Monday, February 22, 2016

Saint Tydfil, Martyr of Wales

Tydfil gave her name to Merthyr Tydfil (Merthyr meaning martyr in the Welsh language). Her martyrdom took place during a pitched battle between her family and a band of marauding Picts during the 5th century AD. Although much of what is known about her comes from monks writing long after she was supposed to have lived, evidence shows that she did exist and that she did meet with a violent end.
Tydfil was the daughter of King Brychan, the half-Irish, half-Welsh ruler of Garth Madry (Brecon today). Brychan had four wives and several concubines and was said to have had 11 sons and 25 daughters. Tydfil was his 23rd daughter by his fourth wife. Most of Brychan's children were well educated, girls and boys, at a school in Gwenddwr on the Wye and went on to live deeply religious lives. They founded churches all over Wales, Cornwall and Brittany and were known as the "wandering saints".


Tydfil chose as her home the Taff River Valley, sparsely populated by Celt farmers and their families. She became known for her compassion and healing skills as she nursed both sick humans and animal. She established an early Celtic monastic community, leading a small band of men and women. She built a "llan" or enclosure around a small wattle and daub church, much as other "saints" of the time. Her home included a hospice, outhouses and a scriptorium. There she lived quietly, bringing hope and support to the people of the Taff Valley.
In his old age, King Brychan decided to visit his children one last time. He took with him his son Rhun Dremrudd, his grandson Nefydd and Nefydd's own son, along with servants and warriors. They visited his third daughter, Tanglwstl, at her religious community at Hafod Tanglwstl, what is now known as the village of Aberfan, south of Merthyr Tydfil. Brychan wanted to stay with his daughters a little longer, so he sent most of his warriors and Nefydd on ahead, along the homeward journey. The king went on to Tydfil's home while Rhun and Nefydd's son were still at Hafod Tanglwstl.
So the party was spread out along the Taff Valley; a distance of about seven miles and all uphill. Wales at this time was suffering from raids from Scottish Picts free to roam around now that the Romans had long gone. Some had even settled at South Radnorshire, near Brychan's kingdom. Perhaps the news of the king's absence had reached the Pict settlement and they decided to take advantage of the king's vulnerability. In retrospect, Brychan would appear to have made a very foolish decision in allowing his party to split up.
Rhun Dremrudd was attacked by a raiding party, a mile from Hafod Tanglwstl and he died defending a bridge over the river at what is now the village of Troedyrhiw. The bridge gave the Picts free access to the King's party and Rhun Dremrudd put up a good fight. The Picts then split into two groups: one devastated the Hafod Tanglwstl community and the other pursued the king.
The king and his followers were robbed of their jewellery, money and clothes. Servants and family were all cut down. While the others ran and fought and panicked, Tydfil knelt and calmly prayed, before she too was brutally slain. Then the Picts retreated over the Aberdare Mountain. By then, Nefydd and his warriors caught up with them and avenged the deaths of his family at "Irishman's Hill" before returning to bury their dead.
Tydfil was buried within the church she founded, amongst the people she had cared for. A Celtic Cross was put up in a clearing near the Taff which became a meeting place for the people of the valley. In the 13th century the cross and wattle and daub church were replaced by a stone church dedicated to Saint Tydfil the Martyr. This was in turn replaced in 1807, and rebuilt again in 1894. The church still stands at its place by the River Taff.


No comments:

Post a Comment