Archbishop Baldwin, Gerald and the rest of the party carried on westwards from Whitland Abbey to Carmarthen and then Haverfordwest. They were welcomed by Gerald’s kinsman Sir Philip Mangonel, who warned them they would have little success preaching the cross, as no one in Haverfordwest was interested.
The next morning Archbishop Baldwin preached to a large crowd, but to no avail. So few people responded that he was in despair as he handed over the preaching cross to Gerald. What happened next was remarkable. Although Gerald preached in Norman-French and Latin, neither of which was understood by the local people, the response was so great that Gerald’s sermon was drowned out three times by the voices of people clamouring for a cloth cross. Many were in tears and one of the greatest weepers was Sir Philip himself, who took the cross with five or six other leading Pembrokeshire knights.
More than two hundred people took the crusading vow, Baldwin was overwhelmed by the rush. The people of Haverfordwest declared it a miracle, and Gerald did not disagree with them. There was also another miracle that day: a turf from the place Baldwin had stood to preach was laid on the eyes of a blind old woman, who was then able to see.
The party were joined by Gerald’s twelve-year old nephew William, who stayed for the rest of the journey. He was a confident boy with a good memory, and proved very useful to Gerald, memorising conversations and details of events that he could still recount many years later. William’s arrival prompted another round of tales.
There was one about some children who befriended a bandit imprisoned in Haverfordwest Castle who made arrows for them. Until one day he dragged them into his cell and threatened to chop them up unless he was released. On the other hand, when Richard fitz Tancard was a boy he was kind to Gerald’s favourite holy man, Caradog of Rhos. Much later he unexpectedly gained a great inheritance.
In coming to Pembrokeshire, Gerald was coming home. He was born in Manorbier, one of the loveliest spots in Pembrokeshire. This is how he described it:
There stands a castle with excellent towers and defences, set atop a coastal hill, which extends on its western side as far as the harbour. Towards the north, just beneath its walls, is a very good fishpond’ notable both for its majestic appearance and the depth of its water. On the same side there is likewise a most beautiful orchard, enclosed between the pond and a wooded grove – itself remarkable both for rocky crags and tall hazel-trees. To the right-hand side of this fortified headland (that is to say between the castle and the church) a never-failing stream wanders down a valley, which is blown with sand by the power of the wind…
The site of Manorbier Castle is still as beautiful as ever, and though much of the present building is somewhat later than Gerald’s time, a small tower by the gate and the hall opposite may well have formed part of the buildings he knew and loved.
[adapted from A Mirror of Medieval Wales by Charles Kightly]
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz for monthly newsletters.