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poems ascribed to that age are genuine,* a point which is more than questionable, the intercession of Saints is noticed only three times; namely, once respectively in two compositions which an ancient MS. attributes, with an expression of doubt, to Taliesin ; and the third instance occurs in a poem, ascribed in the Archaiology of Wales to the same author, but since acknowledged to be modern.t The oldest composition, in which the Welsh Saints are spoken of superstitiously, is attributed to Golyddan, a contemporary of Cadwaladr, near the close of the period in question.
The dedication of churches to St. Michael, doubtless, led the way to the erection of others in honour of St. Peter and the rest of the Apostles, which were founded as occasions required them until modern times. In arranging the latter, those, which from the nature of their endowments show that they have some claim for consideration on the score of antiquity, may be ranked in the same class with the former; and the list may also include those dedicated to St. John the Baptist, St. Stephen, and St. Mary Magdalene, as well as the older churches of St. Mary the Virgin. But the churches
* The number in the Archaiology of Wales is upwards of a hundred, and those which are spurious may be distinguished from the rest by the modern style in which they are written.
+ The acknowledgment is made by one of the editors of the Archaiology, who thus explains the rule observed during its publication.
“The editors of the Myvyrian Archaiology were bound to give to the world all the pieces, whatever their origin, which were ascribed to the poets whose works were comprised in that collection, leaving it to the critic to elucidate the various styles, and pronounce upon the authenticity of the productions—this department was not within the scope of their undertaking.” (Dr. Owen Pughe, in the Cambrian Quarterly Magazine, Vol. V. p. 109 & 204.) The first two poems, alluded to above, are inserted in the Archaiology, Vol. I. pp. 76–77 and 169–170, and the last in p. 83 of the same Volume.
$ The time when the dedication of churches to the Virgin first commenced in Wales cannot be ascertained; but the earliest instance upon dedicated to the Apostles, in Wales, are not many; and of those enumerated by Ecton, nearly one half can be shown to have had Welsh Saints for their original founders.
The mean period of the erection of churches of the last foundation is the twelfth century. To this class belong, besides the remainder of the Apostolic churches, all such as are dedicated to inferior Saints of the Roman Catholic Calendar, such as St. Nicholas, St. Lawrence, &c. which were erected principally by foreign adventurers. But the great preponderance at this period of churches dedicated to St. Mary, * may in some degree be attributed to the Cistercian monks, whose order was the most prevalent in Wales ; and it was a rule of the fraternity that their religious houses should be dedicated to the Virgin.
As formal dedication in honour of Saints was not the original custom of the Welsh, the question which remains is, the era of those chapels which have been built in honour of natives of Wales; that they are ancient may be shown from the fact that the great majority of them are parochial, and few of them are subject to churches dedicated to the Apostles and other Saints whose homage was introduced at a later period. When the Welsh began to honour Saints after the Catholic method, they would naturally direct their attention to those who deserved that respect among their own countrymen. But it appears to have been under certain limitations ; and compared with the Apostles, and other celebrated names, the holy men
record is that of a church, near the Cathedral of Bangor, which was founded, in honour of St. Mary, in A. D. 973, by Edgar, King of England. (Wynne's History of Wales,-Beauties of North Wales, p. 443.)
* An examination of the poems of the Welsh Bards, in the order in which they stand in the Myvyrian Archaiology, will show that St. Mary began to receive distinguished attention about A. D. 1200, which pre. eminence appears to have continued until the Reformation. Vol. I. pp. 315, 324.
