyr,) but they do not take on board what the early church had been teaching.

Synagogue Services combined with the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist

In many ways early masses resembled synagogue service as you might expect. There was a reading from Scripture, (old Testament and an account of the life of Christ and when these had been written down later-the New Testament) , there were psalm(s) prayers, catechesis(instruction in what Christ had told them)

The Liturgy of The Word (Scripture) changed in second century to include hymns. The Passover, for example, would be explained in the light of the Christian message.

When the people of Israel were slaves in chains in Egypt, God sent a number of Plagues on Egypt as a sign to the Egyptians that they should let his people go! Finally he asked the Israelites to slaughter a sacrificial lamb around the doorways of their houses so that when the Angel of Death passed over the houses the firstborn sons of the Israelites would be spared, which is what happened. Finally the children of Israel were allowed to go to the Promised Land-the Land promised to Moses their leader.

In the Christian fulfilment of what happened, the sacrificial lamb was the Lamb of God , on whose back all the sins of the world were heaped in the form of scourging and torture. The Church teaches this as our suffering, our torture. Jesus knew this would happen and he had appeared to the world in a body made by his blessed mother, who supported him throughout his life. The final death of Christ on the Cross finally gave hope to mankind-Evil had been destroyed and with His Resurrection-a new Order-Jews and Gentiles together. We have been given the link from Earth to heaven.

A Computer Analogy for today-almost!

If you click on the button called ‘Jesus’ because you believe his promise, it brings you straight to him when you die. However he is the Way but when you are born again to him in Water and Spirit, by the Sacrament of Baptism-and later by Confirmation(an adult consecrating him or herself as having full responsibility for Church membership) you must try to live by the laws given by Christ and by the Commandments given to Moses-the basic ones. Important is, that these rules are given for all time, and are not to be changed by current fashions.

Dem bones…

Finally after the Instruction(now the Homily) there might be a further hymn, then prayers and then a dismissal after a Final Gospel. This was the beginning of doctrine, in essence the same as it is today. The reading of the Old Testament and account and essence of the teaching of the Apostles was always very important. Even today at the ‘Easter Vigil’ the beautiful service on the Eve of Easter there are no less than seven long readings from scripture of relevant chapters, for example the account of the ‘Dry Bones’ of Ezekiel, where he breathed on the dry bones and they came to life, in the same way as the Holy Spirit came upon the first Christians as they struggled out o their Roman Slavery and Persecution.

The Eucharist (the Bead and Wine become the Body and Blood!)

The Eucharistic prayer was the final revolution of the new , a mystery which only the illuminate could witness , only those who had crossed the red sea by the waters of Baptism and the supreme Eucharastic banquet could come into the full Promise of Christ. When new people wanted to be converted there was always a long period of instruction and these could not even witness this holy rite until they had been received. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my Blood you will have no life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. As the Living Father sent me, and I draw life from the father, whoever eats me will also draw life from me. This is the Bread which has come down from heaven, it is not like the bread the ancestors ate. They are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live forever.’ St John Chapter 6 53 to 58.

Ieuan ab Rhydderch writes:

Mary is our trust against danger
Great privilege it is to obtain by her miracle
The Holy Body of God in the pure Church
And His blood from the Chalice

The Three Original Groupings

The original Rites had three major groupings:1 the Roman (including the whole of Latinised Europe including Britain and Eire),
2 that of Antioch (in Syria),
3 and of Alexandria (in Egypt).

In the 4th century, under the influence of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, the4 Byzantine Rite developed from that of Antioch. These 4 main Rites then created the over 20 Liturgical Rites present today in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is the body of Believers-the Body of Christ in the world today.
Catholic means Universal-but the Universal and unified Shows great Diversity!
This might bring to mind the question "But isn’t having all these rites being too diverse?” Isn’t this going to cause disunity in the Church? There has always been a problem . While it’s great to be diverse, it is important to keep to the essential tradition and teaching of the Church. This is important because the word ‘Catholic’ means ‘Universal’, and if the church, the Mystical Body of Christ can incorporate its basic teaching in rites which are appropriate to different cultures, then it is proving it is universal (all over the world) Catholic and unified in the essential teaching and rites..Pope Leo XIII wrote "Perhaps nothing, in fact, better proves the note of Catholicity in the Church of God than the singular homage paid by ceremonies (rites) which vary in form, which are celebrated in languages venerable by their antiquity, and which are still further hallowed by the use that has been made of them by the Apostles and Fathers of the Church"

Baby Church in Gwent-Apostle-One who is sent!

If you saw a picture of me as a baby and as I am now, there are big changes! I am still me , still essentially the same, but which people can recognise some of my features, as we get older and come to fruition we look different. Jesus went all over with his Apostles (those he was to SEND out to deliver his message all over the world) The Bible tells us that he explained in detail to is Apostles what he had taught in parables to a crowd.
When St Peter sent the Apostle Philip to Northern Europe and Joseph of Arimathea, (reputed to be Mary’s uncle to Britain from Gaul, Papal records tell us Joseph ended his days as a pastor in Britain),Britain was then a far outpost of the Roman World.It is likely that St Joseph had visited Britain before to trade for tin, which the Romans bought in great quantities. Travel was easy, after all in Roman times..

Christ himself and St Peter and St Paul had stressed the need for unity of doctrine, which was echoed by the teachings of Paul . Paul continually warned against false teachers.Oral Tradition was important to the Jewish people, particularly the Pharisees. ‘Deposit of Faith’ and ‘Hold fast to the Tradition you have been taught’ come out strongly in Paul’s letters.In 2 Timothy he wrote ‘There must be no wrangling about words, all this ever achieves is the distruction of those who are listening. Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker, who has no need to be ashamed, but who keeps the message of God on a straight path. Timothy 2 14

Early Christian Foundations in Gwent

Looking then at the writings of Peter and Paul and of the Early Church Fathers and the Tradition they taught, there was a body of information transferred to the Faithful and the Missionaries which did not even come to be written until the Catholic Church formulated the Bible in the fourth century. There were many writings but only the testimony of the Apostles themselves found their way into the final book. The writings of the Early Church Fathers were, however, the writings of those who were taught by Peter and Paul and given first hand insights into what Christ had told them and what they had observed. Almost all the Apostles died a horrible death-unlikely they would be so convinced if they had not seen Jesus ascended into heaven or seen the Resurrection with their own eyes.

