Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 94

Llan Ddewi Brefi — Pelagian Heresy — Hu Gadarn — God of Agriculture — The Silver Cup — Rude Tablet.

IT was about eleven o’clock in the morning when I started from Tregaron; the sky was still cloudy and heavy. I took the road to Lampeter, distant about eight miles, intending, however, to go much farther ere I stopped for the night. The road lay nearly south-west. I passed by Aber Coed, a homestead near the bottom of a dingle down which runs a brook into the Teivi, which flows here close by the road; then by Aber Carvan, where another brook disembogues. Aber, as perhaps the reader already knows, is a disemboguement, and wherever a place commences with Aber there to a certainty does a river flow into the sea, or a brook or rivulet into a river. I next passed through Nant Derven, and in about three-quarters of an hour after leaving Tregaron reached a place of old renown called Llan Ddewi Brefi.

Llan Ddewi Brefi is a small village situated at the entrance of a gorge leading up to some lofty hills which rise to the east and belong to the same mountain range as those near Tregaron. A brook flowing from the hills murmurs through it and at length finds its way into the Teivi. An ancient church stands on a little rising ground just below the hills; multitudes of rooks inhabit its steeple and fill throughout the day the air with their cawing. The place wears a remarkable air of solitude, but presents nothing of gloom and horror, and seems just the kind of spot in which some quiet pensive man, fatigued but not soured by the turmoil of the world, might settle down, enjoy a few innocent pleasures, make his peace with God, and then compose himself to his long sleep.

It is not without reason that Llan Ddewi Brefi has been called a place of old renown. In the fifth century, one of the most remarkable ecclesiastical convocations which the world has ever seen was held in this secluded spot. It was for the purpose of refuting certain doctrines, which had for some time past caused much agitation in the Church, and which originated with one Morgan, a native of North Wales, who left his country at an early age and repaired to Italy, where having adopted the appellation of Pelagius, which is a Latin translation of his own name Morgan, which signifies “by the seashore,” he soon became noted as a theological writer. It is not necessary to enter into any detailed exposition of his opinions; it will, however, be as well to state that one of the points which he was chiefly anxious to inculcate was that it is possible for a man to lead a life entirely free from sin by obeying the dictates of his own reason without any assistance from the grace of God — a dogma certainly to the last degree delusive and dangerous. When the convocation met there were a great many sermons preached by various learned and eloquent divines, but nothing was produced which was pronounced by the general voice a satisfactory answer to the doctrines of the heresiarch. At length it was resolved to send for Dewi, a celebrated teacher of theology at Mynyw in Pembrokeshire, who from motives of humility had not appeared in the assembly. Messengers therefore were despatched to Dewi, who, after repeated entreaties, was induced to repair to the place of meeting, where after three days’ labour in a cell he produced a treatise in writing in which the tenets of Morgan were so triumphantly overthrown that the convocation unanimously adopted it and sent it into the world with a testimony of approbation as an antidote to the heresy, and so great was its efficacy that from that moment the doctrines of Morgan fell gradually into disrepute. 16

Dewi shortly afterwards became primate of Wales, being appointed to the see of Minevai or Mynyw, which from that time was called Ty Ddewi or David’s House, a name which it still retains amongst the Cumry, though at present called by the Saxons Saint David’s. About five centuries after his death the crown of canonization having been awarded to Dewi, various churches were dedicated to him, amongst which was that now called Llan Ddewi Brefi, which was built above the cell in which the good man composed his celebrated treatise.

If this secluded gorge or valley is connected with a remarkable historical event it is also associated with one of the wildest tales of mythology. Here according to old tradition died one of the humped oxen of the team of Hu Gadarn. Distracted at having lost its comrade, which perished from the dreadful efforts which it made along with the others in drawing the afanc hen or old crocodile from the lake of lakes, it fled away from its master, and wandered about, till coming to the glen now called that of Llan Ddewi Brefi, it fell down and perished after excessive bellowing, from which noise the place probably derived its name of Brefi, for Bref in Cumbric signifies a mighty bellowing or lowing. Horns of enormous size, said to have belonged to this humped ox or bison, were for many ages preserved in the church.

