Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book I, Ch. 1: Hereford and Radnor

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Journey through Hereford and Radnor

In the year 1188 from the incarnation of our Lord, Urban the Third10 being the head of the apostolic see; Frederick, emperor of Germany and king of the Romans; Isaac, emperor of Constantinople; Philip, the son of Louis, reigning in France; Henry the Second in England; William in Sicily; Bela in Hungary; and Guy in Palestine: in that very year, when Saladin, prince of the Egyptians and Damascenes, by a signal victory gained possession of the kingdom of Jerusalem; Baldwin, archbishop of Canterbury, a venerable man, distinguished for his learning and sanctity, journeying from England for the service of the holy cross, entered Wales near the borders of Herefordshire.

The archbishop proceeded to Radnor, on Ash Wednesday (Caput Jejunii), accompanied by Ranulph de Glanville, privy counsellor and justiciary of the whole kingdom, and there met Rhys,11 son of Gruffydd, prince of South Wales, and many other noble personages of those parts; where a sermon being preached by the archbishop, upon the subject of the Crusades, and explained to the Welsh by an interpreter, the author of this Itinerary, impelled by the urgent importunity and promises of the king, and the persuasions of the archbishop and the justiciary, arose the first, and falling down at the feet of the holy man, devoutly took the sign of the cross. His example was instantly followed by Peter, bishop of St. David's,12 a monk of the abbey of Cluny, and then by Eineon, son of Eineon Clyd,13 prince of Elvenia, and many other persons. Eineon rising up, said to Rhys, whose daughter he had married, "My father and lord! with your permission I hasten to revenge the injury offered to the great father of all." Rhys himself was so fully determined upon the holy peregrination, as soon as the archbishop should enter his territories on his return, that for nearly fifteen days he was employed with great solicitude in making the necessary preparations for so distant a journey; till his wife, and, according to the common vicious licence of the country, his relation in the fourth degree, Guendolena, (Gwenllian), daughter of Madoc, prince of Powys, by female artifices diverted him wholly from his noble purpose; since, as Solomon says, "A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps." As Rhys before his departure was conversing with his friends concerning the things he had heard, a distinguished young man of his family, by name Gruffydd, and who afterwards took the cross, is said thus to have answered: "What man of spirit can refuse to undertake this journey, since, amongst all imaginable inconveniences, nothing worse can happen to any one than to return."

On the arrival of Rhys in his own territory, certain canons of Saint David's, through a zeal for their church, having previously secured the interest of some of the prince's courtiers, waited on Rhys, and endeavoured by every possible suggestion to induce him not to permit the archbishop to proceed into the interior parts of Wales, and particularly to the metropolitan see of Saint David's (a thing hitherto unheard of), at the same time asserting that if he should continue his intended journey, the church would in future experience great prejudice, and with difficulty would recover its ancient dignity and honour. Although these pleas were most strenuously urged, the natural kindness and civility of the prince would not suffer them to prevail, lest by prohibiting the archbishop's progress, he might appear to wound his feelings.

Early on the following morning, after the celebration of mass, and the return of Ranulph de Glanville to England, we came to Cruker Castle,14 two miles distant from Radnor, where a strong and valiant youth named Hector, conversing with the archbishop about taking the cross, said, "If I had the means of getting provisions for one day, and of keeping fast on the next, I would comply with your advice;" on the following day, however, he took the cross. The same evening, Malgo, son of Cadwallon, prince of Melenia, after a short but efficacious exhortation from the archbishop, and not without the tears and lamentations of his friends, was marked with the sign of the cross.

But here it is proper to mention what happened during the reign of king Henry the First to the lord of the castle of Radnor, in the adjoining territory of Builth,15 who had entered the church of Saint Avan (which is called in the British language Llan Avan),16 and, without sufficient caution or reverence, had passed the night there with his hounds. Arising early in the morning, according to the custom of hunters, he found his hounds mad, and himself struck blind. After a long, dark, and tedious existence, he was conveyed to Jerusalem, happily taking care that his inward sight should not in a similar manner be extinguished; and there being accoutred, and led to the field of battle on horseback, he made a spirited attack upon the enemies of the faith, and, being mortally wounded, closed his life with honour.