Joseph of Arimathea and Glastonbury

In the first instance, while Joseph of Arimathea and the Disciples arrived in Britain, the Faith was already arriving via Christianised Roman Soldiers. We already talked about St Maurice the other day and his whole legion of Christian soldiers who ended up being decimated and killed as they would not, in love attack their Christian brothers and sisters. St Julius Julianus, St Aaron of Caerleon and St Alban were the first recorded Soldier Martyrs, as I mentioned in my second podcast from Newport in the Mary and Monmouth Podcast (free from iTunes) However Joseph and his party and presumably anyone they had married made their way down to Glastonbury from Wales, a remote spot where they were not bothered. Bu the time the Saxons found Glastonbury, they were already Christianised and carried on the tradition. I would hazard a guess that the Welsh and British who had married into the Galilean families could well have been related to the families of our Lord as stated in the Welsh genealogies.

What is likely was that Caractacus and his family had been exposed to Christianity before being dragged to Rome when the Silures of Gwent were defeated.His daughter or foster daughter and son (born in Rome)Linus are mentioned in Timothy 2:21 by St Paul. Claudia was the name given to Caractacus’ daughter Eurgain and she was married to Lucius Pudens (whom she had converted to Christianity) and Linus her young brother. We know they were all friends of Peter and Paul and when the Nero persecution started, Claudia and her son Timotheus found their way back to Britain and set up a small Christian foundation at Winchester, where she died. It seemed Lucius had died and it could well be that the family came with them when Claudius had died and mad Nero taken over.

New from the BBC-Nero did not kill Christians....(no...really...?)

According to the recent rewriting of history by the BBC in the programme ‘Rome’ the episode on the Emperor Nero had not one single mention of the terrible martyrdom of vast numbers of Christians by this man. Strange considering that is what he is chiefly remembered for after setting fire to his own city of Rome to gain inspiration for the writing of his song! Yes there really is a blackout on Christianity in any positive light.

Old Welsh Monasteries in Gwent

Churches grouped around Old Welsh monasteries –There were 14 in Gwent according to Diane Brook. Principal ones, with clusters of churches

Some of these are:

a)Llanarth (St Teilo)
b)St Maughams (St Mawgan)
c) Monmouth and Dixton (Our Lady, Llanfair)
c) Trellech Grange
d Llandogo (St Euddogwy,Oudeceus)
e) Mamhilad (St Illtyd)
f)Trevethin (St Treddyn-Brother of Samson)
d) Llandegveth (St Tegfedd-Sister of Treddyn and Samson)
e) Caerleon. (St Cadoc)
f)Llantarnum (Llan-sant-Non-St Non-Mother of David/Dewi)

I have already considered and written about St Tegfedd recently. St OUdeceus and Teilo featured prominently in what I wrote and spoke about at Llandaff and how Meurig (named after St Maurice) developed Dyfrig’s Church at Llandaff into a great headquarters for a Bishopric. St Non I have mentioned in the Podcast on St David and on the blog. (the whole of Rhygfarch’s Life of David is now on the podcast free from iTunes) Monmouth foundation became the great Benedictine Priory of St Mary in Norman times and the ancient and restored Mediaeval Priory still stands on the site today.Llantarnam was developed in mediaeval times by the Cistercians was rebuilt in Stuart times as a powerful house of the Catholic Faith during the time of the Persecutions in the sixteenth and seventeenth century when the heroic gentry held fast to the faith, housing and sheltering priests for the Faithful.


So we shall consider each of these other foundations. Excluding Monmouth . Dixton remains at the side of the Wye a way out of town, and I have some pictures of this.If anyone has any pictures of these churches and would like to see them on the blog-please send them to me via I shall acknowledge every one.

Haut de la Garenne-Update

There has been news today.Police arrested a 68-year-old man today as part of a probe into allegations of historical child abuse on the Channel island of Jersey, a force spokesman said.
The man, we don’t know his name, was answering questions about a number of alleged rapes and indecent assaults, although it was not directly related to claims of abuse at a former children's home. The new arrest took place early Tuesday morningand no further information was given by the police
The Jersey force said later that the arrest was not directly linked to the Haut de la Garenne probe, but was part of a wider historical abuse investigation
Some of the bones found in the bricked up cellars have been sent to London for further tests

Little Madeleine

The Lord keep you safe Madeleine. I hope the new campaign (see 'Light the Way Home' will bear fruit as your father and Uncle John return to Pria de Luz .We all need to pray that little Madeleine will be returned to her parents and for the whole family. Please go to their website for details of the next camapign.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sister Fidelma and Ancient Eire-Celtic Whodunnits?

This image is by Belgian Artist Ken Broaders. There are more images on the website linked under the portrait of Fidelm on the right.

Just a short post today as I have more posts in preparation but am very busy at the moment. If you enjoy reading and love the early tales of Celtic Britain, I can recommend this series of books by Peter Beresford Ellis, who writes as Peter Tremayne.He is a well known authority on this period of church history and he has utilised his knowledge of the Brehon law system and seventh century Irish society to create this wonderful concept of an early Nun , sister to the King of Cashel called Fidelma, who is qualified in law and solves crimes. In the very first book, she is shown at the Synod at Whitby where she solves her first murder together with intrepid Saxon Monk Brother Eadulf.

I should stress, that the reason Pope Gregory sent Augustine to England was because after enduring many savage attacks by Saxons as tey tried to conquer Britain, only their superstition and a vigorous campaign by the Welsh (a rude term by the Anglo Saxons who were old Germanic tribes for the original inhabitants-foreigners or 'Romanised Celts'. These kept the English out for many years, but there was such animosity, they refused to evangelise the English. Gregory did not believe there could be peace until they were part of a truly united kingdom.Nothing was happening. Then Gregory sent Augustine and gradually conversions began to happen.The Welsh clergy would not listen to clergy at the arranged meetings, so great was the animosity to the Saxons.Our Lord had left the Church on the Rock of Peter and stressed that there had to be unity in the church of Christ if it prayed together. Augustine simply required that Britain should come into celebrate Easter at the same time of the rest of the church all over the world and a great Synod happened at Whitby.

When the church was in its infancy, of course it did not look as it did 500 years later, but there were also abuses appearing in this culture which needed to be checked. Lack of unity would weaken the church. Fidelma and Eadulf embark on an exciting investigation. You can search Peter Tremayne at Headline Books.They do give an account of the fascinating world of the lost ancient Irish civilisation. The rule of celibacy in the church for priests in the Latin arn of the church only came later and is not a matter of doctrine, but of discipline. Unmarried priests can devote their whole lives to their calling. It is not a matter of doctrine.

