«Author Note Tomos Roberts (†) reviewed the later versions of this article more than once; 1 his advice related to Anglesey and Anglesey sources was ...»
The Saint of Llanbadrig: A Contested Dedication
Deborah K. E. Crawford, Independent Scholar
Tomos Roberts (†) reviewed the later versions of this article more than once; 1 his advice related
to Anglesey and Anglesey sources was invaluable. Graham Jones read and commented on earlier
versions of the article, and his comments related to my doctoral research provided an
indispensable, ongoing introduction to the study of saints’ dedications. My initial research
related to saints’ dedications was presented at the “Geography and Saints Cults” conference at Hólar University College, Iceland, in June of 2006. A grant from The Lynne Grundy Memorial Trust and a Petrie Watson Exhibition from the Faculty of Arts, University of Sheffield, made the conference attendance possible. A grant from the Marc Fitch Fund enabled the completion of this article. 2 Abstract Located on the Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales, the medieval church of Llanbadrig is the pride of the nearby village of Cemaes, on Cemaes Bay. There is a strong local tradition that the church is dedicated to Patrick, Apostle of the Irish. However, reporting of that dedication has been divided between the patron saint of Ireland and one Padrig ab Alfryd, a saint associated with northern Wales. The issue of the dedication is important to the community of Cemaes. A resolution is also needed for scholarly purposes.
Keywords Llanbadrig, Saint Patrick, Welsh folklore, saints’ dedications, Wales Located on the Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales, the medieval church of Llanbadrig is the pride of the nearby village of Cemaes, on Cemaes Bay. 3 There is a strong local tradition that the church is dedicated to Patrick, Apostle of the Irish. However, reporting of that dedication has been divided between the patron saint of Ireland and one Padrig ab Alfryd, a saint associated with northern Wales (Crawford 2009: 152-157). The issue of the dedication is important to the e-Keltoi Volume 8: 57-95 Religion and Ideology © UW System Board of Regents ISSN 1540-4889 online Date Published: April 29, 2014 58 Crawford community of Cemaes. Llanbadrig is still a functioning church, with a recognized status as a historic building. The village also uses its folklore about Patrick in the promotion of a long- established tourism industry. The contested dedication calls the authenticity of that local tradition into question.
A resolution is also needed for scholarly purposes. It is important for the study of saints’ dedications, an international collaboration that has produced ground-breaking work related to medieval culture. In folkloristics, the two central studies of the Welsh saints have virtually bypassed Patrick’s place in Welsh folklore. The early twentieth-century work on the British saints, often used in the absence of newer work in folklore studies, misinterprets the Llanbadrig dedication, compounding the problem. A resolution is therefore needed to confirm Llanbadrig’s place in a broader distribution of dedications to Patrick. A full description and interpretation of that pattern provides another basis for the study of cultural phenomena related to the Apostle of the Irish, a perennial focus in Celtic Studies.
Llanbadrig is on the northern coast of Anglesey, some distance from the village of Cemaes. Situated on cliffs above a rock-bound shore, the churchyard looks out over the Irish Sea and a small island. The church itself is a long structure of stone and mortar, more or less parallel to the coastline. One end, the liturgical east, is marked by a large outcrop of natural rock.
Beyond it, higher broken terrain defines the horizon. To the liturgical west is a rising headland.
Between sea and sky, in strong contrasts of light and shadow, Llanbadrig is the focal point in a strikingly beautiful landscape (Figure 1).
Cemaes is a former fishing village, a small seaport in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The village is aligned along Stryd Fawr, “Big Street,” its central area bordered with two-story businesses, shops, and houses. Stryd Fawr curves to the right, joining Bridge Street, just before another cluster of buildings, near the sands of the bay. A short distance to the east, Bridge Street intersects the mouth of the River Wygyr, whose tree-shaded valley lies behind the eastern bank of businesses on the main thoroughfare. Various newer housing developments fan out around the bay. Near the opposite end of Stryd Fawr is St Padrig (New). The second church was built in 1865 (Corker 1986: 29), 4 in order to provide a place of worship sheltered from the winter sea storms. The community’s website addresses another aspect of the village’s relationship to the sea. It lists the scores of ships wrecked in the difficult navigation of the waters off the coast of northern Anglesey (Cwmni Cemaes Cyf: “History and Heritage”).