Another circumstance which happened in these our days, in the province of Warthrenion,17 distant from hence only a few furlongs, is not unworthy of notice. Eineon, lord of that district, and son-in-law to prince Rhys, who was much addicted to the chase, having on a certain day forced the wild beasts from their coverts, one of his attendants killed a hind with an arrow, as she was springing forth from the wood, which, contrary to the nature of her sex, was found to bear horns of twelve years' growth, and was much fatter than a stag, in the haunches as well as in every other part. On account of the singularity of this circumstance, the head and horns of this strange animal were destined as a present to king Henry the Second. This event is the more remarkable, as the man who shot the hind suddenly lost the use of his right eye, and being at the same time seized with a paralytic complaint, remained in a weak and impotent state until the time of his death.

In this same province of Warthrenion, and in the church of Saint Germanus,18 there is a staff of Saint Cyric,19 covered on all sides with gold and silver, and resembling in its upper part the form of a cross; its efficacy has been proved in many cases, but particularly in the removal of glandular and strumous swellings; insomuch that all persons afflicted with these complaints, on a devout application to the staff, with the oblation of one penny, are restored to health. But it happened in these our days, that a strumous patient on presenting one halfpenny to the staff, the humour subsided only in the middle; but when the oblation was completed by the other halfpenny, an entire cure was accomplished. Another person also coming to the staff with the promise of a penny, was cured; but not fulfilling his engagement on the day appointed, he relapsed into his former disorder; in order, however, to obtain pardon for his offence, he tripled the offering by presenting three- pence, and thus obtained a complete cure.

At Elevein, in the church of Glascum,20 is a portable bell, endowed with great virtues, called Bangu,21 and said to have belonged to Saint David. A certain woman secretly conveyed this bell to her husband, who was confined in the castle of Raidergwy,22 near Warthrenion, (which Rhys, son of Gruffydd, had lately built) for the purpose of his deliverance. The keepers of the castle not only refused to liberate him for this consideration, but seized and detained the bell; and in the same night, by divine vengeance, the whole town, except the wall on which the bell hung, was consumed by fire.

The church of Luel,23 in the neighbourhood of Brecheinoc (Brechinia), was burned, also in our time, by the enemy, and everything destroyed, except one small box, in which the consecrated host was deposited.

It came to pass also in the province of Elvenia, which is separated from Hay by the river Wye, in the night in which king Henry I. expired, that two pools24 of no small extent, the one natural, the other artificial, suddenly burst their bounds; the latter, by its precipitate course down the declivities, emptied itself; but the former, with its fish and contents, obtained a permanent situation in a valley about two miles distant. In Normandy, a few days before the death of Henry II., the fish of a certain pool near Seez, five miles from the castle of Exme, fought during the night so furiously with each other, both in the water and out of it, that the neighbouring people were attracted by the noise to the spot; and so desperate was the conflict, that scarcely a fish was found alive in the morning; thus, by a wonderful and unheard-of prognostic, foretelling the death of one by that of many.

But the borders of Wales sufficiently remember and abhor the great and enormous excesses which, from ambitious usurpation of territory, have arisen amongst brothers and relations in the districts of Melenyth, Elvein, and Warthrenion, situated between the Wye and the Severn.


10 Giraldus has committed an error in placing Urban III. at the head of the apostolic see; for he died at Ferrara in the month of October, A.D. 1187, and was succeeded by Gregory VIII., whose short reign expired in the month of December following. Clement III. was elected pontiff in the year 1188. Frederick I., surnamed Barbarossa, succeeded Conrad III. in the empire of Germany, in March, 1152, and was drowned in a river of Cilicia whilst bathing, in 1190. Isaac Angelus succeeded Andronicus I. as emperor of Constantinople, in 1185, and was dethroned in 1195. Philip II., surnamed Augustus, from his having been born in the month of August, was crowned at Rheims, in 1179, and died at Mantes, in 1223. William II., king of Sicily, surnamed the Good, succeeded in 1166 to his father, William the Bad, and died in 1189. Bela III., king of Hungary, succeeded to the throne in 1174, and died in 1196. Guy de Lusignan was crowned king of Jerusalem in 1186, and in the following year his city was taken by the victorious Saladin.