An International Sister Fidelma Society has been established with a magazine called The Brehon which is issued three times a year. Details can be obtained by writing to the secretary at 1836 Ashley River Road, Suite 396, Charleston SC 29407-4781,USA . There is also a website at

Having written so much about corresponding Welsh saints at this time, albeit martyrs, it is very interesting to see the kind of lives the women led and the customs of ancient Ireland. I hope you enjoy the books. Absolution by Murder is the one set at the Synod at Whitby and the first one and it is best to read them in order.

My only reservation is that they do buy slightly into the universal church coercing the Celtic churches into submision. These had always been part of the universal church, with the clergy and monarchies forming part of the pilgrimage traditions and many being ordained in Rome .If you have a unified church and it was instituted in a certain way, you had to make sure the church kept to the original teaching of the gospel and gradition of the church.

Will be back soon, when I get up to date after a busy week.

Latest Sister Fidelma mystery is 'Dancing with Demons' investing the murder of Sechnussach, Hig King of Ireland

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Heavenly Interlude-St Tegfedd's Church.Llandegfedd


Visit to St Tegfedd’s Church

This week I drove out from the foothills of Cwmbran past the Crematorium and out towards Llandegveth to see for myself the spot where St Tegfedd (pronounced Tayg-veth-with the th pronounced as the th in ‘the’. This is the soft Welsh ‘edd’ sound. This road, which also leads to Llangibby (Llancybi) goes through some stunning countryside, with rolling hills on either side. Since we were just coming into the month of May, the fields and trees were supporting that heady mix of yellow green new born leaves and wild flowers in the hedgerows. It really was beautiful and the sun shone hot, even though there was a breeze. Finally after the road took a ‘dip’ I turned off to the village, again a lovely smallish road turning down towards a lower settlement at the foot of a hill. I turned left and drove up it and there, almost at the top was the little church.

What struck me immediately was its character. The church was in three sections, porch, nave and chancel and yet nestling there in the sun, it really seemed somehow delicate and feminine, smallish and cosy. I don’f feel I am being fanciful here.

The circular churchyard , identifying it as a place of early Welsh worship, which would have originally included accommodation on the site was now a peaceful churchyard and the whole was surrounded with many varieties of wild flowers. I spotted celandines, campoins, buttercups, stichworts dandelions ,bluebells and wild hyacinths and there were many many more.It was almost as if St Tegfedd was their champion, where so many flowers have been lost from the hedgerows.

The church leaflet claims Samson of Dol as a brother to Tegfedd, but what we do know is that shw was the wife of Cedeg, son of Cunedda Wledig and the mother of S Teilo. The tradition of her martyrdom has been handed down from generation to generation, but one of the biggest cases for the truth of this legend is in fact the name of the site, originally Merthyr Tegfedd (Martyr Tegfedd) and then Llan-degfedd (the T changes to a d when it is joined to Llan or ‘thlan’-although that is approximate-listen to the podcast and you will hear.The church yard also contains a number of ancient trees containing a riot of birds all proclaiming to each other that a visitor had come.

In the very ancient porch, after entering the gate, there were two items of interest .There was a wind-hole on each side looking out to the fields and also on each side of the door was the head of a monk or priest from earliest times, with a Roman tonsure . The pictures show that the faces are quite worn, possibly as they were outside the first stone mediaeval church on the site. Tegfedd’s church would have been of wood or mud and wattles more likely but may have been also built of stone, that is the chancel-sanctuary area.

The church was very pretty inside. The original date on the guide sheet is in the thirteenth century for the present church,which has been the parish church of the village for eight hundred years, the first four hundred years would have seen the Mass sung, the Angelus rung at midday and at 6pm. The evidence of the monks heads may also suggest it may have been a small priory, built in this remote area to administer the area as well as for divine Service. In the sixteenth century it passed into Anglican hands, where it has remained ever since, although the small piscine remains for cleansing the mass articles. It is clear many things had been changed. The small perpendicular windholes on the left hand side of the church have been glazed as you would expect.and also. They are just tall and wide enough to shoot an arrow with a longbow, reminding us that in mediaeval times, such churches were also defences against attack from unfriendly sources, often the only fortress for the village. On the right hand side, during Tudor times, resumably after the church had changed hands, the windows had been enlarged as Tudor style windows to let in more light, which was effective.

The lectern had come from a nearby church and stood before a large Norman (restored) arch which led into the chancel. It is likely the chancel (and sanctuary) would originally have been the first stone chapel and Martyrum in pre-Norman times. We know Harold Godwinson entered and took over Gwent just before he had to fight for his crown at Hastings, so the first stone church may have been built over the site by the Christianised Saxons, but possibly also the local British to commemorate their Martyr.

On the sides of the Norman arch are lists of benefactors who had donated money to the church to keep it going throughout the later part of its life. They are also tales not just of money for the fabric of the church, but gifts of money from local landowners to feed widows and orphans and testified to the faith of these people, carrying on , as it were in the wake of St Tegfedd’s work.Onememorial recors a benefactor who gave ‘one pound a year unto ye poor he have in this parish-behold his grave’ and so the benefactor sought a sort of immortality in the place he had loved- and there is plenty to love here.

In the sanctuary area is an old chest. This would have been used probably for the sacramentals of the church, in particular perhaps the cross used originally for the veneration of the cross on Good Friday, which was often given a special box-or it may have stored the documents of the church. It was very old looking. The small desk on which the Holy Scripture lay started life at Caerleon . moved to Llandewi fach )Little St David’s Church) and now stays there and the window behind the reredos in a Tudor style, though I believe of later date also came from here.

I have saved the best to last although there was a disappointment that there was no Icon or representation to commemorate St Tegfedd actually in the church. Possibly the accounts being to sketchy for the Anglican church, but feel this should have been there. Clearly there was much evidence of strict Protestantism here as the Crucifix had been removed from above the altar area and a plain but beautifully polished brass cross placed on the table in front of the window, which was covered by a lace cloth and bright brass candlesticks on either side of it. The window was beautiful, containing , amongst others am image of St George. As you come into the church, it is most arresting as you look down the nave. ON each side of the large altar table were two ancient wood chairs. The area itself was far more ancient than what it contained and I have alredy mentioned the piscina. The nave was full of the wooden box pews from the 18th century onwards I would think and two ropes hanging at the back led to the bell turret, which houses two handsome large and slightly greening bells. I cold not read the inscription. The lady churchwarden was very helpful letting me in and showing me round and I was very grateful to her. She told me what the church meant to her and how she would fight to keep it open to her last breath and of the fund raising drive, where they had appealed for money from the many new people who had come to the village, which they used as a dormitory village for the surrounding big towns. They had been generous with donations but like everywhere a small group of people kept the worship alive and needed to work hard to raise the money for the fabric. They also had their own priest that they were very grateful for.