Many will exclaim who was Hu Gadarn? Hu Gadarn in the Gwlad yr Haf or summer country, a certain region of the East, perhaps the Crimea, which seems to be a modification of Cumria, taught the Cumry the arts of civilised life, to build comfortable houses, to sow grain and reap, to tame the buffalo and the bison, and turn their mighty strength to profitable account, to construct boats with wicker and the skins of animals, to drain pools and morasses, to cut down forests, cultivate the vine and encourage bees, make wine and mead, frame lutes and fifes and play upon them, compose rhymes and verses, fuse minerals and form them into various instruments and weapons, and to move in masses against their enemies, and finally when the summer country became over-populated led an immense multitude of his countrymen across many lands to Britain, a country of forests, in which bears, wolves, and bisons wandered, and of morasses and pools full of dreadful efync or crocodiles, a country inhabited only by a few savage Gauls, but which shortly after the arrival of Hu and his people became a smiling region, forests being thinned, bears and wolves hunted down, efync annihilated, bulls and bisons tamed, corn planted and pleasant cottages erected. After his death he was worshipped as the God of agriculture and war by the Cumry and the Gauls. The Germans paid him divine honours under the name of Heus, from which name the province of Hesse in which there was a mighty temple devoted to him, derived its appellation. The Scandinavians worshipped him under the name of Odin and Gautr, the latter word a modification of Cadarn or mighty. The wild Finns feared him as a wizard and honoured him as a musician under the name of Wainoemoinen, and it is very probable that he was the wondrous being whom the Greeks termed Odysses. Till a late period the word Hu amongst the Cumry was frequently used to express God — Gwir Hu, God knows, being a common saying. Many Welsh poets have called the Creator by the name of the creature, amongst others Iolo Goch in his ode to the ploughman:-

“The mighty Hu who lives for ever, Of mead and wine to men the giver, The emperor of land and sea, And of all things that living be Did hold a plough with his good hand, Soon as the deluge left the land, To show to men both strong and weak, The haughty-hearted and the meek, Of all the arts the heaven below The noblest is to guide the plough.”

So much for Hu Gadarn or Hu the Mighty, whose name puts one strangely in mind of the Al Kader Hu or the Almighty He of the Arabians.

I went to see the church. The inside was very rude and plain — a rough table covered with a faded cloth served for an altar — on the right-hand side was a venerable-looking chest.

“What is there in that box?” said I to the old sexton who attended me.

“The treasure of the church, sir,” he replied in a feeble quaking voice.

“Dear me!” said I, “what does the treasure consist of?”

“You shall see, sir,” said he, and drawing a large key out of his pocket he unlocked the chest and taking out a cup of silver he put it into my hand saying:— “This is the treasure of the church, sir!”

I looked at the cup. It was tolerably large and of very chaste workmanship. Graven upon it were the following words:-

“Poculum Eclesie De LXXN Dewy Brefy 1574.”

“Do you always keep this cup in that chest?” said I.

“Yes sir! we have kept it there since the cup was given to us by de godly Queen Elizabeth.”

I said nothing, but I thought to myself:— “I wonder how long a cup like this would have been safe in a crazy chest in a country church in England.”

I kissed the sacred relic of old times with reverence, and returned it to the old sexton.

“What became of the horns of Hu Gadarn’s bull?” said I, after he had locked the cup again in its dilapidated coffer.

“They did dwindle away, sir, till they came to nothing.”

“Did you ever see any part of them?” said I.

“Oh no, sir; I did never see any part of them, but one very old man who is buried here did tell me shortly before he died that he had seen one very old man who had seen of dem one little tip.”

“Who was the old man who said that to you?” said I.

“I will show you his monument, sir,” then taking me into a dusky pew he pointed to a small rude tablet against the church wall and said:— “That is his monument, sir.”

The tablet bore the following inscription, and below it a rude englyn on death not worth transcribing:-

Coffadwriaeth am THOMAS JONES Diweddar o’r Draws Llwyn yn y Plwyf hwn: Bu farw Chwefror 6 fed 1830 Yn 92 oed.

To the memory of THOMAS JONES Of Traws Llwyn (across the Grove) in this parish who died February the sixth, 1830. Aged 92.

After copying the inscription I presented the old man with a trifle and went my way.

16 Hanes Crefydd Yn Nghymru.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:50