Slike strani
PDF
ePub

In groping through this period of darkness, some glimmerings of light may be borrowed from Bede, the contemporary writers of Gaul, and perhaps from the Irish historians; and in compiling such a history, where authorities of the legendary kind must be consulted, a simple rule may be observed, which, if does not always elicit the truth, will produce the nearest approximation to it, namely to take the story of the oldest writer, which also is generally found to be the most limited. The character of fable is progressive, and a story, which originally was true, is in most cases repeated with additions. This rule has been established with great clearness by the author of “Europe in the Middle Ages,” (in Lardner's Cyclopædia, vol. iv. p. 67:) observing the manner in which Nennius has been amplified by Geoffrey, he adds :- “ There is no greater difference between Geoffrey of Monmouth and Nennius, than between Nennius and Gildas. This fact is very instructive; it may enable the judicious investigator into the antiquities of ancient Britain, and of Britain even in the Anglo-Saxon period, to steer his way through the darkest path ever traversed by historian.”

The learned writer, whose words are quoted, regrets that he had not access to the ancient relics subsisting in the Welsh language, which he supposed must contain stores of information but little known to the public. Those relics, so far as they have been printed, form the principal materials of the following dissertation; and meagre as they may seem, they strongly confirm the presumption of their antiquity by the circumstance, that they are frequently at variance with the legendary authorities; and wherever they appear to agree, their statements are more circumscribed than those of the latter, presenting as it were the germs out of which subsequent fables have sprung. An examination of the bardic records, therefore, if it will not discover authentic materials of history, will at least be of service in tracing the origin of romance, and in this respect may tend to elucidate a large portion of the literature of Europe.

Leaving the task of demonstrating the progress of fable to the general writer, the business of the antiquary, whose object is the history of his country, is to search after the oldest authorities that can be procured, and afterwards to consider them by themselves, divested of the misconceptions and exaggerations of later ages. By this mode of proceeding, many statements which receive current belief, will be found to rest on a slight foundation ; and much of the remainder, being placed in a new light, will assume a different character. The operation of this rule is the cause why many assertions, which have hitherto been credited, are rejected in the following pages; but wherever such cases occur, the particular reason is added, and the reader must decide according to his own judgment upon its validity. It will be observed that even the Welsh records are not allowed to pass without a scrutiny; many of their positions, which are shown to be untenable, are surrendered ; and that mistakes should have been committed, can by no means be surprising, when the remoteness of the times to which they refer is considered, as well as the neglect under which they have been suffered to remain,

The documents, for the possession of which Wales has long been celebrated, and to which of late years little attention has been paid, are its genealogies. Of these a large store is preserved in manuscript, and though from their minuteness of detail they must necessarily contain inaccuracies, yet, as the pedigrees are numerous, they may be rectified upon compari. son with each other. An attempt is now made to render them available for the purpose of history, by arranging them so as to construct an artificial chronology. In endeavouring to connect the Roman period with the eighth century, such a

plan was absolutely necessary, for in the lapse of three hundred years very few dates occur upon which

any
reliance

may be placed; and without attention to this arrangement, the events reported present only a mass of confusion. It is however satisfactory to learn, that the few dates that have been ascertained, agree undesignedly with the arrangement of the pedigrees, and so far confirm their correctness. The dates, collected by Archbishop Usher in his “ Britannicarum Ecclesarum Primordia,” and which he perpetually shows to be confused and contradictory, belong to chroniclers of the Armorican school, and are of little value: the work of the Archbishop however contains, amidst much irrelevant matter, a fund of valuable information, for which the present writer is greatly indebted. The reason why the pedigrees have been neglected is their intricacy, and at first sight they are certainly unpromising, but as they are interspersed with historical notices they are deserving of attention; and it should not be forgotten that for many ages the only historians whom the Welsh possessed were their genealogists.

Localities are a very powerful auxiliary in forming a constructive history. In this respect the Armorican chronicle is exceedingly deficient; for the few localities mentioned in it are certain towns and places which were well known and flourishing at a late period, proving, not only that the record was recent, but also that it was compiled in a distant country. The scene of the fable is laid down in Britain, but the places introduced are such as were of sufficient celebrity to be known abroad. The events of history do not always occur at distinguished towns, and it might be expected that places, which were celebrated in past ages, had afterwards become obscure. National traditions often refer to a spot, it may be the summit of a hill or a pass between mountains, which, but for those traditions, might have possessed nothing remarkable. The Welsh traditions and records abound in localities, the notices of which are generally precise ; among these the situations of churches are not the least distinguished. A vast number of churches are called after the names of native saints, and therefore

may be considered as so many undoubted monuments of existence of those persons; but Welsh tradition proceeds | further and asserts, that the churches were so called, not so | much because they were dedicated to the saints, as because ; they were founded by them.

If the assertion be true, it follows that many churches exist in the Principality, the origin of which must be dated from the fifth and sixth centuries, for in those ages most of the saints alluded to flourished. That churches, though frequently rebuilt, should continue uninterruptedly in the same situations from such high antiquity, will not be deemed extraordinary, when it can be proved by authentic testimony that the ground, on which the church of St. Martin at Canterbury stands, has been the site of a church, bearing the same name, from a date prior to the departure of the Romans. The cathedral in that city is another instance of equal antiquity, which also shows that wherever, from war or other causes, a sacred edifice had been demolished or had been for some time in ruins, such was the veneration attached to a spot once consecrated, that a new edifice was erected in the same situation ; and it should be remembered that the Christianity of Wales did not, like that of Kent, suffer an eclipse from the intervention of paganism.

In the first three sections of this Essay it is shown by principles of induction that the churches, presumed to have been founded by the saints whose names they bear, are more ancient than those which are dedicated to the Apostles and the saints of the Romish Calendar ; and therefore that the current opinion of their foundation is confirmed by existing circum

stances. They were founded at a time when the Britons were X not in communion with the Church of Rome, and before the practice of dedicating to saints according to the usual mode had become customary. From the testimony of Bede, it appears that the mode of consecration, practised by the Primitive Christians of this island, was peculiar.-—Wherever a church was intended to be erected, a person of reputed sancti. ty was chosen to reside on the spot, where he continued forty days in the performance of prayer, fasting, and other religious exercises ; at the expiration of the time, the ground was held sacred, and a church was erected accordingly.It would naturally follow that the church should be called after the name of the person by whom the ground was consecrated, and in this sense the word “founder," as applied to the subject under consideration, must be understood. It remained for subsequent generations to regard the founder in the character of patron saint.

Popular opinion seems to maintain that all churches, which are named after Welshmen, were founded by them. An exception, however, should be made with respect to such as are, or may be proved to have been, chapels, which, for reasons that shall appear, cannot claim so early an origin; and with respect to parent churches the proposition may not indeed be true in every instance, but is assumed as a general fact, there being no criterion by which its exceptions may be distinguished. Edifices as they now exist, being purely an architectural question, constitute no part of the enquiry. The original churches of the Britons were all of them built of wood and covered with thatch, and it is singular that this circumstance was made a ground of objection to them by the Catholics.

So numerous are the Welsh saints, that their history is in a manner the ecclesiastical history of their time ; but it must be

« PrejšnjaNaprej »