The Saint of Llanbadrig: A Contested Dedication 59
Figure 1. Llanbadrig church and churchyard.
The evaluation of the contested Llanbadrig dedication involves a choice of perspectives.
As a geographer, Graham Jones has defined the cultural phenomenon of dedication:
In religion the term ‘dedication’ refers to the commemoration of a saint (a person venerated for their goodness of life and/or sacrifice in death), angel, or aspect of the Divine (such as the Holy Trinity), by naming a place or object of devotion in their honour (2007: 16).
He also explains the importance of saints’ dedications: “Devotion to purposefully chosen patron saints is a cultural marker with significant potential for the better understanding of historic landscapes and individual communities” (2007: 9). Further, Jones points out that dedications are not randomly distributed (2007: 20-21); the geographic distribution pattern of a particular dedication is meaningful, as well as the dedication itself. In another reminder, he corrects older approaches: “… the scholar’s anxiety to discover the ‘original’ patron saint misses the point that the dedication of a church is what it was at any particular time and carries intrinsic interest particular to its place and time” (2007: 46).
A second useful perspective is that of an ethnological orientation in folkloristics. The local evidence for informal culture, the expression of tradition in social practice and storytelling, is central to the resolution of the question of the Llanbadrig dedication. In relation to a study such as this, the basic insight is that expressions of informal culture can be properly interpreted only within the contexts of the related social groups or communities (Crawford 2009: 17-20).
60 Crawford The recovery of contexts is based on the use of scholarship from various disciplines, along with local or community history (Crawford 2009: 40-42). For a folklorist, a related issue is the past treatment of such evidence. In the early twentieth century, local cultural heritage was appropriated by authors from outside the community, who felt entitled to represent that heritage in ways other than how they found it.
An initial context for the dedication may be described in terms of geography. Llanbadrig is located on the southern periphery of a distribution of medieval ecclesiastical sites with dedications to Patrick, sites located outside of Ireland. The distribution area encompasses the Isle of Man, northern Wales, northern England, southwest and central Scotland, and the western isles of Scotland. The proximities may be expressed in terms of visibility. On clear days, it is possible to see the Isle of Man from Llanbadrig’s churchyard. The highest point on the Isle of Man is also noted for its view: northeast Ireland, northern Wales, northwest England, and southwest Scotland (Figure 2). 5
Figure 2. Llanbadrig in geographic context (by Matthew C. Gottfried).
These locations are connected by the Irish Sea and the Scottish Seas. Land-based relationships appear to be secondary. The historical geographer E. G. Bowen emphasized the The Saint of Llanbadrig: A Contested Dedication 61 seaways as a central means of Christian cultural contact (1956; 1977/1983), a concept that has become a commonplace in Celtic Studies. Bowen focused on an early Age of Saints, but his perceptions about geographic relationships apply to other time periods, as well. Interestingly enough, Bowen discussed Llanbadrig’s dedication in relation to Irish influence (1948: 6). In later work, he again referred to the Llanbadrig dedication to Patrick, without any mention of Padrig ab Alfryd (1956: 123).
The dominant characteristic in this distribution of dedications is the tendency to find the Patrician evidence in local clusters related to secular communities. 6 In some instances, the ecclesiastical sites are close to wells, springs, or other local landmarks carrying the saint’s name.
Sometimes, the dedications coincide with Patrician naming related to ecclesiastical patrons, landholders, or other important individuals in the community. These personal and family naming conventions may also be reflected in local place-names. This distribution pattern is not the only one in Great Britain. In southern England and Wales, medieval ecclesiastical sites with dedications to Patrick are largely associated with major monastic houses, pilgrim routes, and probable pilgrim chapels (Crawford 2009: 174-181).
The area of the northern distribution is also associated with formal medieval hagiography about the Apostle of the Irish, distinguished from local storytelling. The presence of the hagiography is significant in itself. But it also identifies broad cultural communities that knew about Patrick, as well as the information in circulation about the saint in the distribution area.
