Chair: David Callander
St Illtud was a saint from sixth-century south Wales, andis unique among the Welsh saints in that he appears in written sources right across the early medieval period. It is well documented that St Illtud was the head of a religious school, with several prominent saints like Samson and David reportedly having attended. The school appears in several Breton saints Lives, most notably those of Samson, Gildas and Paul Aurelian. Llanilltud Fawr on the south coast of Glamorgan is the main foundation of the cult of St Illtud in Wales, however the site does not match many of the descriptions of the early school of St Illtud. This paper aims to show that Llanilltud Fawr was not the place that was represented as the school of St Illtud in the early hagiography and to explore possible locations. In the eleventh century Llanilltud Fawr was undoubtably the main foundation of the cult of St Illtud: the paper will examine possible reasons why the cult moved, and when this may have taken place.
Visitors to religious sites in Wales rely on signs, brochures, and other descriptions posted by civic authorities. These messages shape to some extent our understanding of past veneration at former religious shrines, but they are not scholarly texts with footnotes and bibliographies, and whatever information is presented is by definition both selective and abbreviated. Using examples from dedications to the twenty-four saintly daughters of Brychan Brycheiniog, this presentation looks at how this ‘civic hagiography’ shapes our understanding of the saints. For example, one sign at Ynys Llanddwyn does not refer to the medieval veneration of the saint or its abandonment after the Reformation, but makes much of a nineteenth-century legend of Dwynwen recorded in The Iolo Manuscripts by Taliesin Williams. Another example is the recent revival of an annual St Eluned’s Fair in Brecon, where new elements to the celebration co-exist alongside traditions reported in the twelfth century by Gerald of Wales, in the seventeenth century by herald Hugh Thomas, and in the early twentieth century by historian and Brecon mayor Gwenllian Morgan.
The Egyptian story The Tale of Two Brothers was written on the Papyrus d’Orbiney c.1200 BCE. Classified both as ‘the earliest folktale’ and as an early example of literature, it partly owes its origins to Egyptian religious concepts from an earlier time (Hollis 1996).
Surprisingly, the tale contains a number of motifs that bear a striking resemblance to some Irish and Welsh medieval tales: characters who are reincarnated in different forms; the artificial wife who betrays her husband; and the hero who can only be killed when his external soul is destroyed in a manner akin to ritual. Not only do such similarities point to a hitherto unexplored source for Irish and Welsh medieval tales, but they also demonstrate the longevity of mythological motifs in insular literature. They further suggest that underlying Irish and Welsh medieval tales lies the concept of reincarnation, at odds with the Christian milieu in which the tales were composed.
The fact that similar motifs related to reincarnation can be found in tales associated with Newgrange, such as Tochmarc Étaíne, indicates that medieval insular narratives may even contain remnants of Neolithic religious tradition.