We had a lovely conversation. She talked about ‘The Bible Code’ that she was reading and I told her about Benedict XVI’s message of positivity and hope and perhaps some of you would like to go and visit here and leave a little something for it. As I left a number of people on horses were trotting down the road to the shop surrounded by other people walking and a number of small pet dogs. In the sunshine, it was marvellous and vibrant and I could see why St Tegfedd had been drawn to this place. In fact I was very peaceful and calm when I left to drive back to Cwmbran. Over the hill is the famous reservoir, to which St Tedgfedd has also given her name, where there is boating, a picnic site and some large car parks and lovely walks around. This is definitely worth a visit!The place you can get the key is written next to the door.

During some rebuilding work, a recess was found hidden in a wall. This probably acted as an Easter Sepulchre during the Easter Ceremonies. Diane Brook thinks the recess was probably originally the place of honour given to the holy Saint, Killed by Saxons. It has nothing to do with a large bone found elsewhere in the church. Of course it may be, that at the reformation, when such relics were destroyed, someone put this bone in there as a joke...which would have been pretty horrible.

Friday, April 25, 2008

St Tecla-Virgin and Martyr of Chepstow and her namesake in Laodocia!

Above St Tecla's Rock at Beachley,
Umder the Severn Bridge at M48 is the site of the old Beachley to Aust Ferry, which could have been why it might have been Saxons coming over rom Gloucester or Bristol by boat. There are records at Llandaff or a raid by pirates from Bristol.
St Tecla of Chepstow
Coming to the last of our more publicised female saints, St Tecla is the only saint not to come from South Wales. She actually came from the Ruthin area of North Wales Llandegla and was given the name ‘Tecla’ after the great Eastern saint of that name,(Thekla) just as Tewdrig had been named after Theoderick,Emperor and Bishop). Tecla came down from somewhere in North Wales and had become a saint par excellance working with lepers. St Tecla’s well in North Wales is said to cure lepers and heal all manner of diseases.

St Tecla’s Well

I came across this account by a Mr Pennant who was speaking about the Village of Llandegla in North Wales .Tecla was known to have done great works of mercy there but Druidical practices may still have been part of the ritual. Ancient springs always were used for baptisms and healings.Mr Pennant says of St Tecla, Virgin and Martyr that not 200 yards from the church was the spring called Gwern Degla. The water , he says, was held to be under the protection of the saintand to this day, held to be very efficacious for the falling sickness (epilepsy-petit mal?) Now the patient had to wash his limbs in the well water , pay 4p (this Was Victorian times!) and then while walking around the well three times reciting the Lord’s Prayer (which he says is a Druid practice called ‘Deasuil’. This had to be done after sunset to inspire the votaries with awe! If a man was afflicted he offered a cockerel if a woman was afflicted it was a hen. In Caesar’s ‘De Bello Gallico’ he mentions the fixation the Celts had with fowl, hares and geese.They were not to be eaten and in connection with this ritual not killed. The sick person had to walk around the church three times then and recite the Lord’s Prayer again. The fowl is in a basket with a covering. The sick person then lay under the altar until daybreak with a Bible under his head and covered with a carpet or cloth (The altar replacing a cromlech) and then at break of day, if the fowl was dead, it was believed the sickness had passed to the anima;, of not the Saint had not wanted to heal the person and the chicken lived. Pennant called this ‘Christian heathenism’.Nevertheless very interesting to read. Oh yes and if healed, the person had to pay another sixpence to the saint! Another account also says the patient was given a drink from it!

St Tecla in Powys

St Tecla's church lies in the middle of Llandegley, a few miles to the east of Llandrindod Wells in Penybont, Powys. The small church has been largely rebuilt, though it retains a small part of its essential medieval features. Notable features include the late medieval screen and an ornate priest's door, thought to have been brought from Cwmhir Abbey. Its round churchyard has been extended during the present century, but its form together with the dedication implies an early medieval beginning, that is a possible early Welsh monastic settlement

St Paul and the Original St Thekla for whom she was named.

I ought to digress again to talk about the saint after whom she was undoubtedly named. The praise of virginity and chastity, was a running thread in Christianity, especially at this time, when women could almost be traded, or bought and sold, or used for treaties. The author of the tale wrote in the second century,and sets this story about St Thekla into the framework of the Book of Acts, but this text is different from the New Testament portrayal of Paul.Whilst it is not part of the inspired text of the Holy Scripture which the Catholic Church finalised in the third century, this not being written in Apostolic times, it is interesting in explaining the popularity of the cult of St Thekla throughout the church in the known world at the time.
St Paul gave his homilies or teachings in the house of Onesiphorus in Iconium Laodocia, in a series of Beatitudes, by which Thekla, a young noble virgin, listened to Paul's "discourse on chastity" from her window in an adjacent house. She listened, enraptured, without moving for days. Thekla's mother and fiancée, Thamyris, became concerned that Tecla would follow Paul's demand "that one must fear only one God and live in chastity", and he and her mother formed a mob to drag Paul to the governor, who imprisoned the apostle.
Thekla bribed a guard to gain entrance to the prison, and sat at Paul's feet all night listening to his teaching and kissing the ropes which bound him . When her family found her, both she and St Paul were again brought before the governor .At her mother's request, Paul was sentenced to scourging and expulsion, and Thekla to be killed by being burned at the stake,so that "all the women who have been taught by this man may be afraid." Tecla was humiliated by having her clothes pulled off and was put on the fire, but was saved as God sent a miraculous storm to put out the flames.
Reunited, Paul, his disciples and Thekla then travelled to Antioch, where a nobleman named Alexander saw her and offered Paul money for her. Paul refused. He then attempted to carry her off but Tecla fought him off, assaulting him in the process, to the amusement of the crowd in the marketplace. His pride having been stung, Alexander dragged her before the governor for assaulting a nobleman and, despite the protests of the city's women, Tecla was sentenced to be eaten by wild beasts! To ensure that her virtue was intact at her death, Queen Tryphaena, took her into protective custody overnight in case Alexander attempted to take her by force- a problem for many Christian women at the time as our Gwladys of Newport found out
Thekla was tied to a fierce lioness, and paraded through the city. She was then stripped and thrown to beasts provided by Alexander. The women of the city again protested against the injustice. Thekla was protected from death again , first by the lioness who fought off the other beasts, and then by a series of miracles until finally the women of the city and Queen Tryphaena intervened. Thecla was returned to St Paul’s disciples unharmed.
One ending of the story describes Thekla living as a hermit-or small community member in a cave for many years, then travelling to Rome shortly before her death to be buried at st Paul outside the Walls Church, where Paul’s tomb has recently been discovered.
The entry in Wikipedia says that the story of Thekla reflects the influence of the faith and impact of Paul’s teachings , and the experience of persecution in early Christianity, although reflects an oral tradition prone exaggeration of details, however, a local martyr legend, of Tecla, may have inspired this episode, in which she was also connected to Paul of Tarsus. M.R. James, the editor of the Acts of Paul and Tecla in 1924). "It is otherwise difficult to account for the very great popularity of the cult of St. Thekla, which spread over East and West, and made her the most famous of virgin martyrs’

