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Discussing the ancient monasteries of the Vale of Glamorgan

Did you know that it is likely that Christianity in Wales started in Llantwit Major? That monks from institutions in the Vale of Glamorgan between the fifth and sixth centuries established ministries throughout Britain, Ireland and Northern France?

In this video I discuss this fascinating history with author and historian Philip Morris. We look at the ancient monasteries of the county from the fifth century in Llantwit Major, Llancarfan and Llandough and at pioneers such as St Illtyd, St Cadoc and St Doggo and their influence across Europe.

We look at how different the culture and reach of the Celtic Church was from what came after it. How huge institutions were established, how ideas were spread throughout Europe, how inclusive these communities were and the key role of women as well as men at their healm.

We also look at the impact of the arrival of the Normans, the medieval period and in particular Ewenny Priory.

We discuss the legacy these great institutions left. Everything from the establishment of Cowbridge Grammar School to architectural clues at buildings we can visit today. As well as gems like the story of the miracle of Ewenny, how Corntown got its name, why so many towns in Brittany have Welsh sounding names, why the latin inscribed on the Celtic stones in Llantwit Major is inaccurate and many many more fascinating snippets which anyone with an interest in the local history of South Wales will find truly fascinating.

This video is an episode of ‘History on your doorstep’, first broadcast on Bro Radio on Monday 22 August 2022. Presented by author and historian Graham Loveluck-Edwards cataloguing the history of the Vale of Glamorgan. I hope you enjoy them. And if you do, please subscribe to my YouTube channel and share them on social media.

Monks from the Vale of Glamorgan established foundations across Britain and Northern France
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The quirky family of Cadoc

No matter how embarrassing your father may have appeared to be when you were growing up, compared to St Cadoc, you had it easy. ‘Who is St Cadoc?’ you may be asking. I am sure you have noticed the many references to ‘Cadoc’ or ’Cadog’ around South Wales. In the names of churches, streets, wells, houses, schools, community centres and hospitals. To say nothing of the village of Cadoxton.

Historically, he was one of the most revered saints in the early Christian church. It gives you an idea how significant a figure he was when you consider that he was born in the latter quarter of the fifth century. Over 1,500 years ago. And we are still naming things after him today.

The life of St Cadoc is recorded in the ancient works of the Cambro British Saints. His story is the first ever to reference the now legendary King Arthur ‘the Great’ of Camelot. Amongst his achievements are the founding of the ‘Clas’ monastery at Llancarfan near Cowbridge as well as many churches throughout Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany. He also managed to fit in time for the odd miracle. Even as a baby it is claimed that he made the water in the font he was baptised in turn into milk.

All these achievements, however, were in spite of a really dysfunctional upbringing. It was so weird, it wouldn’t look out of place in a Channel 5 documentary

First of all, he was not the only saint in the family. Pretty well his whole family were saints. Then you have his father. All I can say is, I think the bar for sainthood must have been set low back then.

He was a brute, a drunkard, and a pirate. And randomly; a king. He was called Gwynllyw although somehow that got Anglicised in later history to Woolos. He is credited with being the founding father of the city of Newport and the cathedral there is dedicated to him to this day. He fell head over heels in love with Gwladys, the daughter of King Brychan (later Anglicised to Brecon). He wanted to marry her, but Brychan refused him. So Gwynllyw took an army of 300 men to knock on his castle gates and kidnapped her.

His passion for her never seemed to faulter, even in old age. There is an account that in later life after being converted to Christianity by his son; Cadoc, he tried to seek a prayerful retreat on a desolate mountain. His endeavours however would perpetually fail as he could not overcome his carnal urges towards her and could not help himself from continually running back down the mountain to her bed.

If you thought he made a rotten husband, he was hardly parent of the month either. There is also a story that one day, he gave his infant son: St Cadoc away to a total stranger in exchange for a cow while out on a drinking spree. We’ve all done it. Oh no. Hold on, we haven’t, have we?

But against all the odds, Cadoc grew up to be a cornerstone of early Christian mission in northern Europe and became famous across the known world for his wisdom. In the modern Catholic church, he is still patron saint of burns and skin complaints, so he is the one to pray to if you are bothered by such things. His father is patron saint of Newport and pirates. No words needed.

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Walking in the footsteps of kings on the Glamorgan Ridgeway | In search of the legacy of King Arthur.

There is so much history on view on the Glamorgan Ridgeway, but are claims to King Arthur’s legacy true?

The Glamorgan Ridgeway is a footpath through millennia. Its verges festooned with ancient monuments dating back to the Bronze Age. Are we walking in King Arthur’s footsteps up here? I investigate two sites with claimed links. One more promising than the other.

You also get to meet my dog, Jasper – the history hound, as he loves a good walk.

