More on Llanblethian

The big excitement at Llanblethian was the crypt – see But we also had a look in the churchyard and Amy spotted some more Welsh poetry on three flat tombstones, to the south-east of the church. I’m really not good at deciphering damaged and worn stones with Welsh inscriptions but with the help of a bit of googling when we got home I identified two of them. Both are verses from the inscription on the grave of Theomemphus in the epic poem of that name by the great Welsh hymn-writer William Williams Pantycelyn. They only appear in later editions of the poem and are thought to be by his son, the Rev. John Williams, but here they are on two gravestones from 1794 and they do seem to have been planned as a pair.

The first is on a rather overgrown stone that is overlaid by another stone above it.


It commemorates William Rhys of Tyr … in the parish of Coity who died on 25 Feb. 1794. He has the first verse from Theomemphus:


Wel dyma’r dyn a garwyd, a ganwyd yn y gwa’d,
Deng miliwn lawn o feiau faddeuwyd iddo’n rhad;
Ei dynnu wnawd o’r danllwyth, ac yntau yn myn’d i lawr,
Fe gadwyd hwn o uffern, mae e’n y nef yn awr.

(Well, here is the man who was loved, who was cleansed in blood,
Ten million sins were freely forgiven to him;
To keep him from the blazing fire and from going below,
He was kept from Hell, he is now in Heaven)

(I have corrected my translations with the aid of Eifion Evans’s Pursued by God, which is a verse translation of part of Williams’s poem, but I have tried to give a more literal reading. I’m also grateful to my Welsh teacher for checking my conclusions.)

The second tombstone, to the south of the first,


commemorates Catherine, wife of Jonathan Masey (elsewhere Meazey) of Llanblethian and daughter of John Thomas of Wernfawr in Ystradowen. She died on 29 September 1794, aged 32.


Her grave has the second verse of the Theomemphus poem:


Fi ga fy nghorph i fynu, fel fy Anwylyd cu,
Heb nwydau drwg byth mwyach i’m blino fel y bu;
Does dyn wyr is yr wybr, ddedwydded yw fy lle,
Ac nis gall dyn ddych’mygu dim am bleserau’r ne’.

(My body will be raised, like my dear Beloved,
With no more evil desires to weary me as I was;
No man beneath the heavens can know, blessed is my place,
And no man can imagine anything about the pleasures of Heaven.)


(for the whole thing see )

I can’t find out any more about William Rhys (might go back with a trowel and clear a bit more of the earth from the tombstone and see if I can get the name of his farm). Catherine and Jonathan appear on online family trees at   and Both came from Ystradowen but seem to have moved to Llanblethian by the time they married. She was his second wife and he married a third wife in 1797. This was not heartless: he was farming, he had a young family, he needed a business partner to run the house, the dairy etc and look after the next generation. Her tombstone also commemorates two of her grandchildren, Richard and Catherine, children of her son William Meazey and his wife Jane. Llanblethian was not a strongly Welsh-speaking area in the late 18th century. Ystradowen is a little to the north, but still in the Vale of Glamorgan, traditionally an anglicised area.

Theomemphus was first published in 1764. It was very popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and went through several reprints. The third verse of the poem from Theomemphus’s grave  was used on William Williams’s own tomb at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn.He died in 1791 so the poem would have had some publicity then and it seems to have been well known in south-west Wales. Part of it was reworked in a later hymn, but not as far as I can see the first verse. So this is  a bit like those lines from Canwyll y Cymru  at Sully ( , a bit of serious Welsh poetry with a fascinating back story in what you would think was a very Anglicised area.

There was a third very worn stone with fragments of Welsh visible but I couldn’t make much of it though it’s probably on Gwen Awbery’s database. It doesn’t seem to be the third verse of the Theomemphus poem. It might be worth going back after dark and trying with a raking light.



The Llanblethian crypt

The church at Llanblethian in the Vale of Glamorgan is the old parish church for the borough of Cowbridge. In the Middle Ages the parish included as chapelries the modern parishes of Llansannor and Welsh St Donats as well as Llanquian, now just a farm off the roundabout east of Cowbridge. It looks feasibly like the minster church of a small Welsh commote. As such it has a good collection of medieval tombstones – I counted ten, plus the little one that was once built into the piscina but is now missing, and a savagely mutilated effigy that was built into the 15th century tower.

Some of the stones are difficult to spot, so when I went there with the Cardiff Archaeological Society I challenged them to find them all. They did it, and even found an extra, reused as a lintel in the crypt.


The visible part of the stone measures 55 x 40 cm maximum, but it is clearly built into the wall with a full length of at least 90 cm. Here is a view of the window


The crypt at Llanblethian has all sorts of stories attached to it.


When the church was ‘restored’ in 1896 the crypt was found to be full of skeletons, together with some coffin lids, presumably those now placed in the tower and porch. Local tradition says that the skeletons were those of soldiers killed at the battle of Stalling Down in 1405. It seems more likely, though, that this was the parish charnel house, and that it held skulls and bones found in the course of grave-digging: these are the bone-holes through which they would have been shovelled.


The bones were reburied in a common grave in the churchyard, and it seems unlikely that it will ever be possible to re-excavate and examine them.

As well as the communal crypt, the church had a separate stone-lined shaft which contained a skeleton and a small low-grade pewter chalice. This was presumably the grave of a much-respected parish priest, with the chalice as his emblem of office.