+ Tanner's Notitia Monastica.
of Wales could only rank as saints of an inferior class. To regard the founders in the character of tutelar Saints of their respective churches was an obvious mode of proceeding ; but in the establishment of new foundations preference would be given to Saints of more extensive reputation; and the only edifices, erected in honour of Welshmen, would be chapels in places where they had lived, or subject to churches connected with their history. In other countries where the Romish Church has prevailed, many persons who never were canonized have been allowed the honours of sanctity in their immediate neighbourhood, and in this local character the saints of Wales must be considered. Accordingly many of the chapels called after Welshmen are found to be dedicated to the Saint of the mother church, to his relatives, or to persons whom tradition has connected with the place; and the prevalence of known cases of the last kind is sufficiently great to justify a similar inference being drawn where the tradition has been entirely forgotten. Chapels of this description must generally have been erected while the memory of their Saints was comparatively recent, and may therefore be deemed coeval with churches of the second foundation. The perishable nature of tradition, and the occupation of several parts of Wales by foreigners will sufficiently explain why no material increase was afterwards made to their number.
That the Roman Catholics, or, at least, the various conquerors of Wales, all of whom professed that religion, hardly considered the primitive founders in the light of Saints, will further appear from the circumstance that in
instances they gave their churches a new dedication. To show how far the practice prevailed the following list is adduced.
St. David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, St. David and St. Andrew.
Llansilloe, Herefordshire, St. Tyssilio, St. Peter.
Llangathen, Carmarthenshire, St. Cathen, St. Michael and All Saints.
St. Thomas, alias St. Dogmael's, Pembrokeshire.
It is not necessary to extend the list further, but the hypothesis must depend upon the supposition that Ecton is correct in assigning those dedications which differ from the Welsh names of the churches, or from the known history of their founders. It can, however, be verified in certain cases.
For instance, the church of Llantoni, which was originally founded by St. David and called after his name, is now stated to be dedicated to St. John the Baptist. But in A. D. 1108, a Priory of Black Canons was built on the spot, by Hugh Lacy, to the honour of St. John the Baptist, which accounts for its present dedication. The second dedication of the two Cathedrals is well attested. And of all the religious houses founded in Wales since the tenth century, not one, except perhaps the Collegiate church of Llanddewi Brefi, was dedicated to a Welshman.
The Romish Church was however determined to have its martyrology of Britain ; and out of “Cressy,” the Catholic historian of this kingdom, may be enlisted about a hundred British Saints and Martyrs, from the first dawn of Christianity to the close of the sixth centry. A few only of their names are to be found in the Welsh accounts, and as for the rest, persons acquainted merely with the history of Wales might well wonder from whence they came, Their legends, however, were at one time regularly read, and their martyrdoms duly commemorated in the Catholic Church. They are not so much distinguished for the churches they founded, as for their miracles and the sufferings they underwent for the spread of the Gospel. They claim for their names a most remote antiquity, prior to the age of the Welsh founders; but it will be no part of this Essay to substantiate their pretensions, or indeed to maintain their existence. It will therefore be deemed sufficient to append to these pages a list of them, chronologically disposed, according to Cressy.
The catalogue of founders is less pretending, and has reference generally to a later period; and though the persons contained in it have been dignified from an early time with the title of Saints by their grateful countrymen, there are but few notices in the Welsh language of miracles performed by them. * Such marvellous relations as exist were nearly all of them written in Latin, and from the silence of the Welsh Bards upon the subject it may be presumed they were better known abroad than at home. It will be allowed that these legends were the productions of the monks, if they were not of foreign manufacture. The accounts of renowned Britons, current in Cornwall and Armorica, and in England and France generally, have been more extravagant than in Wales. In the latter country, Lucius, Merlin, Arthur, and St. David
* The poem ascribed to Golyddan is the oldest composition in which it is intimated that a Welsh Saint wrought miracles; and, if it were genuine, it would prove, that in about a century after the death of St. David, a belief was current that he was possessed of miraculous powers. There is, however, sufficient evidence to prove that the poem, though ancient, was written after the time of Golyddan, (A. D. 660,) but it is not necessary to enter into the question, as, at the period alluded to, the era of the Welsh Saints was passing by, and had nearly terminated. Mr. Sharon Turner, in his “Vindication of the Ancient British Poems," p. 269, supposes the composition of Golyddan to have been written eighth century.