Monday, 6 August 2018

Anglesey (Gerald’s Journey Through Wales 1188)

This is a series about the journey that Archbishop Baldwin and Gerald of Wales took in 1188 to preach the crusade throughout Wales. Gerald kept a detailed account of the journey and their surroundings, which he later published. The series began with some background posts about Gerald. If you want to read the series from the beginning, go here.

From Bangor Archbishop Baldwin and his party took ship across the Menai Strait to the island of Anglesey (Ysys Môn). The local Prince was Rhodri ab Owain, and he had gathered all the local inhabitants in a nearby natural amphitheatre to hear the preaching. Tradition marks the place as Cerrig Y Borth, which today is not far from the Menai suspension bridge.

Anglesey

Three sermons were preached there, one in Latin by Archbishop Baldwin and two in Welsh, by the party’s interpreter Archdeacon Alexander and by Abbot Seisyll of Strata Florida. They wanted to make sure they would reach the ordinary people and not just the nobility. In fact there was a good response from the ordinary people, but virtually none from Prince Rhodri’s men. Gerald said that persuading them was like trying to get honey from a stone or oil from a boulder.

Remarkably they were all punished for their refusal. Within three days most of them had been slain by bandits, and the frightened survivors cut the cross into their own flesh in repentance. Prince Rhodri himself also paid the price of disobedience to God, though he didn’t have the chance to make amends. Archbishop Baldwin had told him he should cease relations with his incestuous mistress and he had refused. Soon afterwards he was driven out of Anglesey by his nephews, Maredudd and Gruffudd of Merioneth.

Gerald picked up a lot of information in the few hours he spent on Anglesey. Although the island looked barren it was in fact very fertile indeed. It grew enough corn to feed the whole of Wales, and was known as ‘Môn Mam Cymru’ (‘Anglesey, mother of Wales’). Anglesey had many wonders, such as the thigh-shaped stone which always returned to its place wherever it was removed to. The stone once stood in the churchyard of Llaniden, about two miles south of the famous prehistoric tomb of Bryn Celli Ddu. Gerald was told that the hard-bitten and cynical Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury had tested the claim by chaining the rock to a larger rock and dropping them in the sea. Early the next morning the rock appeared back in its usual place, and the earl commanded no one should ever move it again.

The stone was also said to guard against pregnancy: no child was ever born as a result of a liaison near the rock. Gerald could find no explanation for these phenomena and decided the stone was an uncanny and dangerous object, and best avoided.

St Tyfrydog Church in Llandyfrydog

Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury also tested another much holier place, the church of St Tyfrydog at Llandyfrydog near Llanerchymedd. The earl kennelled his hounds in the church and was killed a month later during a Viking raid when an arrow struck him in the only place he was unprotected by his armour - his eye. This was not the first time abuse of the church had been punished. Two of Gerald’s uncles plundered the church in 1157 and later when the islanders rebelled, one uncle was killed and the other was seriously wounded.

[Adapted from A Mirror of Medieval Wales by Charles Kightly]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn 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

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