Monday, 25 June 2018

Outrage at Llanbadarn (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.

We saw last week that according to Gerald the party travelled south-west from Strata Florida Abbey to visit Llanddewi Brefi before turning north to Llanbadarn Fawr (the great church of St Padarn). In centuries to come the town of Aberystwyth would grow up on the coast nearby, but in Gerald’s time Llanbadarn Fawr was the key place. Or we might say, had been the key place. Gerald was outraged at what he found.
Llanbadarn Fawr Church (near Llandrindod Wells) geograph org uk 681133

Llanbadarn was a clas or ecclesiastical settlement from early Celtic Christianity. Instead of a religious building surrounded by other buildings for kitchens, dormitories etc, a clas was a single building for the whole community. The most distinct difference from the church organisation that Gerald was used to was that it was run by married clergy. Instead of celibate monks and an elected abbot, property passed from priestly father to priestly son, and the abbot ran it like a family business, making good profits.

The Norman invaders had thrown out the Welsh canons and replaced them with Anglo-Norman monks from St Peter’s in Gloucester. Gerald approved of this since this was his old school. Then the Welsh had recaptured Llanbadarn and reinstated the local canons, who then reinstated their own historic way of doing things. Llanbadarn Fawr had once been famous for a long tradition of holiness and learning, but this was long gone by the time Archbishop Baldwin, Gerald and the rest of the party arrived in 1188.

To make things worse, the abbot was not even a cleric, but was ‘a wicked old layman called Ednywain ap Gwaethfoed.’ He enjoyed the community’s revenues while his sons officiated at the altars. The abbot had been seen processing into church carrying a long spear and surrounded by an armed bodyguard. Gerald declared that this state of affairs was a scandal unparalleled anywhere in the civilised world. He probably expected Archbishop Baldwin to take serious action, but absolutely nothing was done. It was not a good idea to interfere with Welsh customs in front of Prince Rhys.

Ten miles north of Llanbadarn lay the Dovey estuary, which was the traditional boundary between north and south Wales, boundary of Prince Rhys’ territory, and of the diocese of St Davids. So at this point in the journey both Prince Rhys and Bishop Peter left the company and returned to their respective homes.

[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

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