As the party set off from St Davids, the nature of the country through which the mission journeyed changed once again. As it gradually grew more hilly, so it also became more Welsh – as it still does today, when west Wales remains a stronghold of the Welsh language.
In Gerald’s time the politics and the culture changed too. Coastal south Wales was dominated by the Normans and known as the March of Wales. West Wales was still firmly under the control of the Welsh and known as pura Wallia – ‘pure Wales’ or ‘Welsh Wales’. It was ruled by Prince Rhys ap Gruffudd and he waited to meet them in Cardigan Castle.
Archbishop Baldwin was keen to reach Cardigan, so after saying early morning Mass at St Davids Cathedral, he hurried ahead, leaving Gerald to preach the crusade in St Davids. Unfortunately for Gerald, his Haverfordwest triumph was not repeated. He preached in Norman French or Latin and many people responded eagerly, but when the interpreter translated the sermon into Welsh, most of them changed their minds. Gerald was very angry with the interpreter, but we don’t know whether the translation mistakes were accidental or deliberate!
Gerald set off for Cardigan and his route passed through the Cemais district, round the northern flank of the Preseli Mountains, and through Nevern. This was a very ancient shrine, even in Gerald’s time, founded by St Brynach the Irishman in the sixth century. Today you can still see some of the earliest Christian memorial stones in Wales and a thirteen-foot Celtic cross.
Gerald tells a story about Nevern Castle and Prince Rhys. He broke many solemn oaths when he seized the castle from his Norman son-in-law and gave it to his son. Three years later another of Rhys’ sons captured Rhys and imprisoned him in the same castle, a fitting punishment.
That evening Gerald caught up with Archbishop Baldwin at St Dogmaels Abbey, whose ruins you can still see today. They spent a comfortable night there and travelled next morning the short distance to the west end of Cardigan bridge.
[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.