Covering the shaft, though, was a reused tomb stone commemorating a woman, Eme…t wife of Walter Torig.


The carving on the stone was late 13th century in style and the priest’s grave was probably fourteenth century, so the stone must have been reused quite soon after it was laid in its original position. Medieval people were quite relaxed about reusing tomb carvings – they crop up as door and window lintels and they made particularly good steps.

The detailed study of what was found in the church in 1895 is in Archaeologia Cambrensis for 1898, available online at .

Brecon (again)

A trip to Brecon always seems to produce something new, especially with my sharp-eyed cousin Amy. To be fair, these are a bit niche – but is this


a medieval cross slab? From the floriated base


and the lack of any visible inscription it could well be. There’s a bit of one fleur-de-lis finial on the head.


Not totally convinced by this one –


the inscription could be hidden.

This beauty is clearly post-medieval


and a chilling reminder.

This in the north transept


could be medieval from the simplicity of the stepped base.

The cathedral cat led us to some fine 20th century tombs outside.


And finally – Amy spotted this


as the lintel of a niche in the west wall.

But oh dear, oh dear, oh dear –


what can we do to stop them piling seats, flower-arranging clutter and buckets on the stones?

Friends of Friendly Churches

To my way of thinking, a Friendly Church is one that is open on a gloomy Sunday in the depths of December. So with some optimism my sharp-eyed French cousin and I set off to look at a clutch of FFC churches just east of Usk. We got to Gwernesney and the door was firmly shut. Asked at Church Farm … asked at the next house … cute dogs, no idea about keys. Then Amy gave the door a good thump and it opened. O we of little faith.

And it was worth the wait. A typical Friends’ church, unassuming and full of interest.

Quite a lot of the rood screen left, with some lovely post-medieval stencilling and decoration.




with fragments of poetry

(can’t make out the inscription on this one)

and a clutch of rectors and their families in the chancel.


Then we tracked back to Llangyfiw.

This has the skeleton of its rood screen including the support beam.

Typical Welsh construction, very boxy, with joists rather than vaulting under the huge loft. But the great excitement here was this another of those post-Reformation cross slabs.

It has a date 1595, the IHS trigram at the heart of the cross and the scrolled base characteristic of north Gwent cross slabs of the period.

But the head is rather awkwardly done,

the lower part not carved in, and with an unusual frilled semicircular border with projecting fleurs-de-lis. Could this be the work of an apprentice who had gone on to establish his own workshop?

And finally to Llangwm, the jewel in the crown of the Friends’ churches in south-east Wales. It’s best known for its rood screen

but there is a lot else as well – green men, lovely tiles in the chancel. And outside Amy spotted this.

Just a groove made by the gate, or the remains of another tombstone?

Oh, and the King’s Head in Usk managed a vegan meal in spite of being all booked up with people for Sunday lunch. A good day.

Care of the Monuments

My friend Howard Williams (prof of archaeology at Chester University, tweets as @howardmrw, blogs as Archaeodeath:  has been tweeting some rather alarming photos of the Cistercian abbey of Valle Crucis near Llangollen (see

Valle Crucis, now in the care of Wales’s heritage organisation Cadw, is not our most spectacular Cistercian ruin but it is probably the best-preserved. Tucked away in a remote valley, and in an area with plenty of good building stone, it escaped the depredations both of border fighting and of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It also has one of the best collections of medieval tomb carvings in Wales. Most of these are in the monks’ dormitory, which has been restored but is pretty much intact. On his last visit, Howard found the whole area filthy with bird droppings and a dead bird in the corner (photos on his Twitter feed). He was subsequently told by Cadw that the area was supposed to be closed for ‘deep cleaning’. This made us sadly uneasy: we should be confident that Cadw would not be muscling around with scrubbing brushes and scouring powder, but sometimes we worry.

Now, Howard and I both have this strange fascination with tomb carvings. Not so much the hulking great effigy tombs of the medieval elite, but the humbler cross slabs and incised stones of people who were important in their own district. Priests, traders, minor gentry. And yes, a lot of these stones commemorate women. Welsh stones are more likely to have inscriptions than the English ones, so it is a little easier to track down who they commemorate and start to build a picture of the local community.

We don’t expect everyone to share this bizarre passion: but we do expect Cadw to look after the sites and artefacts in its care. The problem is that it doesn’t always seem to be happening. Tomb carvings at Tintern are also being damaged: both Howard and I have blogged about this (, At Margam, not a Cadw site but under its supervision, some particularly interesting tomb carvings have been earthed over to protect them. This isn’t ideal either, as if their locations are not properly recorded there is a danger that they could be damaged by heavy machinery going over them.

So what is to be done? Cadw is short of funds these days, as are all heritage organisations. But it seems there is still money for things like animated carvings of dragons and that disastrous Iron Ring sculpture. Another recent Twitter debate looked at yet another scheme to construct a replica Roman fort. Should we be celebrating our defeats, or should we be concentrating on the things we achieved?

Part at least of the problem is the current funding framework. Money goes not for long-term maintenance, still less for research, but for superficially exciting projects. There’s a lot of talk about engagement and ownership, and a suspicion that the money goes to those who can write good funding bids. Don’t think of a worthwhile project then cast around for funding; look at the funding streams and see what will push their buttons. Give start-up funding to worthwhile projects then pull the funding when they get going. Spend money and effort ‘engaging’ with those who really don’t want to be engaged, because working with those who are already interested is elitist.

Advertise, or go under.