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Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book II, Ch. 2: Cardigan

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Of the journey by Cemmeis - the monastery of St. Dogmael

The archbishop having celebrated mass early in the morning before the high altar of the church of St. David, and enjoined to the archdeacon (Giraldus) the office of preaching to the people, hastened through Cemmeis118 to meet prince Rhys at Aberteive. Two circumstances occurred in the province of Cemmeis, the one in our own time, the other a little before, which I think right not to pass over in silence. In our time, a young man, native of this country, during a severe illness, suffered as violent a persecution from toads,119 as if the reptiles of the whole province had come to him by agreement; and though destroyed by his nurses and friends, they increased again on all sides in infinite numbers, like hydras' heads. His attendants, both friends and strangers, being wearied out, he was drawn up in a kind of bag, into a high tree, stripped of its leaves, and shred; nor was he there secure from his venomous enemies, for they crept up the tree in great numbers, and consumed him even to the very bones. The young man's name was Sisillus Esceir-hir, that is, Sisillus Long Leg. It is also recorded that by the hidden but never unjust will of God, another man suffered a similar persecution from rats. In the same province, during the reign of king Henry I., a rich man, who had a residence on the northern side of the Preseleu mountains,120 was warned for three successive nights, by dreams, that if he put his hand under a stone which hung over the spring of a neighbouring well, called the fountain of St. Bernacus,121 he would find there a golden torques. Obeying the admonition on the third day, he received, from a viper, a deadly wound in his finger; but as it appears that many treasures have been discovered through dreams, it seems to me probable that, with respect to rumours, in the same manner as to dreams, some ought, and some ought not, to be believed.

I shall not pass over in silence the circumstance which occurred in the principal castle of Cemmeis at Lanhever,122 in our days. Rhys, son of Gruffydd, by the instigation of his son Gruffydd, a cunning and artful man, took away by force, from William, son of Martin (de Tours), his son-in-law, the castle of Lanhever, notwithstanding he had solemnly sworn, by the most precious relics, that his indemnity and security should be faithfully maintained, and, contrary to his word and oath, gave it to his son Gruffydd; but since "A sordid prey has not a good ending," the Lord, who by the mouth of his prophet, exclaims "Vengeance is mine, and I will repay!" ordained that the castle should be taken away from the contriver of this wicked plot, Gruffydd, and bestowed upon the man in the world he most hated, his brother Malgon. Rhys, also, about two years afterwards, intending to disinherit his own daughter, and two granddaughters and grandsons, by a singular instance of divine vengeance, was taken prisoner by his sons in battle, and confined in this same castle; thus justly suffering the greatest disgrace and confusion in the very place where he had perpetrated an act of the most consummate baseness. I think it also worthy to be remembered, that at the time this misfortune befell him, he had concealed in his possession, at Dinevor, the collar of St. Canauc of Brecknock, for which, by divine vengeance, he merited to be taken prisoner and confined.

We slept that night in the monastery of St. Dogmael, where, as well as on the next day at Aberteivi, we were handsomely entertained by prince Rhys. On the Cemmeis side of the river, not far from the bridge, the people of the neighbourhood being assembled together, and Rhys and his two sons, Malgon and Gruffydd, being present, the word of the Lord was persuasively preached both by the archbishop and the archdeacon, and many were induced to take the cross; one of whom was an only son, and the sole comfort of his mother, far advanced in years, who, steadfastly gazing on him, as if inspired by the Deity, uttered these words:- "O, most beloved Lord Jesus Christ, I return thee hearty thanks for having conferred on me the blessing of bringing forth a son, whom thou mayest think worthy of thy service." Another woman at Aberteivi, of a very different way of thinking, held her husband fast by his cloak and girdle, and publicly and audaciously prevented him from going to the archbishop to take the cross; but, three nights afterwards, she heard a terrible voice, saying, "Thou hast taken away my servant from me, therefore what thou most lovest shall be taken away from thee." On her relating this vision to her husband, they were struck with mutual terror and amazement; and on falling asleep again, she unhappily overlaid her little boy, whom, with more affection than prudence, she had taken to bed with her. The husband, relating to the bishop of the diocese both the vision and its fatal prediction, took the cross, which his wife spontaneously sewed on her husband's arm.

Near the head of the bridge where the sermons were delivered, the people immediately marked out the site for a chapel,123 on a verdant plain, as a memorial of so great an event; intending that the altar should be placed on the spot where the archbishop stood while addressing the multitude; and it is well known that many miracles (the enumeration of which would be too tedious to relate) were performed on the crowds of sick people who resorted hither from different parts of the country.


118 Cemmeis, Cemmaes, Kemes, and Kemeys. Thus is the name of this district variously spelt. Cemmaes in Welsh signifies a circle or amphitheatre for games.

119 There is place in Cemmaes now called Tre-liffan, i.e. Toad's town; and over a chimney-piece in the house there is a figure of a toad sculptured in marble, said to have been brought from Italy, and intended probably to confirm and commemorate this tradition of Giraldus.

120 Preseleu, Preselaw, Prescelly, Presselw.

121 St. Bernacus is said, by Cressy, to have been a man of admirable sanctity, who, through devotion, made a journey to Rome; and from thence returning into Britany, filled all places with the fame of his piety and miracles. He is commemorated on the 7th of April. Several churches in Wales were dedicated to him; one of which, called Llanfyrnach, or the church of St. Bernach, is situated on the eastern side of the Prescelley mountain.

122 The "castrum apud Lanhever" was at Nevern, a small village between Newport and Cardigan, situated on the banks of a little river bearing the same name which discharges itself into the sea at Newport. On a hill immediately above the western side of the parish church, is the site of a large castle, undoubtedly the one alluded to by Giraldus.

123 On the Cemmaes, or Pembrokeshire side of the river Teivi, and near the end of the bridge, there is a place still called Park y Cappel, or the Chapel Field, which is undoubtedly commemorative of the circumstance recorded by our author.

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

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