The Cult of Thekla as an inspiration to Christian women

What a tale! So it is easy to see why these great chieftains in Wales named their children for great saints of the time. She may have even chosen this name as an inspiration,a custom we continue in Confirmation to this day where a saints name is taken when the young person has become initiated into the church to inspire them in Christian life. Tewdrig the great King was named for the Bishop and Emperor St Theoderick (died in 526 and acclaimed a saint by the people)and Meurig was named after the Army leader St Maurice (died 582) This shows some considerable knowledge of the Eastern Saints in Celtic Britain at the time even if the stories were not written down for some time The cult of St Margaret of Antioch, who had a shrine at St Tathan’s Church at Caerwent shows a link with the Eastern saints in a Christian Church, still unified with the See of Peter in Rome, where the Welsh saints went on frequent pilgrimages. The frequent travel of Christian missionaries brought news from all over the Christian world to Celtic Britain.

Tecla comes south to Dyfed

Returning to our Tecla of Wales, obviously the cult of Tecla and female right to virginity had been known in Wales, possibly even spread by St Brynach who would have heard ot them.Our Tecla, decided like her namesake to be celibate, and not marry as a gift to God, as many nuns before and after her had done. It is interesting that it was Christianity which gave this dignity and right to women, who had just been goods and chattels to men before and appeared to have no rights at all.

Like Blessed Theresa of Calcutta Tecla would have had her band of followers helping her and doing the will of Christ, helping and working with the lepers, finding them food, in accordance with the scriptures- (whatever you do for the least of the brethren, you do for me.) She embodied the true spirit of self giving love. Like her contemporaries, Tudfal, Gwladys and Tegfedd she had her priest, possibly sent by a local chieftain or even her father and she and her nuns would sing the psalms and liturgy of the Church. All the Welsh saints learnt the ‘rules of the Church’ as they were called. We call now them Canon law. For some reason, however,it seems that after establishing herself as a healer, she she embarked on a White Martyrdom and simply set off on foot to see where God would take her.


The fact that there was a religious foundation dedicated to St Tecla at Penybont at Llandegley in Powys (near Llandrindod) seems to suggest she may have called in at Talgarth to see Brychan and Brynach and spent some time there. Timing at this time is very difficult. She travelled to Gwent and arrived at Sedbury right on the South West corner, a beautiful spot right next to the first Severn Bridge . She set up her small foundation as it were on St Tecla’s rock which is below near the site of the first Severn Bridge in the mouth of the River Severn itself.

St Tecla in Chepstow (Ystragwyl)

There was seemingly a small monastery set up by St Cynfarch (Kynemark) north of Chepstow and priests might have been sent from here to sing Mass for the Nuns and administer Confessions and baptisms. Latin was the language of the Church at the time, and most things would have been learnt by rote.

Why did Tecla come to such a remote place?

At that time St Tecla’s Rock may have been a promontory or a much larger island than it is now with sapce for the small community. This place was very small and there is another possibility of course why se set up so far away from human habitation. She may, herself have succumbed to leprosy, but we have no direct evidence of this. She may also have set it up as another leper colony. It does seem strange that a princess would have travelled so far away from her people. It may also have been that she desired to be alone with God on this beautiful island.

My visit

I took a trip there yesterday, driving on the Gloucester side of the Severn Bridge through Sedbury and Beachley and ended up parking the car under the Severn Bridge! It was a warm day.The car parked belonged to the Ferry Inn which a local told me was the subject of a ‘Most Haunted’ episode on TV! Nevertheless I then left the car and bagan walking down the path towards the point. Much of the land there is owned by the MOD with ‘Don’t ye stray from ye path style notices in red everywhere. Any yet what I noticed was the smell of the wild flowers, just about to bloom in Our Lady’s month of May. Was told once, in Walsingham that when spread through the hedgerows in May, with its white blossom showing on the green leaves, it is called ‘Our Lady’s Lace’ which I thought was quite beautiful.

I walked on on my pilgrimage, praying the Joyful Mysteries wit the help of my Ipod, which contains all four mysteries which you can download from the Rosary Armies Podcasts via, though I don’t recommend you doing it while driving-much too relaxing! It was warm and the Severn on my right behind the vegetation a glittering light petrol blue. The birds in the woods on my right were singing and heard a cuckoo! At the end of this path was-an enormous pylon and an electricity sub station and arrived at a country ‘kissing’ gate which I passed through and on down to a grassy beach over mud flaps and then the whole expanse of the Severn opened before me.Amazing! To the right, the M4 motorway in the distance and crossing the confluence of the River Wye. To the front of me was the New Severn Bridge in the distance and to the left of me was St Teclas Rock just as it had been all that time ago. Perhaps the Rock and church tower was all that was left of a much larger promontory or the community lived higher on the bank and the church alone built on the rock. Sadly it was difficult to do a good job on the photograph. It was difficult to get close because of the mudflaps and being on my own it would have been dangerous to attempt but the zoom on my camera was not up to the challenge. I had my lunch sitting there, taking it all in, the sunlight on such an expanse of water almost dazzling me.Then again this was a revered place before the Christian faith came to these Isles. The Severn (Called 'Havren was named after a Druidic goddess Sabrina and I did wonder about the strange sculptures on the beach made from curious bits of twisted wood..... Difficult to know if it was the result of some army training excercise or perhaps something else...... I crossed myself just to be sure of protection...

People must have brought the community food and clothing, although they spent their days helping the poor and sick and the that healthy sea air must have done them good. . St Tecla’s rock had also been inhabited at another time by St Brioc, saint of St Braivals and of course saint Brieux in Brittany as it was an ideal place of prayer.The Liturgy of the Hours was said at various times of the day in accordance with Roman practice.

How did they pray?

