Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Nevern Church and Celtic cross(es)

The famous "Bleeding Yews" of Nevern Church.

Many, many years ago (more than I care to remember) I came to Wales on holiday and was taken to Nevern. I can remember being shown the Bleeding Yews, and the Celtic Cross, and a terribly sad gravestone with entries for a family's children aged from newborn to 16 or 17. I don't know if any survived. Their parents outlived them all, heartbroken. I have searched for this gravestone since, but obviously recall it in a different position to where it actually is.

The list of vicars for Nevern dates from 1514 when John Batty was the incumbent. I used to work with a lovely man called David Batty - I wonder, were they related 500 years ago? Nevern, however, has been around far longer than the 1500s and indeed, was a sacred enclosure, or "llan" granted by a local Celtic chieftain - there is a hillfort on a local hill. Nevern is, like many Welsh churches, dedicated to St Brynach and indeed, the little booklet I purchased on the history of Nevern Church, suggests that the chieftain who granted the land was a kinsman of St Brynach's wife - he was named Clechre or Clether. In 547, further land was granted by Maelgwn Gwynedd, son of Cadwallon Lawhir.

Inside the church, set into the window aperture, a very feminine looking stone of Celtic interlace style, with a triquetra, a design often encountered in Insular art, and found in metalwork and on the ornate designs of the pages of illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells. Its Christian use stems from the three angles of the design representing the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

There is also the Maglocunus Stone, which has inscriptions in both Latin and Ogham (a primitive form of 'writing' which uses sloping bars across the sharp edge of a monument, and connected largely with Ireland and Irish colonisers in Wales, Isle of Man, Devon/Cornwall and the west coast of Scotland.) It predates the 5th century. Translated it means: "(The monument) of Maglocunua (Maelgwn) son of Clutorius." Not apparently the Maelgwn Gwynedd mentioned above.

Memorial to a much-loved wife and mother. A corner of the Maglocunus stone can just be seen, right.

Outside the church is the Vitalianus Stone, which also has inscriptions in Latin and Ogham and dates from the 5th century. The inscriptions, Latin: VITALIANI EMERETO /Ogham: VITALIANI are translated as "(The monument) of Vitalianus" Emereto possibly being a territorial adjective or a corruption derived from Emeritus "discharged with honour".

Above the Vitalianus stone is this curious little man face on a corbel, defaced probably in Cromwell's time for being seen as "Pagan".

The Celtic cross for which the church is justly famous is described as being one of the most perfect examples of its kind and it towers 13 feet in height. It dates back to the 10th or 11th century and the craftsmanship is echoed in Carew Cross which is a similar date. It is heavily decorated with ribbon interlace - symbolic of eternity. The east and west sides contain small panels containing short inscripions in half-uncial lettering. This link will show far better pictures than mine!

Legend has it that on the 7th April, the cuckoo is said to have perched on this stone, and Mass was delayed until its call was heard. One year the bird was late and so weak it could hardly call a note, subsequently falling dead. . .

A rather unpleasant verse on a tombstone within the churchyard remembers the infant children of the Rev. D Griffiths, who was Vicar at Nevern between 1783-1834. Anna Letitia and George were remembered thus:

"They tasted of life's bitter cup,
Refused to drink the potion up,
But turned their little heads aside,
Disgusted with the taste, and died."

Outside the church is an ancient mounting block, but I was unable to take a photograph this time as there were workman parked in front of it. Further up the valley are the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle and a Pilgrim's Cross cut into the rock on a nearby pathway which was a wayside shrine on the pilgrim's route from Holywell to St David's. (pictured below).


nita x said...

jennie lovely pics and history again, thank you :D i always learn something new when i visit your blog :o)

Val said...

a fascinating visit..Thank You

Mam said...

My goodness, you have been posting so prolifically, I can hardly keep up. The stone monuments and ruins of dwelling places are so fascinating. I may have to use some of these! I will let you know.
The ruins actually remind me of sights I've seen deep in the rural areas of the AMerican south. Not as ancient, but often yielding treasures from old times. Diggin in kitchen middens used to be one of my favorite pastimes. Much of the land is simply abandoned and there was no one to ask and no one to complain. Old tins, eyeglasses, ceramic and stoneward were sometimes found intact. I did have a fine collection of old doorknobs which was given away when I was "gypsying" around somewhere. I guess I do regret all the lovely mementos I've left behind me.