One of these communities was the kingdom that defined northern Wales, that of Gwynedd.
According to historian David Pretty, Gwynedd took shape in the sixth century (2005: 8), and he
describes it as follows:
In the context of medieval Welsh politics, characterized by a patchwork of small independent kingdoms, it claimed a special position, the superiority of its rulers emphasized by such titles as ‘great’ and ‘king of the Britons’. As they set out to consolidate power, the resources of Anglesey underpinned their fierce ambitions…. As a rich natural granary, Anglesey could feed the people and sustain the king’s loyal warband. Here the principal seat of government would be located. A llys (court) near or on the site of [a] … supposed Roman fort enabled the ruling dynasty to recast Aberffraw as a power centre with symbolic historic authority. And from this time until the close of the thirteenth century it styled itself as a capital… (2005: 8-9).
In the time of the kingdom of Gwynedd, significant hagiography related to Patrick was also associated with northern Wales.
62 Crawford The earliest Patrician accounts from Britain are found in the Latin Historia Brittonum.
John Morris identified the oldest surviving full text as that of the Harleian manuscript (1980: 1). 7 David Dumville has dated the corresponding work to AD 829/30 (1993: 221). That date is based
on internal evidence, chronology involving the reign of Merfyn Frych, ruler of Gwynedd (1990b:
439). A number of years ago, Dumville determined that the author of the Historia Brittonum was a cleric working in northern Wales, perhaps at the royal court (1990a: 21).
The Harleian Historia Brittonum includes an extended section on Patrick (Dumville 1993: 223-225): the commission from Pope Celestine to convert the Irish, his elevation to the rank of bishop, his life and miracles in Ireland, and a comparison of the saint to Moses. Most of the information in this Patrician section has parallels in the Book of Armagh (Crawford 2009: 43According to Richard Sharpe, the northern Irish see of Armagh was already promoting an association with Patrick as early as the middle decades of the seventh century (Sharpe 1982: 34, 44-45). From at least the ninth century onward, Patrick was known in northern Wales as an important saint.
In the twelfth century, there was also an emphasis on Patrick in another group significant in the distribution area, the community composed of Cistercian monastics, the white monks.
Between 1164 and 1166, the Historia Brittonum was copied at Sawley (Dumville 1993: 229a Cistercian house in what is now Lancashire. The Sawley manuscript does include the Patrician section. 8 It was annotated over the next fifty years or so (Dumville 1993: 229-230), including a long marginal note related to the comparison of Patrick to Moses. Dumville considered that added note to be “quite remarkable” (1993: 230).
Around 1185, Jocelin of Furness wrote a Latin vita of Patrick, 9 at the behest of the Archbishop of Armagh, the Bishop of Down, and John de Courcy (O’Leary 1904: 133). De Courcy, an Anglo-Norman adventurer, had succeeded in establishing himself as the prince of Ulster, in northeast Ireland. Jocelin was a monk of the Cistercian monastery of St Mary Furness in northwestern England. The foundation also had daughter houses in the Isle of Man and northern Ireland. Richard Sharpe has described the situation leading to the composition of the vita: “The circumstances of Jocelin’s visit to Ireland were that John de Courcy brought him to his new Cistercian foundation at Down in south-east Ulster; there the triple grave of St Patrick, St Brigit, and St Columba was discovered, and there Jocelin was commissioned to write his Life of St Patrick” (1991: 209).
The Saint of Llanbadrig: A Contested Dedication 63 The vita describes Patrick’s birthplace near the Irish Sea (O’Leary 1904: 135-136), a settlement close to “Dunbreatan” (1904: 145), Dumbarton Rock, on the Clyde estuary in western
Scotland. Patrick is the son of a Briton, and his mother is the niece of St Martin of Tours (1904:
135). The work addresses the saint’s childhood miracles, his kidnapping by raiders during his teenage years, and his service in Ireland as a slave. It tells of Patrick’s escape and return to Britain, where he has a vision calling him back to Ireland. The saint undergoes years of ecclesiastical training on the Continent, including monastic training with his great-uncle, Martin.
When he returns to Ireland at the order of Pope Celestine, he travels from place to place, converting the inhabitants of Ireland and building churches.