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Cardiff in the Dark Ages

Glamorgan after the fall of Rome

 

The former Romano-British aristocracy, whose leaders are portrayed in romantic legends, continued to resist the invaders for many years. Of these heroes, none is more famous than the immortal King Arthur. Stories from the Mabinogionand from Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Britons relate Cardiff to the mythical deeds of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In the Mabinogion we are told that Geraint followed the armed knight who had insulted Enid from Caerleon to Cardiff, where "at the extremity of the town they saw a fortress and a castle'. This story is further embellished with a local myth that the figure of a horseman, carved on the tenth century cross at St. Dochdwy's churchyard in Llandough, is that of Geraint. Another graphic tale comes from the pen of Geoffrey of Monmouth who described the flight of Lancelot from Cardiff, pursued by Arthur, Gawaine and 60,000 men.

These fables are interesting but of course entirely fictitious. The only real evidence comes from archaeology which suggests that the hill forts of South Glamorgan were frequently reoccupied and presumably refortified. Where necessary new camps, such as the Wenallt in Rhiwbina, were built to meet the menace of marauding raiders. (See; The Fifth Century Fort at Dinas Powis)

In time the area from Usk to Neath became the kingdom of Glywysing, named after Glywys, its earliest known king. Inevitably, the power of these petty rulers was curtailed by the ever encroaching presence of their Saxon neighbours. By the tenth century, while there is no hint of an Anglo-Saxon invasion on a permanent basis, it is clear that the kings of South Waleswere accepting the English monarch as their overlord. Morgan Hen, the ruler of Glywysing who died in 974, often visited the English court and campaigned with Athelstan against the Scots. It was after Morgan Hen's death that the kingdom of Glywysing became known as Morgannwg, the land of Morgan.

 

Further Research:

 

The Post-Roman gallery at the National Museum f Wales

Matthews J.H. (ed.) Cardiff Records, materials for the  

                    History of the County Borough vol. IV   

                    (Cardiff  1898-1911)

Knight J.K. ”Glamorgan AD 400-1100”, in “Glamorgan County

            History Vol. II”, ed. Glanmor Williams

           (Cardiff 1984).

 

The Fifth Century Fort at Dinas Powis

 

The most important fort of the Dark Ages in Glamorgan is sited at Dinas Powis on a hill overlooking Michaelston-le-Pit.It became the stronghold of a local chief in the fifth century, replacing an earlier prehistoric fort abandoned during the Roman period. Its ramparts, 10 feet in breadth, were capped with a wooden pallisade and surrounded by a deep ditch. Within these formidable defences there were timber buildings, including a hall which the ruler probably used as his residence. Traces of animal remains and wheat indicate that there was no shortage of food, and it is possible that peasant farmers paid tribute to the chief in return for his protection. Industrial activity was quite intensive: iron and bronze were worked; glass was manufactured; and the fashioning of jewellery and brooches points to the employment of skilled craftsmen.

As the glory of Rome collapsed, so the luxuries of its civilisation faded into oblivion. Yet, despite the fall of the Empire, the community at Dinas Powis continued to trade with the Mediterranean world. Fragments of pottery from Gaul, Africa and the Aegeanhave been found, while the presence of amphorae reveals that wine was still being imported. Tintagel in Cornwall, another location associated with King Arthur, has been suggested as a possible market for these luxury items. At Dinas Powis and places like it, the inhabitants attempted to continue their Roman life-style, albeit on a more primitive scale.

We can not  be sure who lived at this residence, or whether it was one of a number of homes belonging to the ruler of the region. When the Romans departed, a battle for territory was fought between the intruders, who came mainly from Ireland, and the native population. Out of this chaos emerged so-called kingdoms, though frequently these monarchs presided over a district smaller than that ruled by a tribal chief in the Iron Age. (See also: Glamorgan after the fall of Rome)

 

Further Research:

 

Knight J.K. ”Glamorgan AD 400-1100”, in “Glamorgan County

            History Vol. II”, ed. Glanmor Williams

           (Cardiff 1984).

 

Early Christianity in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire

 

In the chaotic world which followed the collapse of Rome, the Christian Church saved civilised society from complete disintegration. There are a number of legends relating to the arrival of Christianity in South Wales but few of them can be regarded as reliable evidence. Certainly the tradition that two Christians, Aaron and Julius, were martyred at Caerleon, during the reign of Diocletian, can safely be discounted.

Welsh Christianity had its origins during the Roman occupation and, when the legions departed, monasteries were founded throughout the Celtic world by various saints. So numerous were they that 20,000 of them are supposed to have been buried at BardseyIsland in North Wales. The saints took shelter in the llan, an enclosure in which they built their monastery and church but, as these buildings were made from wood, wattle and daub, it is not surprising that they have disappeared. The missionaries used their monastery as a base from which they were able to travel freely among their fellow Celts in Ireland, Scotland and Brittany.

