The cult of saints in the early Welsh March: aspects of cultural transmission in a time of political conflict

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The cult of saints in the early Welsh March: aspects of cultural transmission in a time of political conflict

By John Reuben Davies

The English Isles: Cultural Transmission and Political Conflict in Britain and Ireland, 1100-1500, edited by Duffy, Seán and Foran, Susan (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2012)

Introduction:  In 1911, Professor J.E. Lloyd summed up the ecclesiastical consequences of Norman conquest and settlement in Welsh territories; his readership was informed of the ‘The subjugation of the Welsh Church’. This phase of Welsh ecclesiastical history, for Lloyd,could be summed up in the fortunes of church dedications to native Welsh saints:

The last mark of subjection … touched the realm of sentiment merely and yet was none the less keenly felt by a people so imaginative as the Welsh. This was there dedication of churches bearing the names of Welsh founders unknown to the Christian world at large, to saints of wider reputation, commemorated throughout the length and breadth of Christendom … it was the substitution of the modern and the civilised for the antique and the grotesque. But in the eyes of the Welshman, it was the displacement of the ancient presiding genius of the place; the new patron…was not, like the old, rooted in the soil and endeared by a thousand happy memories… In general … the effect was … to uproot many ancient ecclesiastical landmarks,which told of the heroic days, lying far back in the past, of the Church now fallen into weakness and bonds.

Lloyd wrote in this way of the sentimentality of his medieval forebears, it seems, without any sense of irony.

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Sharan Newman