39. Vita Sancti Dubricii (Liber Landavensis / Vespasian A. xiv)
edited by Ben Guy
The only surviving reliable evidence for the life of a bishop called Dyfrig is the First Life of St Samson, probably written in c. 700, or perhaps a little earlier (Sowerby 2011: 14–23; cf. Olson 2017: 15–16). The author of that text had visited south Wales, spoken to an elderly relative of Samson and read an earlier account of Samson’s life, purportedly written by Samson’s cousin Henoc. He was thus well placed to learn genuine information about the ecclesiastical history of south Wales in the sixth century. According to his account, Dubricius (Dyfrig) was a bishop who travelled to monasteries, such as that of Illtud, to consecrate deacons, priests and bishops (Flobert 1997: 166–73, 208–11 (i.13, i.15, i.43, i.44)). He spent each Easter in the monastery of Piro on Caldey Island, where he apparently had the power to appoint Samson as cellarer (Flobert 1997: 196–9 (i.33, i.34)). There seems little reason to doubt that this account conveys an informative impression of the sorts of activities that a British bishop active in south Wales in the first half of the sixth century might have undertaken, and there is every chance that the details could apply to an historical bishop called Dyfrig.
What is less certain is whether this historical bishop was originally the subject of a localised cult in western Herefordshire, such as the Life of St Dyfrig claims to record. The Life associates three places in particular with him: Madley, where he was born, which King Peibio apparently made a hereditary possession (for Dyfrig?); the church of Henllan (probably Hentland), where he studied with his students; and Moccas, where he founded a dwelling-place and an oratory and lived as a monk for many years. Elsewhere in the Liber Landavensis there are references to churches dedicated to Dyfrig at Madley (VSClitauci(LL/Vesp), §2) and Henllan (LL 275), as well as a church at a place called Llanwern, which was apparently dedicated to Dyfrig and Teilo (LL 275; Davies 2003: 84–5). The latter two were apparently consecrated by Herewald, bishop of Glamorgan (1056–1104), no earlier than the second half of the eleventh century: Henllan between 1055 and 1063, and Llanwern between 1066 and 1087. There is no further place-name evidence for a cult of St Dyfrig, nor is there any evidence outside of the Liber Landavensis for churches dedicated to him. It has therefore been doubted that Dyfrig was the subject of a genuine cult prior to his reinvention as archbishop of Llandaff in the eleventh and twelfth centuries (Davies 2002: 370–6; 2003: 86). There may, however, be some evidence in the extant Life of St Dyfrig for the existence of an earlier Life of St Dyfrig that was not written in the interests of Llandaff, and which may therefore attest to the existence of a cult of St Dyfrig elsewhere (Guy 2018).
The text edited here as the Life of St Dyfrig is composite, and may be divided roughly into four. It begins with a section known as De primo statu Landauensis ęcclesię (Concerning the Earliest Circumstances of the Church of Llandaff), which outlines Llandaff’s own highly politicised view about the origins of Christianity in Britain and the foundation of the see of Llandaff. It draws on Bede in order to assert that Christianity arrived in Britain in the second century, following a petition by Lucius, king of the Britons, to Pope Eleutherius. It claims that the diocese of Llandaff was later constituted by St Germanus and Lupus, after they had eradicated Pelagianism from Britain; they consecrated Dyfrig as archbishop of southern Britain (i.e. south Wales), and established Llandaff as his see. There follows a rendition of Llandaff’s privileges, which mirrors the similar statements appended to the Life of St Teilo and incorporated into the Life of St Euddogwy (VSTeliaui(LL), §§20–1; VSOudocei(LL), §4; cf. Russell 2016). The second major section of the text is a series of nine charters, similar in type to the other charters in the Liber Landavensis (cf. Davies 2003: 84). Almost all the properties allegedly granted to Dyfrig may be located in or around Ergyng, where his chief churches are said to have been (see the map in Guy 2018: 13). The third major section of the text is the Life proper, beginning with Dyfrig’s birth to his mother Efrddyl and ending with his death on Bardsey Island. Lastly, a coda to the Life describes in great detail how Dyfrig’s body was translated from Bardsey to Llandaff in 1120 at the behest of Urban, bishop of Llandaff, who had recently enlarged the church of Llandaff in preparation for the arrival of the body.
Two copies of this composite text exist, preserved in the Liber Landavensis and in Vespasian A. xiv. Of the two, the Liber Landavensis contains much the better text, particularly with regard to the spelling of Old Welsh, but it is equally clear that the text in Vespasian A. xiv was not copied from the Liber Landavensis. Rather, both copies derive from a common exemplar. Nonetheless, it is very likely that this exemplar was itself created during the compilation of the Liber Landavensis, probably during 1120s and early 1130s. This is clear from a reference at the end of the text, in both copies, to a certain letter of Ralph, archbishop of Canterbury, which is said to follow the text; such a letter of Archbishop Ralph does indeed follow the text in the Liber Landavensis, but not in Vespasian A. xiv (Davies 2003: 39). Therefore, the text, as extant in both manuscripts, was probably composed specifically for incorporation into the Liber Landavensis.
