Brecon Cathedral – another discovery

I spent a whole day in Brecon Cathedral with my students last week – and we still didn’t see all that there was to see. Part of the problem was that we found yet more new stuff. The Brecon branch of NADFAS are making great headway with surveying the ledgerstones in the Havard chapel. There is still some debate about the slab commemorating Lewis Havard and now partly concealed by panelling against the north wall. This is the stone, taken when the panelling was removed


And this is a drawing of what I assume is the same stone made by the Welsh antiquarian Carnhuanawc and published in Theophilus Jones’s History of Brecknockshire.


But (as one of the Nadfas team has noticed) the heraldry is not the same. Some of it could be down to bad drawing but the top shield on the sinister panel (ie the right side as you look at it) is definitely quite different. Some of the Nadfas team are also concerned about the reading of the date as well. I’m pretty confident that that is 1569, and the name is definitely Lodovicus Havarde.

There’s also a possible explanation for the different shields. The one on the original stone is the Havard family’s traditional arms, the three bulls’ heads. Instead of this, Carnhuanawc drew a bull’s head between three mullets. Now, according to Siddons, The Development of Welsh Heraldry, this was another coat of arms sometimes attributed to the Havards. Did Carnhuanawc not make a drawing of the whole stone but note down the heraldry of the shields then work up the drawing with the ‘wrong’ Havard shield?

Or are the Nadfas team right, and what we have here is a different stone altogether?


Because the Nadfas team are working in the Havard chapel the small chamber organ has been moved from its usual home between the chapel and the north transept, and this led to our great discovery of the visit. At the west end of the Havard chapel is a stone with the inscription


But after this, to our great excitement, we found a poem in Welsh. 1681 is very early for a Welsh inscription on a tombstone, though there is an even earlier one now behind the altar in the St Keyne’s Chapel (it’s worth remembering that most if not all of these stones have been moved, probably during the restoration of the church by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s and 1870s).

Here is David Joyce’s photograph of the poem.


A transcript:


My former colleague Gwen Awbery, who has done a lot of work on Welsh poetry on tombstones, points out that this is clearly an englyn. Her modern layout, with some modernised spelling, is as follows:

 Dyma’r lle deche duwiol – dan argraff
Y gorffwys corff gwraddol
Ioan rhodd lan rhinweddol
Nefol ddawn adawn ar d’ôl.

She suggests the following translation, with reservations:-

Here is the suitable holy place – under an inscription
That lies a (?? gwraddol) body.
John, a pure virtuous gift
Of heavenly blessing we leave after thee.


As she points out, it’s not clear how the various phrases interlock in the sentence/s, and there are alternative ways of breaking it up, eg:

Lies the (?? gwraddol) body
Of John, a pure virtuous gift.
Heavenly blessing we leave after thee.


The word ‘gwraddol’ has us puzzled. It isn’t written that clearly: as one can see from the photograph, the ‘ol’ is actually on the line above, but Gwen’s reading is the only one that makes sense and allows the lines to rhyme as they should. There is no ‘gwraddol’ in the online Geiriadur Prifysgol. Could it be a mis-carving for ‘graddol’, which can mean noble, dignified or just fine? This is high-flown language for the teenage son of a Brecon tanner: there must have been a poet among the family or their friends who could write in the traditional metres.


Gwen also pointed out that there was another later Welsh poem on a nineteenth-century ledgerstone in the centre of the nave. We didn’t spot this one, probably because we were concentrating on the earlier post-Reformation cross slabs. The inscription reads

Here Lyeth the Body of Evan son of Evan Philbedge by Joan his wife, and of this Town Inn Keeper, he departed this Life Febry ye 21st 1768

Here also lyeth the Body of Evan, second son of ye above nam’d, he departed this life the 20th of (Ju)ly 1773 aged 1 year & 10 months.

Our Infants sweet we hope to met
In Heaven before his Throne
All glory be to his Majesty
Who took them for his Own

And also lyeth the Body of the abovenamed Evan Philbdge, he departed this life the 4th of April 1784, aged 48 years.

Cofia DDyn wrth fyned heibio; Fel ty, di y finau fuo
Fel r’wyf fi tithau ddeui. Ystyr hyn mae marw wnadi


This one I found absolutely fascinating because it has one poem in English and one in Welsh. The Welsh poem is a variant of one Gwen has studied in detail ( in an article ‘Variation in a Traditional Welsh Commemorative Verse: the Role of Syntactic Ambiguity’ in Studia Celtica XLIII (2009), 175–200). The poem is the Welsh version of the English memento mori verse ‘Remember, man, as you pass by, As you are, so once was I; As I am so you will be; Remember death will come for thee’.

It may be that the only Welsh poem the family knew was the ‘Cofia ddyn wrth fyned heibio’ poem and thought it unsuitable for a child’s grave, though Gwen does mention examples of the Welsh poem on the graves of slightly older children.


Rhys James, one of my students who helped with the translation, feels that the English versions of this poem can become rigid and formulaic, while the number of different versions Gwen has found of the poem (and of many other commemorative poems found on tombstones) suggest that it was ‘more adaptable and fluid, easily suiting the needs of those that wrote it to commemorate their loved one differently’. This may in turn suggest differences in Welsh attitudes to death and commemoration.


While looking for something completely different (as you do) but thinking of Welsh poetry I found these photos of an eighteenth-century chest tomb in the churchyard at Gwyddelwern in Denbighshire, commemorating the Rev. Edward Wynne and his wife Jane.



This has a lovely combination of cherubs and memento mori (the hour glass – with cherub wings!), and with a chilling warning. The angel on the long side is the Angel of the Last Judgement, blowing a trumpet to wake the dead. The inscription reads ‘Codwch y meirw, Dowch i’r farn’ – ‘Awake, dead, come to the judgement’. According to Bede, these words were written (in Latin) by St Jerome. They appear in several medieval paintings of the Last Judgement. They also crop up in English in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and on a number of eighteenth-century gravestones but this is the only Welsh example that I know of.

Tracking this down I came across Robin Gwyndaf’s article (in Welsh) on the National Museum web site on poems on gravestones: .


We made some more discoveries on our field visit to Abergavenny this week (you really would think I knew every stone in Abergavenny by now, but my students still manage to surprise me). More on that in another posting.


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