Just as we do.The prayer would consist of the psalms from the Old Testament, generally learnt off by heart by the novice monks and nuns , of Canticles , or important verses from Scripture. Now these were verses such as the Nunc Dimittis rom the Song of Simeon when he saw the infant Jesus ‘Now Lord lettest though thy servant depart in Peace according to thy word’. This prayer formed part of the evening prayer known as Vespers or Compline. A prayer to Our Lady-usually the ‘Salve Regina’ or ‘Hail Holy Queen’; would have followed before bed.This is from the account in the book of Revelations where Mary is crowned with stars.
The Magnificat ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of God’ would be sung in the morning at Lauds. This is the song Mary sang to Elizabeth, where she proclaims ‘for behold from henceforth all generations shall call be blessed’.

The Mass at that time as now consisted of the Jewish service of the reading of Scripture followed by the Eucharistic sacrifice in which the whole liturgy is a vision of the Book of Revelation. The host (sacrifice from the Latin Hostias) is consecrated and becomes the body and blood of Christ which will remain until the end of time.There were no diversions among Peter’s church on this topics, but Just as disciples wandered off when Jesus announced it in John 6, his disciples and Peter apostles remained with him. ’Master you have the words of Eternal Life’.Tecla lived a life of great sanctity for many years.The Mass was a lot longer then and included a longer Gospel at the end of Mass, but was essentially the same as now, though usually offered weekly on Sundays-the day dedicated to the Lord's Resurrection.

Saxons or Vikings

Sadly one day, the community saw a ship rowing up the Severn on an exploratory mission. They sounded the alarm as the ship came in to land and many of the community scattered. They knew what would happen. The small church and house on the rock was quickly obtained. It was Tela's custom to grant hospitality and friendship to passing ships who might part with something they could sell or even donate something to the little community as they left.

These attackers may have even been Vikings or perhaps Saxons and Tecla,praying in her church and obviously by then not in the first flush of youth was dragged out and foully murdered by these men. Even I can’t fathom just why they were driven to destroy everything, although Tecla’s royal birth probably meant there was some gold around in the church to pay for necessities. The dismay felt when the ruins of church and the murdered community were discovered can only be imagined. Tecla, heroine of the lepers and the poor followed our Lord as a martyr.

These women were brave pioneers, driven to act out their vocation no matter what. They stood their ground and met death bravely. Their solitude and vulnerability as women left them open to attack. Queen Materiana of Gwent/Boscastle,Saint, Goleu, the Mother of St Beuno and Queen Gwladys of Gwent were superb mothers. They were devout Christian women who clearly saw to it that their children, Ceidio, Beuno, Cynydir were taught the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death, the teaching and rules of the church and well versed in Scripture and the Psalms and Latin. In some ways they very very modern.It is worth stating that Christianity was the first religion which offered women the freedom to choose their path in the world, although politically it would be a battle which lasted a long time.

And what does the Bible say about Martyrs and the End Times, the time of Judgement?

In Revelations six when the fifth seal is broken, St John Writes:

When the Lamb (that’s Jesus) broke the fifth seal I saw underneath the altar the Martyrs, all those who had been killed on account of the Word of God for witnessing to it.They shouted in a loud voice ‘Holy True Master how much longer will you wait before you pass sentence and take vengeance for our death on behalf of the inhabitants of the earth?’ Each of them was given a white robe and they were told to be patient a little longer until the roll was completed of their fellow martyrs and brothers who were still to be killed as they had been ‘. There follows in Chapter Seven the reward of the saints and martyrs,

Hail the blood of the Martyrs!.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Information from another Blogger-Thank you!

I don't have a photo of the area, but this is an Irish stone church of the same period, and although unusual as it is stone, neverthe less some people did have them/ Below is an old Welsh style monk from the Book of Kells.

Al Iguana another blogger from Maesycwmmer has very kindly sent all sorts of extra details. I did not have the source, but there obviously is one. He gives more details.We mentioned the Old Welsh monastery of Mud and wattles and in addition
her home included a hospice, outhouses and a scriptorium. There she lived quietly, bringing hope and support to the people of the Taff valley.

We also learn there was another daughter with a monastery south of Merthyr-Tangwstl, who may have perished at roughly the same time.

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.

Al Iguana outs the blame on the Irish rather than the Saxons however, although the more usual story is of Saxons, but it it is known that the Irish frequently raided Wales:

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 she had cared for. 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 were replaced by 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 he enters the town centre from the south side.

Any pictures? Al Iguana .You can email me at maryinmonmouth@googlemail. com. Thank you for all this super extra information about the visit of Brychan and the locations. Not being a Glamorgan girl this is fascinating. I hope you join the Mary in Monmouth Group on Facebook.You will see a MAri Lwyd video and also there was a podcast about the Mari at Christmas as it went out at Henllys, Cwmbran and Newport at Chrstmas. Thank you so much for all this detail.I don't think we will ever find out whether it was the Irish or the Saxons-certainly not the Picts anyway.These are such interesting stories. Was Tangwstl martyred do you know?

Senator Syvret and Haut de la GarenneMore Sad finds and discoveries!
Haut de la Garenne
As police search for bodies in the house and grounds, some former residents claimed to have been raped and assaulted.Others say solitary confinement and other 'dubious practices' were among the appalling hardships endured by children in desperate need of care. Last night one local described the alleged abuse as the 'worst thing that has happened on the island'.Senator Stuart Syvret, Jersey's former minister for health and social services, tried to reaise the issue but was dismissed. He believed violent and sexual abuse in the children's homes had been going on for 60 years and it had been covered up by everyone concerned. Senator Syvret says he has spoken to two alleged victims of assault at Haut de la Garenne and they knew of others who claim to have suffered sexual abuse. He said: 'I have seen documents that show children were kept in solitary confinement for days and sometimes weeks on end and one child was kept in solitary for two months 'I have spoken to two victims from Haut de la Garenne, they told me of being flogged by canes, locked in cells in solitary confinement and I have been told of sexual abuse at that home.'

He had been a graduate social worker during the Eighties at a home on Jersey looking after youngsters who had lived at Haut de La Garenne before it closed. He said the Home was'monolithic' and run by 'mainly untrained, unqualified staff'. He said: "There, solitary confinement, corporal punishment and many other dubious practices were rife. "On its closure, young people deemed 'workable' were farmed out, leaving us with damaged, institutionalised adolescents."

Little Madeleine two hour Documentary next Wed 8pm ITV

Kate and Gerry McCann, both doctors from Rothley in Leicestershire, are convinced their daughter was abducted from Pria di Luz, although Portuguese detectives have made them official suspects in the investigation. A two-hour fly-on-the-wall documentary is to be screened on ITV next Wednesday at 8pm, days before the first anniversary of Madeleine's disappearance on 3 May last year. A TV crew followed them around as they were campaigning for the new Amber Alert system for when a child goes missing. Mr Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart , another kidnapped child tells the couple not to give up the search. Emma Loach, director of the documentary and daughter of film-maker Ken Loach, is understood to be convinced of the couple's innocence.
The former chief investigator Goncalo Amaral is to retire from the Portugues police.. Amaral, 48, is leaving in months after being removed from the McCann case. Amaral left Madeleine inquiry after criticising British police officers for being too close to the McCanns.