In this video I cover:

The course of the Ridgeway, where it starts and finishes, the ancient hill fort and the battle against the Romans at Mynydd-Y-Gaer, Llanbedr-Yn-Y-Mynydd (also known as Peterston-Super-Montum) and the claim that it is the site of Avalon, Mynydd Baeden and it’s potential to be the site of the Battle of Badon Hill and lots of stuff about King Arthur and the war between the ancient Britons and the invading Angles and Saxons. And the conspiracy that this period in history has been deliberately suppressed.

This video is written, presented and published by Welsh author, columnist, broadcaster and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards. I produce a series of videos about history, myths and legends from South Wales. I hope you enjoy this one. And if you do, please subscribe to this channel and feel free to share on social media.

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The Welsh festival that became Halloween

Samhain, the festival that led to Halloween started in countries like Wales.
Samhain in full swing somewhere near Llanharry

How on earth has Halloween managed to morph into some innocent, child friendly celebration day? Where kids dress up as pumpkins, collecting bowls of sweets from random strangers? It started out in the Celtic nations as the single darkest and most ominous day of the year for thousands of years.

Originally it was a pagan fire festival called Samhain. It was held at the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice and marked the end of the plentiful months of sunlight and harvest and the beginning of the dark season. Where it gets dark however, is because the Celts believed passionately that this was the most dangerous time of year as the usual barriers that existed to keep the spirit world and mortal world separate would break down leaving the people of the world vulnerable to hauntings and possession and attacks by malevolent demons. Some even heralded it as the likely point of the end of the world – with only the year it would happen an uncertainty. This was not a mild threat. They were absolutely terrified by this possibility and it called for a mammoth, co-ordinated effort to keep themselves safe.

To empower themselves against this annual threat they would light huge bonfires with a wheel (symbol of the sun) which would maintain a bright light for as long as possible (but a minimum of 3 days). They would dress up in costumes to make themselves look as terrifying as possible and dance around the fires. This was to try and scare away their adversaries. They would also sacrifice bulls and cocks and leave the sacrifices on burial mounds as gifts for their dead ancestors. The idea was, if there was going to be a war with invading malevolent ghosts, demons and spirits, they wanted to make sure that their own ancestors would fight on their side, to ensure the evil spirits were vanquished.

They took this ceremony very seriously. Everyone had to participate in it. There was an agreement between tribes that any who were at war had to suspend hostilities during the Samhain and put their differences aside until the end of the festival to make sure nothing got in the way of everyone’s involvement. Failure to take part was punishable by death.

At the end of the 3 days ceremony, if everyone was alive and not possessed by spirits, it was clear that the alliance between the living and the dead had once again been victorious over the spirit world. So, it would be followed by a great celebration for a further 6 days. It featured a great feast where places were set for both the living and the dead combatants. Women folk would chatter into the air, to bring the dead up to date with everything that had happened through the year and a lot of merriment would take place. All to celebrate having survived the threat of invasion by the spirit world.

There were regional variants. One that always amuses me is that our ancestors here in Wales did not think that the festivities above were anywhere near mad enough. So here in South Wales it was customary for young men to hurl burning logs at each others heads in a game of ‘chicken’.

This festival was a really big deal to the pagan Welsh. Something that was massively underestimated when Christianity came along. The church wanted to stamp out all pagan practices which could not be re-branded as Christian. It was hard to see a way of making Samhain into something that was Christian friendly so they attempted to bring this practise to an end. Unsuccessfully. So, rebrand was needed. Pope Boniface in the fifth century tried the idea of a festival in May where bonfires would be lit in homage and as a celebration of saints and martyrs. But he had seriously underestimated how terrified the masses descended from the ancient Britons were of invasion by the spirit world at the end of October, so the practise continued in spite of the papal decree. Then in the ninth century (so no rush then? Only took 400 years) Pope Gregory moved “All Saints Day” (known in old English as All Hallows Day) to 1st November. The name “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Eve”, or the day before all Saint’s Day. He also made “All Souls Day” (the day when Christians leave offerings on the graves of our dead ancestors) the day after the old Samhain; on 2nd November.

Common people found this a bit easier to swallow but it still continued to be a day marked by burning bonfires for centuries to follow. Eventually the bonfire got moved a week, supposedly to commemorate the foiling of the gun powder plot to blow up parliament. We still run with that idea today in the UK. But both bonfire night and Halloween are just continuations of Samhain in one way or another.

What amazes me though is the scale of the Halloween festival we have today. People in America spend more money on decorations and costumes at Halloween than at any other time of year besides Christmas. It has become massive. Yet I can say with hand on heart, in the UK even as recently as the 1980s it just wasn’t a thing. Bobbing for apples was about as far as it went.

by Graham Loveluck-Edwards.

About: Graham Loveluck-Edwards is a historian and author who writes regular columns in the Buddy Magazine and The Glamorgan Star newspaper. He has also published books about the history, myths, legends and folklore of Wales. They include Legends and folklore of Bridgend and the Vale and Historic pubs of Wales. Available on Amazon (in the UK and Europe) and all good UK based bookshops. They can also be bought direct from the author’s website (at a discounted price) at http://grahamloveluckedwards.co.uk with shipping available worldwide