11 Rhys ap Gruffydd was grandson to Rhys ap Tewdwr, prince of South Wales, who, in 1090, was slain in an engagement with the Normans. He was a prince of great talent, but great versatility of character, and made a conspicuous figure in Welsh history. He died in 1196, and was buried in the cathedral of St. David's; where his effigy, as well as that of his son Rhys Gryg, still remain in a good state of preservation.

12 Peter de Leia, prior of the Benedictine monastery of Wenlock, in Shropshire, was the successful rival of Giraldus for the bishopric of Saint David's, vacant by the death of David Fitzgerald, the uncle of our author; but he did not obtain his promotion without considerable opposition from the canons, who submitted to the absolute sequestration of their property before they consented to his election, being desirous that the nephew should have succeeded his uncle. He was consecrated in 1176, and died in 1199.

13 In the Latin of Giraldus, the name of Eineon is represented by AEneas, and Eineon Clyd by AEneas Claudius.

14 Cruker Castle. The corresponding distance between Old and New Radnor evidently places this castle at Old Radnor, which was anciently called Pen-y-craig, Pencraig, or Pen-crug, from its situation on a rocky eminence. Cruker is a corruption, probably, from Crug-caerau, the mount, or height, of the fortifications.

15 Buelth or Builth, a large market town on the north-west edge of the county of Brecon, on the southern banks of the Wye, over which there is a long and handsome bridge of stone. It had formerly a strong castle, the site and earthworks of which still remain, but the building is destroyed.

16 Llan-Avan, a small church at the foot of barren mountains about five or six miles north-west of Buelth. The saint from whom it takes its name, was one of the sons of Cedig ab Cunedda; whose ancestor, Cunedda, king of the Britons, was the head of one of the three holy families of Britain. He is said to have lived in the beginning of the sixth century.

17 Melenia, Warthrenion, Elevein, Elvenia, Melenyth, and Elvein, places mentioned in this first chapter, and varying in their orthography, were three different districts in Radnorshire: Melenyth is a hundred in the northern part of the county, extending into Montgomeryshire, in which is the church of Keri: Elvein retains in modern days the name of Elvel, and is a hundred in the southern part of the county, separated from Brecknockshire by the Wye; and Warthrenion, in which was the castle built by prince Rhys at Rhaiadyr-gwy, seems to have been situated between the other two. Warthrenion may more properly be called Gwyrthrynion, it was anciently one of the three comots of Arwystli, a cantref of Merioneth. In the year 1174, Melyenith was in the possession of Cadwallon ap Madawc, cousin german to prince Rhys; Elvel was held by Eineon Clyd and Gwyrthrynion by Eineon ap Rhys, both sons-in-law to that illustrious prince.

18 The church of Saint Germanus is now known by the name of Saint Harmans, and is situated three or four miles from Rhaiadyr, in Radnorshire, on the right-hand of the road from thence to Llanidloes; it is a small and simple structure, placed on a little eminence, in a dreary plain surrounded by mountains.

19 Several churches in Wales have been dedicated to Saint Curig, who came into Wales in the seventh century.

20 Glascum is a small village in a mountainous and retired situation between Builth and Kington, in Herefordshire.

21 Bangu. - This was a hand bell kept in all the Welsh churches, which the clerk or sexton took to the house of the deceased on the day of the funeral: when the procession began, a psalm was sung; the bellman then sounded his bell in a solemn manner for some time, till another psalm was concluded; and he again sounded it at intervals, till the funeral arrived at the church.

22 Rhaiadyr, called also Rhaiader-gwy, is a small village and market-town in Radnorshire. The site only of the castle, built by prince Rhys, A.D. 1178, now remains at a short distance from the village; it was strongly situated on a natural rock above the river Wye, which, below the bridge, forms a cataract.

23 Llywel, a small village about a mile from Trecastle, on the great road leading from thence to Llandovery; it was anciently a township, and by charter of Philip and Mary was attached to the borough of Brecknock, by the name of Trecastle ward.

24 Leland, in his description of this part of Wales, mentions a lake in Low Elvel, or Elvenia, which may perhaps be the same as that alluded to in this passage of Giraldus. "There is a llinne in Low Elvel within a mile of Payne's castel by the church called Lanpeder. The llinne is caullid Bougklline, and is of no great quantite, but is plentiful of pike, and perche, and eles." - Leland, Itin. tom. v. p. 72.

Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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