Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Cenarth and the stone of Curcagnus, an Early Christian Monument

Walking up from the river in Cenarth, you pass this pretty wee cottage with its garden full of Cosmos, still happily flowering.

Up the little hill and past the pub with its coracle on the wall.

Originally made from animal skins, stretched over a wooden framework of Ash or Willow, more modern coracles have a canvas covering, covered with tar or bitumen.  They would have been used in Britain long before the Romans arrived, and are still used in Wales upon three rivers - the Taf, the Teifi and the Towy.  Until late Victorian times they were in regular use upon the River Severn at Iron-Bridge, to avoid the toll on the famous road bridge.  More information can be found HERE.  There is a National Coracle Museum just across the road from the pub, but we didn't go there on this occasion.

Instead we made our way uphill to the Church of St Llawdogg.  Terra asked if it is still in use and I can reply in the affirmative.

Its great age as a religious site is suggested by the circle of yew trees, and the curcilinear churchyard.  It is situated just 100m away from the motte of Parc-y-domen.

This Medieval font dates from the late 12th - early 13th C and has faces around the bowl (5 in total), and these reminded me of the ancient Iron Age tricephallic stones (there is one inCarmarthen Museum in fact).  Its original site was St Tysilio's church, Llandisiliogogo.  The design is described as wave moulding with 4 human masks in relief.  There are some other photos HERE.
Moving things around seems to have been a habit in this area, as the wonderful Early Christian Monument in the churchyard - known as Maenchlochog 1 - was originally recorded (many miles away) as being at Llandeilo Church, where it was only 400m or so north-west of the church, close by Temple Druid Farm.  Nancy Edwards, in her Corpus of Early Inscribed Stones and Stone Scuptures in Wales, says that one source suggested it had been found 'at no great distance from a very large old camp'.  This was written down in 1776.  The 'old camp' gave both Bwlch y Clawdd and Temple Druid their names, although little other than a crop mark survives today.  However, inside this 'camp' there was a Neolithic chambered tomb (long gone) and two possible prehistoric standing stones. Perhaps this stone may have formed part of the Neolithic tomb or approach.

It is inscribed with the letters: CVRCAGNI FILIANDAGELLI and dated late 5th/first half of the 6th century.

This is translated as being: 'of Curcagnus son of Andagellus'.  Nancy Edwards suggests that this language is from the Irish Period 7 and the names are linked with other Llandeilo stones, including one with ANDAGELLIMACUCAVETI  and Ogham inscription on it. 

Her suggestion is that the ending of 'agni' suggests that Curcagni was probably an Irishman, late 5th/early 6th C, when the Irish aristocracy were resident in West Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.  For a much more detailed and scholarly analysis, and comparison stones, consult Nancy Edwards' tome on this topic!

And sideways on, to give you a chance to read it!

Just down from the church is this ancient Alehouse which is on the site of the alehouse originally built by members of the monastic cell set up by St Llawddog.  We must remember that in those days, ale was brewed for something safe to drink, water often being contaminated.

 St Llawddog's details I have finally run to earth via the National Library of Wales' Dictionary of Welsh Biographies:

LLAWDDOG , or LLEUDDAD , saint ( fl. 600? ), is said to have been the son of Dingad ab Nudd Hael , king of Bryn Buga (i.e. Usk ), and Tefrian or Tonwy , daughter of Lleuddyn Lwyddog . Few details are known about his life, but tradition maintains that he worked many miracles. He appears to have forsaken his father's kingdom in order to live the life of a religious recluse with his brother BAGLAN in Caernarvonshire . His later years are linked with the isle of Bardsey . He was chosen abbot of the island's religious community , and is said to have ended his days there. A Welsh ‘ Life of S. Llawddog ’ is preserved in N.L.W. Llanst. MS. 34 , of the late 16th cent. , and an early 18th cent. copy is to be found in Llanst. MS. 104 . The churches of Cenarth , Penboyr , and Llanllawddog in Carmarthenshire , and Cilgerran in Pembrokeshire were all originally dedicated to Llawddog . His memory is also perpetuated in the local topography of the places so named, in the form Lleuddad , in parts of the Llŷn peninsula . His feast-day is variously given as 15 Jan. , 21 Jan. , or 10 Aug.

Other research suggests that the discrete placement of churches dedicated to St Llawddog suggest the cult of a local saint (yet as elsewhere, such clusters were disrupted by the re-dedication of churches to more "fashionable"  - less "Celtic" - saints by Norman intervention.  Cilgerran - the closest church also dedicated to St Llawddog, became rededicated to St Lawrence and after half a millennia, it was associated with the original saint again.

But enough - I am off enjoying myself learning, and most of you will be shaking your heads and  telling me to keep taking the tablets!!!!


  1. This is a great post, I love old pubs and old churches and the cottage too. Neat info about the carved stone and the coracles. I hope the church is still in use as a church.

  2. I enjoyed this post--parts of which sent me off on a google search--my mind does wander afield.
    I'm so often reminded that the history of Britain is so ancient--and in my own country, of such recent written record.

  3. Glad you enjoyed it Sharon. It has boosted my brain no end to actually read words of more than two syllables again!!! I have a feeling that the depth of history of Britain (and perhaps missing us and his sisters) may be what draws Danny back home after going to Oz.

  4. Ooooo - I love that cottage. Beautiful carvings and wonderful photos. Cards will go in the post tomorrow. x

  5. This post is a great trip down memory lane for me... I took my parents to this area of Wales last year and we had a lovely time. Jx

  6. Lovely to visit Cenarth yet again - brought back so many memories.

  7. Lovely informative post with great photos. Really enjoyed reading about the history of the church and what a beautiful village :)

  8. I am so glad this post has bought you all pleasure too, as it did for me, first visiting Cenarth again after a gap of several years, and then doing the research.

  9. Echoing everyone, beautiful village and fascinating information, loved the little cottage just my size and I can just see your river rushing along over the rocks.