Saint’s day

A couple of weeks ago I was complaining about February, wittering on about the weather and what an awful time of year this is, and just look what’s happened…the back end of the bleakest month has given us some pretty good days.

The improvement in the weather is welcome because it’s time for the annual Crickhowell Walking Festival. Until next weekend there’ll be more people than usual tramping all over the local hills and generally enjoying the dry conditions. It was a different story last year when I tagged along on a dusk walk to the top of Table Mountain (and back). Though getting back safely wasn’t a certainty because by the time we reached the summit the rain was hammering down and there was a fully-fledged gale blowing, making it impossible to even stand up straight. The paths had been transformed into mudslides and it seemed entirely likely that a limb or two might be broken on the way down. Thankfully this didn’t happen and we got to enjoy the reward of standing around in the town hall, freezing and literally soaked to the skin, pouring molten leek soup into ourselves. The dusk walk this year ignored Table Mountain and settled instead for a gentle stroll along the canal towpath followed by supper at St Edmund’s parish hall. And wouldn’t you know it, earlier in the day Table Mountain had looked like this:feb 2016 home 1Table Mountain looking benign in the sunshine

It’s been so balmy of late that we’ve been out and about and even spent time in the garden, tidying up and pruning half-dead plants. This last was a mistake; I got so carried away that I didn’t notice my little finger was in the way of the secateurs…the patio turned red and the air turned blue at the same instant. Mr B blamed me for being a nincompoop and the girls blamed Mr B for not supervising me better!

But I survived and it’s now the last day of February. The 29th, in fact – as this is a leap year – which means that tomorrow is St David’s Day. Up and down the land, children who are too young to fight back will be dressed up in contrived costumes, spend the day listening to stories and singing, and probably have art competitions and the like before going home to eat raw leeks and bara brith…at least when I was in school we had a half day holiday in honour of the great man.saints day 1 Guilty of dressing up my own child … Katie at 16 months

We have plenty of saints but for some reason or other Dewi (David) from the sixth century rules the roost; but then there is that tale about a hill spontaneously arising beneath his feet so that he could be seen by the masses when he was preaching, making him head and shoulders above everyone else! Now, I don’t mean to heap scorn on this story, but it’s often the case with figures from such a long time ago that there aren’t many reliable facts around. We do know that Dewi’s parents were both from noble families – though this nobility didn’t stop his father from raping the lady Non. She fled to a nunnery, gave birth to Dewi on a cliff-top during a storm, and later became a saint herself.

It seems that there were saints coming out of every rock and crevice in sixth century Wales. Dewi himself founded a small chapel at Llanthony, the location six hundred years later of an Augustinian priory, and his tutor St Paulinus set up a religious community on the shores of Llangors Lake. The two sites were connected for hundreds of years, as fishermen from Llangors Lake supplied the holy men of Llanthony with fresh fish.feb 2015 8Llanthony Priory

sep 2015 6 (2)Llangors Lake last September

Just a few miles away from the ruins of Llantony is the small village of Partrishow (also called Patricio), and here there is a church dedicated to another sixth century saint, Issui. He lived next to Nant Mair (Mary’s Stream), where there is also a Holy Well – of course. Issui preached to the locals, travellers’ ailments were cured in the well and all was going swimmingly until Issui was murdered by an itinerant.

I’ve been hankering after a visit to the church of Merthyr Issui (the martyr Issui) for a while, since I first became aware of it. Today was the day, so after a quick trip into Abergavenny to buy a kumquat tree (they were selling them in Aldi’s. No other explanantion necessary), we followed Googlemaps north out of the town through Pantygelli. The lanes became ever more winding but luckily we didn’t meet a tractor coming the other way and after about twenty minutes we struck gold – we’d made it to the middle of nowhere. When we visit a place like this it’s tempting to wonder why anyone would ever build a church/priory/abbey/whatever in such an isolated spot; but of course, I tell myself, when this church was built everywhere in Wales was in the middle of nowhere!20160229_131453

There’s been a church here since at least the 11th century but the current building is a mix of 13th and 14th centuries.  And in fact, I was wrong about the isolated nature of Partrishow, which I find out from a leaflet inside. This is not the middle of nowhere at all because at one time it was the main route from Abergavenny to Talgarth, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Brycheiniog. So there.

What’s astonishing is that these tiny churches are in such good condition, are still used for services, and are open during daylight hours so that you can just wander in and have a nose around. And this one is particularly gorgeous and fascinating. There’s a medieval wallpainting of Doom on one wall; the font has been dated, inscription and all, to about 1055, and the glorious oak screen in front of the altar is early 15th century. How all of this escaped the vandalism of the Reformation, Cromwell’s forces, and then the worst vandals of the lot – the meddlesome Victorians – God alone knows.20160229_131736Doom: in the days printing books were expensive and the common people were illiterate, wall paintings were used by the clergy to instruct their congregations

20160229_132449The pre-Norman font with inscription: “Menhir made me in the time of Genillin”. Genillin was known to be alive in 1056 and was the son of Rhys Goch, Lord of Ystrad Yw (the vale of the yew trees). This was the area around Crickhowell

20160229_132217The 15th century oak rood loft and chancel screen

Mr B and I have been to a number of cathedrals recently, which are very grand. But this little church nestling in a valley was just as stunning in its own way. Lucky St Issui, to have this named for him.

We wandered around the churchyard and back to the car, where we decided to throw caution to the winds and find a different route home. Best not to always rely on Googlemaps – especially as there was no signal up here. We didn’t run into any problems apart from the emergency stop I demanded when I spotted something in a field next to the road.20160229_134250-1Roman soldier guarding the valley

I want one of these!


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