Verses to the Saints

A fifteenth-century poem to St Cynog in the hand of Llywelyn Siôn
A fifteenth-century poem to St Cynog in the hand of Llywelyn Siôn, NLW Llanstephan 47, c.1590– c.1613.
Courtesy National Library of Wales

Cadw y tir, ein ceidwad da,
Cynog o wlad Frecania!

Torres y gormes dy gig,
Dy forddwyd di, o fawrddig.
Yno y daeth, enaid ethawl,
Arf i ti i orfod diawl

Keep safe the land, our good guardian,
Cynog of the land of Brecania!

The oppressor sliced your flesh,
your thigh, with great ferocity.
then, o select soul, there came
a weapon for you to overcome the devil …

Hywel Dafi, before 1500

stained glass window of St Cynog
St Cynog, about 1910, Brecon Cathedral, by James Powell & Sons. Photo: © Martin Crampin

A fifteenth-century poem by Hywel Dafi tells a story of how Saint Cynog, son of Brychan Brycheiniog, sacrificed himself in a battle against monsters afflicting the people of Ceredigion and Brecon. The miraculous weapon he wields is the gold torque which is known to have been venerated as a relic in his church at Merthyr Cynog during the medieval period. Part of the story is also known from an eighteenth-century folk tale, however the allusive style of the medieval verse ensures that many details of the original tale remain unclear.

Over sixty such Welsh poems to saints survive from the Middle Ages: the genre is unusual in a European context and clearly grows out of the deeply rooted tradition of praise poetry to secular lords.

 

The material on this page and on those listed below are taken from the exhibition that recently toured Bangor, St Davids, Llantwit Major and Holywell.

Saints in Medieval Wales
Lives of the Saints
Genealogies of the Saints
Saints in Modern Times