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Thursday, 18 June 2009

A surfeit of saints

Just down the road from Monmouth is the small village of Dingestow, reputedly named after the obscure Celtic Saint, Dingat, who was the son of another celtic saint, King Brychan.

Some people breed dogs, King Brychan bred saints – twenty four sons and twenty four daughters, all of them saints. Presumably St. Augustine was sent over from Rome (in 595) to regularize the system before the celestial court began speaking Welsh.

And we are not talking about Mother Teresa here. King Brychan, overcome by lust took his first wife by force. He may have been gentler with the two that followed. When not procreating or contemplating God, Brychan pursued his enemies with a vengeance, as the King of Dyfed found out to his cost. In retaliation for a raid on his kingdom, Brychan led his men in a ferocious counter-attack, after which the dismembered limbs of the slaughtered were collected as trophies.

One can only imagine what happened when his daughter Gwladys was abducted by king Gwynllyw of Gwynllwg. He may have appreciated the alliteration, may perhaps have remembered how he acquired his own first wife. He may even have wondered how a saint should respond before launching his armies on what is now Newport.

St. Gwynllyw or, to give him his proper title, St. Gwynllyw Farfog (the bearded or possibly warrior) was in trouble. His capital, probably a small hill fort on top of Stow Hill, was about to face the full wrath of St Brychan. Fortunately King Arthur, not a saint, but High King of Britain, intervened and the two kings were reconciled, though it is reputed that Arthur himself was so struck by Gwladys, he considered taking her himself.

St. Gwynllyw was a bit of a lad. Some people on the birth of a son crack open the champagne. Gwynllyw went on a wild celebratory raid across Gwent and brought back… a cow from St. Tathyw of Caerwent.

He got more than he bargained for. St Tathyw came a calling, demanding his cow back. ‘Not unless you baptize my son a Christian,’ retorted Gwynllyw, a strange bargaining position though his wife was probably moving his lips. By this time the king was going soft, which is to be expected when you marry the daughter of a saint. It was probably a forgone conclusion that he would be converted to Christianity by his own son – St. Cadoc. And just to settle the matter, when St. Gwladys died he married her sister, St Ceingar, and would you know it, they had a son – St Cynidr of Glasbury.

The king died on the 29th of March 523 AD and was buried in the church which still bears his name, the anglicized St. Woolos on the top of Stow Hill.

Since then, saint-hood in the Newport vicinity seems to have dried up.

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