Sometimes anecdotes from the lives of the saints throw some light on the beginnings of the Church in Glamorgan, and place names too may point to the identity of the missionary who founded a particular religious community. However, as the parochial system of Wales was a twelfth century creation of the Normans, a parish is also likely to be named after a saint of their choosing.

Thus the church of St. Mellons to the east of Cardiff was dedicated by the Normans to the first Bishop of Rouen. At the same time there is a legend that St. Mellonius, born about 257, was a native of Cardiff and later settled in Gaul. Nor can St. Ffagan be credited with the founding of the parish which bears his name to the west of Cardiff. It was the twelfth century chronicler, Geoffrey of Monmouth, who claimed that Ffagan and his companion, Dyfan, "purged away the paganism of well-nigh the whole island', but his fulsome praise is dependent on a dubious tale from the second century. The association of St. Canna with Canton rests on a tradition that she preached and sang to her congregation from a bridge at Pontcanna. It is, however, much more likely that the district of Canton took its name from the de Canetune family who held estates there in the thirteenth century.

There are parishes where it appears more likely that the place name is derived from the earliest missionary to visit the district. St. Edeyrn, for example, not only established churches in Brittanyand North Wales, but probably built the first church at Llanedeyrn in the fifth century. While the dating may be somewhat early, the Roman road passed close to the River Rhymney and could have been the route which not only drew Edeyrn to Glamorgan but other missionaries as well. Likewise, the Faith may have been brought to Llanishen and Llysfaen by St. Isan, a monk from Llantwit Major. Ffynon Llandennis, in the wild garden at RoathPark, is an ancient site where Isan possibly established his mission. On the other hand, LlysfaenChurch was dedicated by the Normans to St. Denis which was their name for St.Isan.

Even where it is known that monasteries existed, little archaeological evidence remains. In the mid-seventh century, two of the most famous religious houses in Glamorgan were at Llancarfan and Llantwit. Nothing survives of St. Cadoc's foundation at Llancarfan but two ninth century crosses at Llantwit, commemorating the kings of Glywysing, suggest that the monastery could have been located on a royal estate. A third religious community was established at Llandough by St. Dochdwy, an Irish missionary who seems to have used the erstwhile Roman villa for his llan. In time all these Celtic foundations, so prominent in the Dark Ages, were to be eclipsed by the Church of Llandaff. (See also: Llandaff Cathedral)

 

Further Research:

 

Knight J.K. ”Glamorgan AD 400-1100”, in “Glamorgan County

            History Vol. II”, ed. Glanmor Williams

            (Cardiff 1984)

Baring-Gould S. & Fisher J. The Lives of the British 

                            Saints Vols. II& III (London

                            1913)

Matthews J.H. (ed.) Cardiff Records, materials for the  

                    History of the County Borough vol. V   

                    (Cardiff  1898-1911)

 

The Origins of Llandaff Cathedral


The Book of Llandaff is the primary source for much of the early history of the diocese of llandaff. To some extent it is a contemporary work, but unfortunately it was "edited' with twelfth century forgeries, designed to emphasise the influence and importance of Llandaff. While these insertions do not invalidate the entire content of the book, it does mean that the work can not be accepted unequivocally, and the claim that the Church was founded by Lucius in 180 is certainly a mediaeval fabrication. Even so, Llandaff is a site of great antiquity and some years ago excavations under the western part of the cathedral revealed pre-Christian burials from the Roman era.

The origins of Llandaff Cathedral will always be associated with St. Teilo. The Book of Llandaff tells us that Teilo established his monastery on the banks of the Taff and it is from the river that the cathedral gains its name. Within his llan, Teilo built a small church of wood or whitewashed stone, measuring 28 feet by 15. Such precision arouses suspicion of its authenticity and nothing remains of the "little minster'. At the same time, Llandaff was a convenient place for a religious settlement. The river could be forded with ease at this point and not far away were the Roman road and the prehistoric trackway. In addition to satisfactory communications, the hollow where the cathedral now stands was probably deliberately chosen to give protection against unwelcome intruders.

There are few archaeological reminders of the pre-Norman Church at Llandaff. Apart from two isolated stones above the west door, the only other memorial is a tenth century wheel-headed cross. It had been embedded in the wall of a shed and was discovered in the garden of the Bishop's Palace in 1870.

Modern illustrations on a thirteenth century tomb, which may be that of Teilo, portray legendary scenes from his life. One of these stories relates to the Lord of Landeleau in Brittany who promised to give the Church all the land which Teilo could traverse between sunrise and sunset. Teilo, mounted on a stag, rode a great distance and that is the reason, so it is said, why the parish of Landeleau is the largest in Brittany.

