Saints Celebrated In February In Pembrokeshire

By Terry John Calendar

St Ffraid

February is, of course, the month in which we celebrate St Valentine’s Day - but here in Pembrokeshire it is the time in which we remember several other saints. Some, like Santes Ffraid, otherwise known as St Brigid, are internationally famous. Others, such as St Teilo, are well-known in Wales or, as in the case of St Curig, only within their own locality.

St Ffraid is commemorated on 1st February. As St Brigid, she is widely revered in Ireland. She is said to have been born towards the close of the fifth century and in later life founded the Abbey of Kildare and became its Abbess. The abbey was said to have housed both men and women, as did many early religious establishments. Within an enclosure of trees a fire burned, which was tended by the nuns, for only women were allowed to approach it. According to legend, this fire was kept alight for over a thousand years.

Ffraid or Bride as she is locally known, became the patron saint of poets, blacksmiths and healers. Her cult was widespread in the Celtic lands and in Wales, she became associated with the care of cattle and sheep. At feasts held in her honour, the meat of cattle and sheep were specially prepared and eaten.

There is a legend that at least once in her life she visited Wales. This may explain why so many churches here are dedicated to her. And is it possible that St Bride’s Haven, a little cove on the coast to the west of Haverfordwest, is where she came ashore after travelling across the sea from Ireland? According to legend, Ffraid crossed the waves standing on a plot of turf.

St Bride’s Haven was once famous for its herring trade. An ancient chapel dedicated to the saint used to stand on the shore, where travellers could give thanks for a safe voyage. When the little chapel became ruinous, it was converted into store for the salt used in curing the fish. A famous verse tells us what happened next.

When St Bride’s chapel a salt house was made

St Bride’s lost the herring trade. 

Was this perhaps a sign of St Ffraid’s displeasure at the desecration of  her chapel?

Today St Bride’s Haven is a beautiful spot, and the views from the coastal footpath are spectacular. The ancient chapel has been replaced by a church, centuries old itself, which huddles down against the sea winds close to the beach. One of the damaged effigies within the building was once believed to commemorate St Ffraid.

 

St Teilo

St Teilo, who is remembered on 9th February, is one of the saints whom we in Pembrokeshire can truly call our own, for he was born in the south of the county in the sixth century. No one knows exactly where; it may have been near Penally where an ancient cross was said to have marked his exact birthplace. It has long since been moved from its original place and is now housed in Penally church. Another tradition insists that he was born at Carn Rock, a stony outcrop on the northern edge of the parish of St Florence.

Whatever the truth, St Teilo was a member of the royal dynasty which ruled the area at that time. There were several other saints within the family, but from his earliest childhood Teilo seems to have marked out as someone special. It is said that he was first named Elios or Eliud, which may mean The Lord of Many. To this was added the prefix Ty or To, hence the name Teilo.

Teilo was taught the Holy Scriptures by St Dubricius and later became a pupil of St Paulinus. He proved to be an outstanding scholar and whilst studying at Llanddeusant near Llandovery, he became a companion of St David and also of St Madoc.

Many legends are told of the miracles performed by St Teilo. A Pembrokeshire woman was said to have given birth to seven children, all at the same time. Her husband was unable to provide food for them all and decided to drown them. As he approached a nearby river with the babies in a sack he encountered St Teilo. The saint, horrified by the story, promised to care for them and bring them up in the church.

Teilo was as good as his word. He made a home for them at Llandowror and food was provided each day by a large fish, which rose to the surface of the river and allowed itself to be caught and eaten. Its bones were then thrown back into the stream and the next day, restored to life, it surfaced again to be caught. The seven children grew up and became known as the Dyfrwyr, or Watermen. They went to live in Mathry in the north of the county, where the church was dedicated to seven saints. In 1720 seven large stone coffins were visible in the churchyard, which were thought to be those of the Watermen.

