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"THE EXISTENCE OF A BRITISH CHURCH BEFORE THE ARRIVAL OF AUGUSTIN IN THE YEAR 597 IS A FACT CLEARLY ESTABLISHED. ITS INDePENDENT ORIGIN IS SUFFICIENTLY ATTESTED BY THE SUBJECTS OF CONTROVERSY BETWEEN THE ANGLO-ROMAN AND BRITISH CHRISTIANS. -THE BRITONS HAD CHURCHES OF THEIR OWN, BUILT AFTER A FASHION OF THEIR OWN; THEIR OWN SAINTS; THEIR OWN HIERARCHY."
BLUNT'S REFORMATION IN ENGLAND, CHAP. I.
As an apology for presenting these pages to the public, it is perhaps necessary to inform the reader that they were originally written with a view to competition for a premium, offered by the Committee of the Gwent and Dyfed Royal Eisteddfod, for the best dissertation on the following subject:
"The Notices of the Primitive Christians, by whom the Welsh Churches were founded, and to whom dedicated."
Out of several compositions transmitted for the approbation of the Society, the Essay, now printed in an enlarged form, was adjudged to be successful, accompanied with a recommendation that it should be published; and though some time has elapsed since the occasion which called it into existence, it is hoped that the interest naturally attached to its subject will ensure it a favourable reception.
Historians have laboured to trace the origin of the Britons, a profusion of learning has been expended in the endeavour to unravel the mysteries of Druidism, and the antiquarian, who finds any vestiges of the occupation of this island by the Romans, carefully records the discovery ;-so long as the inhabitants of Britain feel an interest in the history of their forefathers, disquisitions upon those subjects must demand attention, though the materials of information are exceedingly scanty. Every author, therefore, who treats of the affairs of this country, prior to the departure of the Romans, has been
diligently consulted, and his expressions construed into every variety of meaning so as to obtain a new illustration of the points of enquiry. The present researches, however, relate to a period comparatively neglected; their object being to trace the ecclesiastical history of the Britons, from the introduction of Christianity, or more especially from the termination of the Roman power in Britain, to the end of the seventh century. From the close of this period, the annals of Wales have been minutely detailed by several chroniclers whose labours are extant; before its commencement, the history of Britain may be collected from the scattered notices to be found in classical writers; and if those notices are not so numerous as can be wished, they are authentic, and are as many as may be expected when the distance of the island from the capital of the Roman empire is considered. The interval between these points is a historical blank; for it must be confessed that the Welsh, though possessed of a variety of records relating to that time, have not preserved a regular and connected history of their ancestors who rose into power upon the departure of the Romans, and who, notwithstanding their dissentions, maintained a longer and more arduous struggle against the Saxons, than the continental parts of the empire did upon the irruption of the Goths and Vandals. In the middle ages, those records, to which was added a large store of tradition, attracted the attention of the romance-writers, who gradually invested them with a cloud of fable, which at last, when arranged and regularly digested, was suffered to usurp the place of history. This remark is applied particularly to the Armorican chronicle usually attributed to Geoffrey of Monmouth. It should, however, be allowed in justice to that person, that he was not its inventor, for a Welsh version of the original is preserved, which shows that he merely made a free translation, inserting occasionally interpolations of his own. When the chronicle
alluded to was brought from Brittany to Wales by Walter de Mapes in the twelfth century, its contents were found to be so flattering to national vanity, that it was soon received as an authentic record of facts, to the disadvantage of other records of a less pretending nature. For a long time implicit faith was given to the story of Trojan-British kings, and the superhuman actions of Arthur and his valorous knights commanded the admiration of Europe, few caring to question the truth of tales which suited the taste of the age and filled their readers with delight. The criticism of later years has however determined the race of Trojan-British kings to be a pure fabrication, and most writers are contented to commence the history of Britain with the invasion of Julius Cæsar, following the Latin authorities until the termination of the Roman power in the island, when, for want of more satisfactory information, they are obliged to have recourse to records which they know not where to trust, or leaving the affairs of the Britons in that darkness which they could not dispel, they have confined their researches to the Saxons.
It is but right to state, that the substance of several of the fables in the Armorican chronicle was known in Wales before the time of Walter de Mapes, a fair specimen of which may be seen in the works of Nennius; but the Welsh were also possessed of records of another and a different kind; these were a collection of poems, triads, and genealogies, preserved by the bards and written in the national tongue. The information to be derived respecting the Britons of the fifth and two following centuries may, therefore, be divided into the bardic and the legendary. The latter kind, which was preserved by the monks or clergy, was written principally in Latin, and consists of the History of Nennius and the lives of several Welsh saints. The genuineness and authenticity of the works attributed to Gildas are questionable, and yet as
they are undoubtedly ancient they are deserving of some attention. But it is remarkable that in all the records of the Britons, both in Welsh and Latin, before the twelfth century, historical allusions abound, which are at variance with the narrative of the Armorican chronicle; even the most extravagant tales in Nennius are more limited than those of the later fabulist; and the various ways in which the same tales are related by the former, prove that in his time they had not reached the consistency of history, whereas in the latter there is no hesitation, but every story is told as positively as if the writer were an eye-witness.
The amount of information, or rather tradition, preserved by the Welsh relative to the Britons before the invasion of Cæsar and during the sojourn of the Romans, is small, and that little is intimately blended with bardic mythology. But it may be asked, whether it is possible, discarding entirely the Armorican chronicle and its followers, to construct, out of the beforementioned older materials, a history, which shall supply the hiatus between the departure of the Romans and the beginning of the eighth century, where the authentic chronicles commence. The present is the first attempt, upon such a system, to supply the deficiency. The attempt, however, is but a partial one; for as the purpose of this Essay was to treat of the Welsh saints or founders of churches, national affairs are only noticed incidentally. Whatever success therefore may attend the present undertaking, it is hoped that if the idea be approved, a more extended research may employ some maturer judgment and an abler pen. The result of an accumulation of the most authentic notices that can be collected, would be the production of a history, displaying indeed many of those moral features which distinguished the Welsh at a later time, but bearing a very slight resemblance to its representation in the pages of Geoffrey.