43. Moliant i Ddeiniol (Syr Dafydd Trefor)
edited by Eurig Salisbury
Syr Dafydd Trefor composed this poem of praise on the renovation of both the church and bishop’s palace in Bangor under the patronage of the bishop, Thomas Skevington (Tomas Ysgefintẃn). Almost half the poem is a eulogy to Deiniol, patron saint of the church, and is a valuable record of beliefs about him.
Deiniol is located in Bangor at the beginning of the poem, with reference to his lineage (ll. 1‒4). Instead of naming Deiniol’s parents, as is customary in poems for individual saints (cf. DewiRhRh ll. 1‒6), the poet simply refers to the fact that he was one of seven cousins who were all saints. After first mentioning Deiniol’s rejection of adultery, the poet then outlines the saint’s life (ll. 5‒18). He was living as a hermit in Pembroke when he was chosen by God to be the bishop of Bangor, but Deiniol could not speak Latin nor was he familiar with the work of a bishop until he sang the hymn Te Deum laudamus before the altar, upon which all ecclesiastical knowledge immediately became known to him.
The next part of the poem focuses on Deiniol’s miracles (19‒36). The poet says that they were very numerous, but he refers to only two, namely when Deiniol turned thieves who tried to steal his oxen into stone (it is also noted that stags did the oxen’s work at Deiniol’s bidding), and when he healed a woman who had been poisoned by insects by allowing her to drink from his well. The poet concludes this part of the poem by urging his audience to call on Deiniol to protect them in the same way.
These parts of the poem which deal specifically with Deiniol, although quite sketchy at times, often correspond closely with the only other early source for the saint. While there is no surviving life, there is a series of nine Latin lectiones, short chapters that chronicle Deiniol’s life, that were copied from a lost source in 1602 by Thomas Wiliems in Pen 225, 155‒60 (for English translations, see LBS iv 390‒2; Harris 1955: 9‒14; for a Welsh translation, see Williams 1949: 126‒35). The lectiones corroborate Syr Dafydd Trefor’s reference to Deiniol’s early life as a hermit in Pembroke and his bishopric at Bangor (see notes for ll. 7–8, 9–12, 15–18), as well as his ability to perform many miracles, including the two mentioned above, with some minor differences (see notes to ll. 21–2, 23–8, 29–34). It is claimed in WCD 191 that the poem draws its information from the lectiones, but it seems more likely that both sources ultimately derive from a lost life, whose content is best reflected in the concise lectiones, where much information was preserved (cf. Harris 1955: 14), while the poem also reflects oral traditions about the saint in Caernarfonshire.
In the second part of the poem, Syr Dafydd Trefor focuses on praising the building work funded by Thomas Skevington, who was appointed bishop of Bangor in 1509 (further, see ODNB s.n. Thomas Skevington). This work is briefly mentioned in lines 37‒8, probably in order to provide some context for the next lines, where the poet outlines the work he himself was commissioned to do in conjunction with the building work, namely to praise dynion côr Deiniel ‘the men of Deiniol’s chancel’ (39‒44). He duly praises their melodious singing accompanied by the organ and the bells, and then he praises the bishop himself, firstly in connection with his sonorous clerics (45‒8) and then by way of his care for the great church (49‒52). Syr Dafydd Trefor states that Skevington had generously financed the renovation work (53‒6), but he makes no specific mention of any work except the roofing of both the church and the bishop’s palace (57‒64). As the poet wishes the bishop long life at the end of the poem, it is suggested that the work on the belfry had already started (65‒70). It is hoped that Skevington will live to see the completion of this work in 1527, the year in which the poem was composed, in all likelihood, as it is versified (not without difficulty) in the last lines (71‒4).
Unfortunately, Bishop Skevington did not live to see the work completed. On 10 May 1533, he stated in his will that his heart should be buried in the church ‘before the Pictour of Saint Daniell’, and he wished that the work on the belfry be completed as follows (Willis 1721: 246):
I will that the Steeple and Lofte of Bangor Churche where the Bells doo hange be fynished, and the three Bells hanged up, and a furthe Belle agreeable to them be providid and hangid there, and that the Roofe of that Steple to be well made, coverid with Leade, and the Windowe in the said Steple over the Doore to be well barride with Yron and glased.
It seems that the original plan was to build a tower twice the size, but when the bishop died on 16 or 17 August 1533, ‘his Executors immediately cover’d it, and so left it, as ’tis reported’ (ibid. 21–2). It seems that this decision was made before his death, for the stone placed in the tower to commemorate the bishop’s work bears the year 1532 (ibid. 21; RCAHM(Crn), ii, 6; the incorrect year, 1529, is noted in Williams 1976: 310). At one time his name could also be seen on the bishop’s palace, where he was probably responsible for completing the building work (Willis 1721: 41, 97; RCAHM(Crn), ii, 10). However, it should be noted that Bishop Skevington merely continued renovation work at Bangor that had been set in motion by his predecessors, Henry Deane (bishop 1494‒6) and Rhisiart Cyffin (dean 1470/8‒92), possibly because the buildings had suffered damage during the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr. Dean Rhisiart’s work at both the church and bishop’s palace is mentioned in the work of Tudur Aled and, in more detail, in the work of Guto’r Glyn (Salisbury 2011: 82‒5; GG.net 58.7‒12; 59.3‒14).
There is no specific reference to Skevington roofing the church outside this poem, but the work may well have been part of what Willis (1721: 97) describes as the building of ‘[the] entire Body of the Church, from the Choir downwards to the West End.’ There may be a reference to this in line 38 Toi’r eglwys fawr, tir glas fu ‘roofing the great church, it used to be grassland’. More detailed information is found in Williams (1976: 432) and RCAHM(Crn), ii, 3 (but note the incorrect dating of the poem, 9n16). The costly rebuilding work was doubtless within the means of Bishop Skevington, a man described by one of his enemies as ‘the richest monk in England’ (Williams 1976: 306). Willis (1721: 97) states that although he spent most of his time at the abbey of Beaulieu in Hampshire, where he was abbot, being a ‘Man of a generous Spirit, and to attone for his Neglect at Bangor, he became a most magnificent Benefactor thereto.’ Nonetheless, he delegated most of the work of providing for his diocese to his vicar general, Wiliam Glyn, who was another of Syr Dafydd Trefor’s patrons (see GSDT poem 1).
Metre and cynghanedd
Cywydd, 74 lines. Cynghanedd: croes o gyswllt 1% (1 l.), croes 47% (35 l.), traws 28% (21 l.), sain 18% (13 l.), llusg 6% (4 l.).