The most famous tale of St Teilo recounts his visit to Jerusalem with St David and St Padarn. They were welcomed by the Patriarch of the city, who offered them three seats. Two were of magnificently worked metals, but the third was of plain wood. St Teilo chose the wooden chair. This was taken as a sign of true sanctity and the watching congregation immediately prostrated themselves before him. Teilo then preached to the assembled multitude and each of those present was able to hear him in their own native tongue.

It’s only fair to relate that the followers of  David and Padarn claimed the same distinction for their particular saint.

In common with many Celtic saints, St Teilo possessed a miraculous bell. It was not large or handsome, but sounded sweetly when rung. It healed the sick and was oaths were sworn upon it. It would ring out in anger if a false oath was sworn and would sound the hours of the day on its own accord.

Another story concerning St Teilo describes how in 547 Britain was struck by a virulent disease known as the Yellow Plague. To escape it, the saint and his followers migrated to Brittany, where he eventually succeeded St Samson as Abbot of Dol. He planted a great orchard that stretched three miles from Dol to Cai and so in Brittany became associated with orchards. A number of Breton churches are dedicated to him.

Upon his return to Wales, St Teilo was asked by St Cadog what was the greatest wisdom in a man. Teilo replied ‘To refrain from injuring another when he has the power to do so.’

When St Teilo died three places laid claim to his body; Llandeilo, where he had founded a monastery, Llandaff where he had been bishop and Penally, his birthplace. Nobody could agree as to where his remains should be taken and the argument lasted long into the night. Eventually it was decided that, in the morning St Teilo’s coffin should be placed on an ox-drawn wagon and whichever of the three places the animals headed for should be the site of his grave. In the morning, to the amazement of everyone, there was not one body of St Teilo, but three, so St Teilo was laid to rest in each place.

In actual fact, his tomb may be found in Llandaff cathedral, which leads us to one last story. For many centuries St Teilo’s skull was said to have been kept in a little chapel dedicated to him at Llandeilo Llwydarth near Maenclochog in Pembrokeshire. Nearby was a holy well reputed to heal tuberculosis, whooping cough and other illnesses. Pilgrims would visit the well in the hope of a cure but the water had to be drunk from the skull of St Teilo, Penglog Teilo.

The skull was in the care of hereditary keepers, but in the 1950’s two fraudulent ’museum officials’ persuaded the family to sell it and Penglog Teilo disappeared. Then, in 1994 it was discovered in Hong Kong, and was subsequently returned to Wales, where it is now kept in St Teilo’s chapel in Llandaff Cathedral.

 

St Curig

St Curig lived at roughly the same time at St Teilo. He was trained as a soldier, but decided to become a monk. In some versions of his legend, he  had killed another saint named Gwinio. Perhaps this was why he decided upon the religious life and withdrew to Newport in north Pembrokeshire, where he is said to have lived for a time. He had a staff that could heal glandular and timorous swellings. It was burned during the Reformation.

During the medieval period a small chapel dedicated to St Curig stood on the river bank at Newport, close to the bridge that carries the road to Moylgrove. Nearby was St Curig’s Well, the waters of which  had curative powers. Both chapel and well were on the pilgrim route from north Wales to St Davids. The route entered Pembrokeshire at St Dogmael’s near Cardigan, then passed through Nevern along the banks of the River Nyfer until it reached a point opposite Newport. Travellers were then ferried across the river, though at low tide they used a chain of stepping stones, reaching the south bank close to the chapel. There is no trace now of either the well or the chapel

St Curig also spent much of his time in mid and north Wales. He may have become bishop of Llanbadarn Fawr near Aberystwyth. He also established a cell at Llangurig and a rock on the nearby mountain is known as Eisteddfa Gurig, where he used to sit.

St Curig is said to have died on 17th February, but he also had a feast day on 16th June. On that day a great fair was held in Newport, known as Ffair Curig. It was a famous occasion, attended by hundreds of people from the surrounding district, at which ale, foodstuffs, cattle, fowl and all manner of things could be bought.

 

Categories:History

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