How sad-a whole year! But they should listen to the Smarts-never ever stop looking. They have her DNA she will be found somehow.God Bless them all.

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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Saddest Story-Surely the Devil at work?

Yesterday Bridgend claimed another suicide victim, who hanged himself after he had gone out for the evening drinking with his friends. It was said that he smiled all the time and worked in a shop. His friends were shocked as he was always cheerful and had given no sign of wanting to end it all. His friend Chris said “He had everything to live for and was always so cheerful’.He had even just passed his driving test and was very popular.

He was found hanged in a lane at the back of a friend’s house on the Bettws estate at 7.30am 20th April. He had had a row with some of his friends the previous evening.

His parents Tracey and Byron Rees with two other children were completely shocked and upset and being comforted by their two their children.A large number of flowers have been found at the base of a tree where he was found. His devastated girlfriend Charlotte left a tribute, as did many of his
Friends like Some said he was not the sort of person to do this.
Like many of the victims, Sean had a page on networking site Bebo. He wrote: “I live for the nights I’ll never remember with the friends I’ll never forget.” A local councillor said they were so worried why people are still dying as they could not find answers.
There was talk about an evil person on the internet targeting yo0ung people and suggesting ways to end it. I think it is quite conceivable that there is something diabolic going on in Bridgend, something which actually takes over the bodies of young healthy people, possibly who are made emotionally unstable by some circumstance or event. I understand from priests who specialise in this kind of work that this is possible, and can take people over to destroy themselves and, incidentally parents and families. This I believe is a spiritual sickness. Father Euteneuer who is a Catholic Priest and exorcist said that whilst people to whom this happens are rare- and the church would always want to check if there was another reason for this first- that the numbers of possessions by spirits is rising.

Secularism has created a vacuum in man’s thirst for the infinite. Many schools have taken away the hope of the resurrection by removing all Christian spiritual content from the timetable and substituted a lot of facts about other religions and atheism, they have removed stability and security and hope for life after death. The educators and politicians think they are being clever. If you think there is nothing else-what is the point, even if you are on to a good thing. You are not even encouraged to get married and get stability that way. Even music and beauty and art such as we have heard and seen recently on the Pope’s visit to America, when do such children get much of this in school, where even music is pop music, art is not the great spiritual art. There is nothing to move them.

I would like to have that estate spiritually cleansed. I would like to see people begin to talk again and join in community activities-particularly young people. We bring them up like princes and princesses and they find as adults that life is hard and heartbreaking at times.They need grit and a will to survive Those who have been given the firm foundations of Christian Faith Hope and Love, who engage with their families, and who have a good grip of life, a healthy curiosity and spirit will cope far better. When you have such words written on your Bebo web site, you have to ask what is there in his soul. Do some have too much leisure, or are we not inspiring the young to create music and art to the glory of God, are we not encouraging them to take and interest in things of the spirit and self sacrificing love for others? Looking outwards can heal the hurt within yourself. Or is it that for some there is no priest to talk things over with, no one to talk about those deep things of the soul, that most don’t want to hear about or even understand. God loves all who have died. They were all precious to him. Shaun must have carried beneath that ever smiling face a deep and searing emptiness as so many do today. I will pray for him, his parents and the life he never had. May his soul and all the faithful Departed of Bridgend Rest in Peace.Mary, pray for us all.
St Michael protect them with your fiery sword.

Monday, April 21, 2008

St. Brynach (born around AD 500)An Inspirational Saint fromthe Holy Land


We have already learned about the Saintly St Gwladys of Newport, and later will learn about her sister,the martyr StTegfedd. It is also claimed that another sister was the famous St Tydfil. All were the children of Brychan Brycheiniog of Brecon, whom I had mentioned before several times. He seems an enigmatic figure. Even Bugi, son of Gwynlliw married a daughter of Brychan. Moreover Tegfedd seems to have been the mother of St Teilo, of Llandaff.

Gwladys was the mother of Gwynlliw. These ‘holy matrons’ seem to have been splendid examples of God’s female saints. Women who also give birth to great saints, carrying on God’s Creative purpose) and brought them up in holiness observing the sacraments, teaching holy scripture, and in widowhood have devoted themselves to the religious life. It is true that a child’s first catechist is his mother. It was Gwladys and Cadoc who brought Gwynlliw to God . (Even in earlier times we have heard about Holy Materiana or Queen Madryn of Gwent as she was who went with her son Cedwyn or Ceidio to Minster, Boscastle and Tintagel in Cornwall. When they stand before the Creator at Judgement, they could truly claim their reward. These were holy Queens and Princesses of Gwent and Brecon.

Question is, why did King Brychan have so many daughters all of them strong Christians? In these days, of course, such Kings would have large families, adding strength and prestige to the line and sadly the number of young women dying in childhood meant there would have been a number of wives during the lifetime of a chieftain. Brychan (after whom Brecon is named) would have had several wives in his lifetime, and it is also believed by scholars that some daughters were actually grand daughters.Brychan is believed to have been descended from the line of Joseph of Arimathea, according to British records.

Brynach was very influenced by his Confessor, St Brynach.He is known as Brynach the Irishman (Brynach Wyddal) however this may not have been his country of origin. The Vita Sancti Bernaci ‘Elegit sibi Dominus virum de filiis Israel juxta cor suum, Bernaci nominee, venustia ornatum moribus, tiulisque virtutum insignibus virtutum insignibus excellentem..’so we may take this at face value and claim he was a Jewish Christian and someone of means. He was from a wealthy background.He may have been the son of a worthy merchant in Jerusalem perhaps.The Vita goes on ‘not considering the country of his nativity to be his own, he was anxious to remove of it to acquire one of himself by travelling to another country. According to the teaching of Christ, and following his example , he expected by relinquishing all his wealth, all things would be given to him.. He went to a ship and trusted in God and travelled to many countries sowing the seeds of the teaching of Christ. There, burning with desire for God , he spread the Word.’

