St. Patrick (Padrig) in Wales

Everybody knows that St. Patrick (Padrig) is the patron saint of Ireland, but many don’t realize that he was actually born in what is now Wales. During the Roman occupation of Britain, many Britons converted to Christianity, and they were among the first to set out to preach Christianity to a pagan world. St. Patrick, or Padrig as he is known in Welsh, was born sometime in the late 4th or early 5th century. He attests in his own writings that his birth name was Maewyn Succat and he was born in the town of Bannavem Taburniae. Many towns all over Britain claim to be Padrig’s birthplace, but the most credible is the village of Banwen, in Wales’ Dulais Valley. By his own account, when he was 16 years old, Padrig was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a Read more…


Castell Aberlleiniog

We keep a map of all the places we hear about in Wales that might be worth seeing, and on one of our trips, at the end of a beautiful day, we pulled up our map to find one last place to visit: Castell Aberlleiniog! [Before 15 minutes ago, I had never heard of this castle, but it was built by one of the vassals of the Earl of Chester, back in 1088, right after the Norman conquest.\ [Aberlleniog was one of the motte and bailey castles built by Robert of Rhuddlan in his attempt to conquer Gwynedd in the 11th century.] Aberlleniog is thus an early Norman castle, constructed during a time when the Earl of Chester was authorizing the building of motte and bailey castles all over Gwynedd. [This castle actually sits directly across from the motte at Read more…


The Knights Hospitaller

The Hospitallers are one of several monastic orders, along with the Templars, that arose out of the crusades. While the Templars’ mandate was to protect pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem, the Hospitallers, known officially as The Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, charged themselves with caring for sick, ill, or injured pilgrims. The Hospitallers, in fact, were founded first, arising in 1113 as a reform movement within the Benedictine Order, intended to strengthen religious devotion and charity for the poor. Within a few decades, the Hospitallers added a military component that over time took precedence over their charitable arm. Hospitaller knights played a significant role in the Siege of Ascalon of 1153, for example. By 1291, after the fall of Jerusalem, the Hospitallers moved to Rhodes, and became almost entirely a military order. Read more…


Ysbyty Cynfyn

Ysbyty Cynfyn was a hospital of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. It is located along the pilgrim road to St. David’s and, later in history, to Strata Florida Abbey. It consists today of a church, dedicated to St John, situated within a wall that incorporates ancient standing stones. This is one of three standing stones built into the churchyard wall. Their presence indicates that the medieval church may have been built over a pagan site. The fact that the churchyard is circular is a further indication that worship has taken place here for possibly thousands of years. On the other side of the Rheidol gorge (accessed by a stiff hike, not for the faint of heart!) are the remains of a bronze age burial mound that has eroded away to reveal the stone circle Read more…


Dolforwyn Castle

Dolforwyn is a medieval castle built by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last prince of Wales, between 1273 and 1277 for a recorded cost of £174. It is located in Powys above the village of Abermule with commanding views of the Severn Valley. It was constructed in order to counter the power of the Mortimer family, whose castle of Montgomery is two miles to the northeast near the current Wales/England border. Dolforwyn castle was designed more as an outpost of Llywelyn’s domains rather than as a luxurious seat, as was the case with some other of Llywelyn’s castles, like Criccieth or Castell y Bere. It covered an area 240 feet by 90 feet, and consisted of two wards divided by a rock cut ditch. A rectangular keep sat at the southwest end with a circular tower on the northeast. These were Read more…


The Bards of Wales

Bards have been crucial to the culture of Wales for millenia. I would hardly be the first to recognize that the Welsh, as a people, have an affinity for music. Anyone who has heard a stadium full of football supporters singing the Welsh national anthem with full harmonies can see that. What might be less well-known is that the history of Welsh music dates back to the middle ages and beyond, as evidenced not only by the poems and songs left to us by bards throughout the ages, but by the Welsh language itself. In fact, the English word bard is derived from the Welsh word bardd. The tradition of a bardic class can be traced to Celtic times when no distinct line was drawn between a druid and a bard. Upon the advent of Christianity, however, the role of Read more…


