Canwyll y Cymry

(the Candle of the Welsh)

The Welsh Stone Forum is a loose-knit association of people with an interest in – yes – stone in Wales. Any kind of stone, any kind of interest – geologists, architects, builders, stone wallers, quarry workers. They nobly accommodate historians like me, who can’t tell Doulting from Dundry but are interested in how the stone ends up, in sculpture and tombstones. Their field visits are informal and highly informative.

We had a day looking at stone in some of the churches west of Cardiff: St Fagan’s, Sully and Michaelston-le-pit. All are complex buildings with a range of local stones and a lot of Victorian restoration using stones brought from outside (Bath stone, Doulting, Ham Hill, all quarries with railway access).  There was also some interesting use of varied decorative stones, especially in things like war memorials.

By the time we got to Sully the discussion of the different features of Jurassic, Triassic and Liassic limestone had gone some way above my head and I did wander off to look at the tombstones in the graveyard. It’s a very Anglicised area but there were a couple with Welsh inscriptions. The first I spotted was this


– virtually indecipherable though you can make out in the first line

…mae dyn … (‘Man is …’)

And a bit further on

… O’r carchar  (‘from the grave …’)

And at the end

Dan erlyn trwy …  (under prosecution …)

… yn dull draw’r bedd  (on the way to the grave)

– cheerful stuff! A good Welsh speaker could probably read more – in fact, Gwen Awbery has probably got the whole thing in her database.

Now adjoining the south wall of the church is a very odd slab.


It’s slate (not a local stone) with a lovely death’s head and hour glass.


In the scroll is a badly-written inscription in mixed upper and lower case … DEAth is GON Ye LIFE IS DUN

It commemorates a Mary Tanner wife of Walter who died in 1694 aged 74. There are other names lower down the stone but I couldn’t make them out.

Just west of this is another with a Welsh inscription.


It’s badly worn but a bit of googling when I got home identified it as a quote from Canwyll y Cymry, the Welshman’s Candle.

Nyn dy lamp, a gwisg dy drwsiad,
Cyn del angeu’n agos attad ;
Gwna dy gownt a’th gyfri’n barod,
Cyn dy alw o flaen y Drindod

(another warning – Trim your lamp and dress before death comes near to you;  make your account ready before you are called before the Trinity)

Canwyll y Cymry  was a collection of simple poems on religion and morality by the famous Rhys Prichard (c 1579-1644), vicar of Llandovery. The slab commemorates William Thomas, who died 21 March 1777 aged 61. It’s interesting to find that Canwyll y Cymry was sufficiently well-known in south-east Glamorgan at that date to feature on a tombstone. Inscribed round the bottom of the slab is


Yr udgorn a gân a’r meirw yng Ngrist gyfodant yn gyntaf

( a mixture of 1 Corinthians 15, ‘The trumpet shall sound’, and 1 Thessalonians 4, ‘The dead in Christ shall rise first’). These rather mixed-up Bible quotes also crop up in wall paintings and make one wonder about the design process. Did people ask for something they could remember, and did they remember it wrong, or did they deliberately mesh two or more quotes to get the exact message they wanted?

We had a good dither about this one near the priest’s door – might it be medieval?


No inscription – but it’s clearly made of 3 slabs, so we decided it was Victorian, presumably part of a bigger monument with the inscription on the headstone.

The south door is medieval, made of rough Sutton stone, with a lot of crosses scratched in it.


And there were some cute cherubs at Michaelston. This one


inside the church, on a wall memorial to a small child and this one with huge fairy-like wings


outside, also one a wall memorial.

All in all, a good day. And I am starting to get the hang of the simpler aspects of lithology as well.


One thought on “Canwyll y Cymry

  1. Pingback: More on Llanblethian | Welsh Tomb Carvings

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