There follows an account of how he slew a beast which was terrorising the countryside around Rome, where he had made a pilgrimage. He escaped from it, but then ‘by the sole power of prayer’ he was . He became very well known, so decided to leave Rome and sail somewhere else, wishing to remain humble and anonymous. It goes on.’Then, performing a long journey , and wherever he came,giving an example of goodness to be imitated by all, and travelling towards the western parts of the world, he came to Lesser Britain’. In the Welsh (Romanised Celt) Prydain (Brudd-eyen) was the name for Britain. Prydain Fawr (Greater Britain=Great Britain) and Prydain Fach (Lesser or Little Britain=Eire) He spent a great deal of time in a healing ministry in Ireland which probably accounts for his nickname Brynach the Irishman!(Brynach Wyddel) Sick persons came from all over and others came to hear his preach the gospel for the good offices of the soul. But again , he became very famous and by way of Brittany (Armorica) where he travelled first, he came to Wales. Legend says he was floating on a stone (probably his portable altar) He arrived at Milford .Unfortunately he had to fight off the amorous advances of a daughter of a local chieftain.She tried to seduce him and gave him and gave him an aphrodisiac of Wolfbane to drink, but it did not work because he refused it.She then tried everything to be rid of him and sent thugs. They stabbed him, but God moved others to protect him. The would be murderers were attacked by insects, possibly bees and died a horrible lingering death. Brynach went to a nearby well, washed his wound clean and washed off the blood and this is the origin of the Red Fountain now St Brynach’s Well, which became famous for its healing properties. It became called ‘Fons Rubens’
At Cilymaellwyd he was not received well and was forced to shelter under a grey stone. Eventually he built himself a small hermitage at Llanfyrnach in Pembrokeshire.

He first travelled north-east to Llanboidy (Carmarthenshire) where he was denied lodgings by the locals and slept in a cow-shed. At Fishguard ,too, he liberated the place of demons who cried out at night and gave ‘horrid howlings’.He then established his foundation at Never, called the Grove of the Ancient Church. His followers set about building the monastery but every morning everything they had done was undone. God told Brynach not to stay there and gave , precise directions to Clechre (Clether)where he was helped by a local Christian Chieftain. This Chieftain, Clether, was so impressed by Brynach and his rhetoric that he gave up his throne in order to retire to Cerniw (Cornwall) as a Christian hermitBrynach did this but embarked on a course of denying himself almost everything fasting watching, praying doing without. Brynach travelled all over South Wales and came to the court of King Brychan who was very impressed by the sanctitity of the holy man from so far away. Brynach and Brychan became friends and the whole family of Brychan came under his spell and became lifted to heavenly ideas. Brychan remained at the court of Brecon for some time, no doubt establishing a foundation. Before continuing his travels.

David Hunt Nash in his website ‘Early British Kingdom’ writes
During his life at Nevern, he often moved around somewhat South Wales, founding churches as he went, including Llanfrynach in Brycheiniog and Llanfrynach and Penllin in Morgannwg. He became a great friend of St. Dewi who often visited him at Nevern. Once, Dewi arrived carrying a heavy highly-decorated stone cross-head. He was taking it to Llanddewi Brefi as a memorial to his achievements at the Synod held there in AD 545. However, Brynach persuaded Dewi to give it to him instead. He had an equally finely carved shaft made and mounted the cross on the top, installing it on the south side of Nevern Abbey Church. (The version there today is said to be a 10th century replacement).

Eventually, St. Brynach left Wales to try his luck in Dumnonia(Devon and Cornwall). He lived as a hermit at Braunton (North Devon) and it was there that he died on 7th January (according to his West Country adherents) and was buried in his church there.
In Wales, however, his feast day is 7th April perhaps because this was traditionally the day on which the first cuckoo in the country is said to sing every year from the top of St. Brynach's famous cross in Nevern churchyard.
A 13ft high, 10th-11th century patterned Celtic cross (in the churchyard) is one of the finest Mediaeval high crosses in the country and the Vitalani Stone is notable for its 6th century Ogham inscription. Nevern was also on an important pilgrimage route to St. David's and the Pilgrims Cross can still be seen cut into the rock and was said to be the place for prayer of passing pilgrims..'(David Hunt Nash, Early British Kingdoms)

So while we have left Gwent for a short time here, we have seen the witness of a great and holy Jewish Christian Saint who had such an enormous influence on the whole of Wales, and particularly in our Holy Newport Saint Gwladys, who converted her bandit husband Gwynlliw , gave birth to Cadoc. So the great teachings of Christ worked on in Wales and elsewhere through the centuries.

From the Prayer for the saints of the Isles (adapted from Orthodox Troparion)

‘With what beauty or hymn shall we praise the divinely wise of the Isles, the splendour and adornment of the Church of Christ, the crown of the priesthood, the rule of piety, the never-drying wellsprings of divine healing, the outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit, the streams of manifold wonders which gladden the Isles and all those who seek God. For whose sake the All-Merciful Christ has cast down the uprisings of the enemy.: Let the earth make glad and the heavens rejoice, in praising your toils and struggles, your spiritual courage and purity of mind, O Venerable Ones, for you were not overcome by the laws of nature. O holy company and divine assembly, you are truly the strength of our Isles.
O blessed kings and queens, divinely-wise princes and princesses, who shine forth with loving-kindness and are resplendent with virtues: You enlighten all the faithful, driving away the darkness of the demons. Wherefore we honour you as partakers of never-fading grace and unashamed preservers of your inheritance, O right wondrous ones.
+Glory Be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as it was in the Beginning is now and ever shall be, World without end. Amen.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Praise to the Lord of Heaven and to the Trinity

From The Black Book of Camarthen
Below: The Priory of St Mary Magdalene, Goldcliff (site)dedicated to Our Lady.The white Benedictines from the Abbey of Bec in Normandy prayed here to the God of Heaven.

1 Be it mine to praise Him,
Who is great in praises:
Him as Ruler I adore,
For He has increased the fruit
Of His charity!

2God has guarded us
God has made us
God will save us
God is our Hope
Worthy and perfect--
So beautiful His destiny.

3 We are O and A’d of Him,
Who is in the highest heaven
King of Trinity:
God was sorely tried,
When He was entering
Into suffering and pain

4.God has come!
Though He was imprisoned
In His gentleness
Sovereign most blessed
He shall make us free
For the Judgement Day!

5 He shall bring us to the Feast,
In His mildness
And His lowliness:
In His Paradise,
Holy shall we dwell
From sin's penalty.

6.We have no health
But in his agony
And the five wounds
Unsparing His grief
In human defence was
When He took our flesh

7 To God we were lost,
Except for the ransom
By a blameless decree:
From the blood-stained rood
Streamed forth Salvation
To the wide universe!
Mighty Shepherd
Never shall the merit
Of Christ decay. Amen