As a whole, the resultant composition is clearly designed to present a unified account of the foundation of the see of Llandaff under the aegis of one of the most famous bishops of the Britons. The text establishes that Dyfrig was an archbishop with authority over all of Wales, as shown by his ability to distribute ecclesiastical offices to such ‘disciples’ as Deiniol, bishop of Bangor, and Illtud, abbot of Llanilltud (§3). The western limit of the archdiocese is said (§1) to be Teithi Island (probably the legendary island between St Davids and Ireland said to have submerged by the sea (Jones 1947: 82)), implying that St Davids was also originally a suffragan see, as is implied in the Life of St Teilo by Teilo’s consecration of Ishmael as David’s successor (VSTeliaui(LL), §16). The Liber Landavensis claims that Llandaff later lost the western half of its original archdiocese during the episcopacy of Euddogwy (VSOudocei(LL), §5). Importantly for Llandaff’s property claims, it was during the time of Dyfrig’s supremacy over all of south Wales that three of the chief centres of Teilo’s cult (Penally, Llandeilo Fawr, Llanddowror) were given to Dyfrig (§13), helping to explain why Llandaff supposedly owned properties so far outside of its later diocesan bounds. The final sections of the text form a fitting climax to the account of the establishment of the diocese of Llandaff and the life of its first bishop, for the translation of Dyfrig’s relics from Bardsey to Llandaff was no doubt a crucial starting point for Urban’s attempt to ‘relaunch’ the diocese in the twelfth century. And lest there have been any doubt about the sanctity of a figure who may previously have been known only as a relatively obscure character of the early British church and as the subject of a minor cult in western Herefordshire, the translation narrative provides a detailed description of the various miracles that occurred when Dyfrig’s bones were washed in Llandaff prior to being entombed (§20).
The insistence on the sanctity of Dyfrig’s relics and the strange lack of specificity about Dyfrig’s activities outside of Ergyng may well imply that Dyfrig had been co-opted by Llandaff as the foundational saint of the diocese precisely because of his relative obscurity and the consequent malleability of his ‘career’. That said, Llandaff need not have invented his cult from nothing. It is remarkable that the portion of the text constituting the ‘Life’ proper (§§14–18) is entirely lacking in references to Llandaff. The Life begins with Dyfrig’s birth to a woman named Efrddyl, the daughter of Peibio, king of Ergyng (§14). Place-names mentioned elsewhere in the Liber Landavensis indicate that Efrddyl was the name of another saint venerated in western Herefordshire, and so the purpose of the alleged genealogical connection between Efrddyl and Dyfrig was presumably to tie together two local cults (Davies 2003: 79–80). Dyfrig is born in Madley, which apparently lay within a region called Ynys Efrddyl; both of these places were ‘made hereditary’ by King Peibio, probably meaning that he gave them to Dyfrig for ecclesiastical use. Dyfrig later acquires various disciples, and studies firstly at Henllan and then at Moccas, which was also in Ynys Efrddyl (§15). There follow two miracle stories, the first concerning St Samson’s time as cellarer at Llanillud Fawr (§16) and the second concerning the exorcism of a demon from Ariannell, daughter of Guidgentiuai (§17). Dyfrig finally gives up the episcopal office (his see is not mentioned) and retires to Bardsey Island, where he dies (§18).
There are obvious interpolations into this narrative, the most obvious being the story about St Samson. This story clearly derives from the Life of St Samson, a version of which appears elsewhere in the Liber Landavensis (VSSamsonis(LL)). The story is introduced by a passage in praise of Dyfrig’s healing abilities, ‘as in the one example I recount out of many others’, as the text says. But the story about Samson that immediately follows has nothing to do with healing. For that one must wait for the following story, about the exorcism of Ariannell, due to which she is restored to health. The clear implication is that the Samson story is an interpolation into a pre-existing narrative (LWS 63). The Samson story is also the only section of Life proper that calls Dyfrig an archbishop. He is referred to as a bishop in the account of his retirement to Bardsey, but this section too is probably an interpolation, since it reproduces almost word for word the description of Bardsey found in the Life of St Elgar, which was certainly a Llandaff composition (Davies 2003: 127–8). A third probable interpolation is the list of Dyfrig’s disciples in §15, which serves to tie many of the other characters in the Lives and charters of the Liber Landavensis to the founding saint of the diocese (cf. LWS 67–73; Davies 2003: 81–4). Without these three interpolations, one is left with an account of a local holy man of western Herefordshire, who was neither a bishop nor connected to Llandaff. There may well have once been a text with exactly this subject, composed in the local area, which was used by the compilers of the Liber Landavensis as the basis for their history of the great St Dyfrig. The most obvious candidate for the place at which such a text may have been composed is Moccas. This is the only place in the narrative in which Dyfrig founds a church, and its divine importance is emphasised by the story of the sow and its piglets, which also supply an etymological explanation for Moccas’s name. Although there is no mention of a church dedicated to Dyfrig at Moccas elsewhere in the Liber Landavensis, Moccas is the subject of an oddly placed note appearing after De primo statu Landauensis ęcclesię but before the main sequence of charters. The note claims that Moccas was granted by King Meurig to Llandaff, ‘so that the former monastery might forever serve the latter’ (§4). Despite this claim, it is clear that Moccas was the site of an important independent monastery, for a certain Comereg , abbot of Moccas, appears as a prominent witness to two charters in the Liber Landavensis probably belonging to the second half of the seventh century (LL 163–5; Davies 1979: 104–5; Guy 2018: 30). Perhaps the monastery of Moccas was formerly the centre of a cult of St Dyfrig, the memory of which Llandaff wished to suppress, much as it suppressed the memory of Llanilltud Fawr’s former importance (this argument is laid out more fully in Guy 2018).