Aberystwyth Castle

Aberystwyth Castle is located on the west coast of Wales, and is the only castle of King Edward’s iron Ring of castles that he built in Ceredigion. The castle guards the coastline, as well as entry into the mountains to the east. The first fortification at Aberystwyth was an iron age hill fort, which was occupied for about 300 years, into the first century BC. Other fortifications followed, although the first true castle, known today as Tan-y-castell, wasn’t built until the 12th century. Traces of that castle, which was constructed in earth and wood, are still visible above the River Ystwyth to the south of the current castle. Tan- y -castell was burned by Gruffydd ap Rhys, King of Deheubarth and then rebuilt by Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd of Gwynedd, King Owain Gwynedd’s wayward brother, when he took over Ceredigion after Read more…


Sacred Groves

Historically, many cultures cultivated sacred groves, including the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as the Celts. We recently were able to eat lunch in an oak grove above St. Cybi’s well. This 360 degree video will let you look around the grove while I talk. We are sitting in a grove of oak trees, but throughout history sacred trees could be of many kinds, depending on the locality. The Greeks had a sacred cyprus grove at the Temple of Zeus at Nemea and an olive grove at the temple of Athena on Rhodes. There was a sacred fir grove near Croton in southern Italy, and a laurel grove on the road to Ostia. In Roman law, cutting down trees in a sacred grove was punishable by death. For the Celts, living in more northern climates the sacred groves were Read more…


Kidwelly Castle

Kidwelly Castle was built by the Normans in the 12th century to control the Welsh of Deheubarth and south Wales. the castle was built above the River Gwendraeth and the town of Kidwelly. Today it consists of a square inner bailey defended by four round towers. It is further protected by a semi-circular outer curtain wall on the landward side, with a massive gatehouse next to the river. A jutting tower protects the riverside walls, making the castle an impenetrable fortress. You might have seen Kidwelly Castle in the opening scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail but it had a long history before that. Initially, it was a motte and bailey castle, meaning it was built in wood on top of a man-made hill and surrounded by a wooden palisade. In the early 12th century the castle was Read more…


The Antonine Wall

While most people have heard of Hadrian’s wall, which was begun in 122 AD at the behest of Emperor Hadrian, fewer people are familiar with the Antonine wall, which was constructed on the orders of his successor, Antonius Pius. The Antonine wall is a turf wall built by the Roman legions, starting in 142 AD, across the belt of Scotland from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth. With a length of 39 miles, the wall was on average ten feet high and sixteen feet wide. To further augment the defenses, the Romans dug out a deep ditch on the north side and built a wooden palisade along the top of the wall. The wall took twelve years to build and included 19 forts. We have visited both Bar Hill, and Rough Castle, which is the best preserved Read more…


St. Beuno’s Pistyll

St. Beuno’s Pistyll was founded by St. Beuno, who was a sixth century saint credited with establishing churches throughout Wales. He founded a large church with a healing well at Clynnog Fawr, some 8 and half miles from Pistyll, but would come to Pistyll for quiet and recuperation from his missionary work. It is said that two stones of the current church, which dates to the 15th century, are from that original early church. One is a cornerstone and the second is the threshold of the original door. The font within the current church is from the 11th century. The interior also features a five-bay arch-braced roof dating to the 15th century. It is still possible to see the holes for the ropes which secured the thatch in the timbers. Slate replaced the thatched roof in the early 20th century. Read more…


Caernarfon Town Walls

This is a 360 degree video of the Caernarfon town walls! You can use your mouse/finger to move around the video as you watch it. After King Edward conquered Wales in 1282, he wanted to control the country and its people more than just militarily and politically. He also wanted to control it socially and economically. To do that, first he built his iron ring of castles, of which Caernarfon Castle was meant to be the central jewel, and then he established walled towns, populated by English settlers, through which all commerce in the country had to take place. In order to build the towns, the native Welsh were evicted, and because Welsh people were not allowed inside the walls, the language of commerce and government was English or French, not Welsh. The Caernarfon town walls were built in stone, Read more…