Even more bizarre is the legend of the dispute following Teilo's death in 569. Llandaff, Penally and Llandeilo all claimed his body for burial. The monks sought guidance through prayer and, on entering the church, they found three identical bodies awaiting burial. For centuries, it was claimed that great miracles were worked at Teilo's shrine in Llandaff and the anniversary of his festival, 9 February, was celebrated with a fair. Miracles are commonly attributed to the early saints, Saxon as well as Celtic. Yet there can be little doubt of Teilo's missionary zeal, since he founded at least 35 churches in Glamorgan, Gwent, Dyfed and Powis.

Llandaff came under Viking attacks in 894 and again in 915. From the Anglo-Saxon Chroniclewe learn that the pirate host under their two earls, Ohtor and Hraold, sailed to the Severn "and harried in Wales at will everywhere along its banks'. At Archenfield, where Ross-on Wye now stands, the Danes seized Cyfeiliog, the Bishop of Llandaff, and held him hostage until Edward, the son of Alfred the Great, paid a ransom of £40.

Before the Norman Conquest, Llandaff was already the focus of religious life in Glamorgan. It had achieved this position through grants of land made by the rulers of Glywysing, Gwent and Dyfed. The Book of Llandaff almost certainly exaggerates the rights and privileges of the Church. If the King of Morgannwg behaves wrongly "to Teilo, his man, or his vassal', it is claimed," he should come to the white house of Llandaff to do justice and right, and to undergo judgement for the wrong done'. In reality the Church was subordinate to the secular rulers of Morgannwg. Spiritually it retained its independence, but with few if any formal links to Canterburyuntil after the Norman Conquest, Llandaff was akin to a tribal church. It held its estates through the King's consent

  While war, disorder and lawlessness were rife, the saints presented a gospel message which urged feuding princes to keep the peace and avoid bloodshed. Like Arthur's Camelot, monasteries such as Llandaff were beacons of light in a brutal world, striving to maintain civilisation in an age of darkness.(See also: Early Christianity in Glamorgan & Monmouthshire & The Vikings in South Wales)  

 

Further Research:

 

Thomas E.S. Pictorial History of Llandaff Cathedral  

            (London 1970)

Fenn R.W.D. “The pre-Norman Diocese of Llandaff” in “The    

             Story of the Church in Glamorgan 560-1160” 

             ed. Davies E.T.  (London 1962)

 

The Vikings in South Wales

 

During the eighth century a new menace threatened both the Anglo-Saxon and the Celtic peoples, as Viking raids became increasingly savage and prolonged. The monk at Lindisfarne wrote in 793: "Like terrible wolves, the pagans robbed, tore and slaughtered ... They trampled the holy places with their foul feet and seized all the treasures of the holy church'.

Llandaff was attacked in 894 and again in 915. From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle we learn that the pirate host under their two earls, Ohtor and Hraold, sailed to the Severn "and harried in Wales at will everywhere along its banks'. At Archenfield, where Ross-on Wye now stands, the Danes seized Cyfeiliog, the Bishop of Llandaff, and held him hostage until Edward, the son of Alfred the Great, paid a ransom of £40. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle makes it clear that the Welsh were dependent on English aid against the terrible common foe. During the raid of 915, the Danes camped on Steepholm where many of their number died from hunger. Flatholm too was occupied by the Vikings, while it is possible that Sully was a base for the repairing of ships and the planning of raids. Certainly the Bristol Channel became too risky for normal travel and the Bishops of Llandaff journeyed to Canterburyfor their consecration. No longer was it safe for Irish bishops to visit Wales to perform this ceremony.

Despite their bloodthirsty image the Vikings were renowned as merchants and traders. They built forts and towns near rivers, thereby creating a ring of Scandinavian markets from Irelandto Russia. The Danes may have established a settlement near the Roman fort at Cardiff, though archaeological proof is lacking and the speculation largely rests on the presence of Scandinavian place names in and around Cardiff. Thus

Womanby Street
, close to the fort and the river, is derived from the Norse Hundemanby, meaning the strangers' quarter. This may have been a trading post and other Viking origins are implied in the names given to
Working Street
,
Wharton Street
and
Dumballs Road
.

The Scandinavian incursions created increasing instability in the Kingdom of Morgannwg. In 1052 brigands set up a camp at BarryIsland before pillaging the church of St. Gwynllwy, though divine retribution may have befallen them as they were shipwrecked on the way home. It was not only the Danes who had become a threat to peace in South Wales, since the Prince of Gwynedd and the sons of Earl Godwin of Wessex also fell upon Morgannwg, often aided by Viking mercenaries.

Inevitably these attacks undermined the stability of the Welsh kings. Petty bickering and feuding among themselves did nothing to ease their plight. Morgannwg could only survive while more powerful neighbours displayed tolerance and left it in relative peace. After 1066 it was merely a matter of time before William the Conqueror extended his authority into Wales and the tiny Kingdom of Morgannwg disappeared.

 

Further Research:

 

Knight J.K. ”Glamorgan AD 400-1100”, in “Glamorgan County

             History Vol. II”, ed. Glanmor Williams

             (Cardiff 1984).