Once a year on St David’s Day, the 1st of March, we remember our patron saint and the early Christian heritage of Wales. St David however is only one of the saints whose traditions still populate the landscape of Wales in place-names, church dedications and holy wells. From St Fagans to Llandudno, St Davids to Pennant Melangell, the names of saints are bound up with the very fabric of the country.
Over the past four years, The Cult of Saints in Wales research project at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS), in collaboration with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, the National Library of Wales and King’s College London, has focused on medieval Welsh-language literature devoted to the veneration of saints. Scholars at the Centre and collaborating institutions have been editing and translating medieval Welsh saints’ Lives, poetry addressed to the saints, and saintly genealogies as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project.
As the project draws to a close, an exhibition of the medieval and early modern manuscripts that are the source of this literature are now on display at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. Running until the 10th of June, this exhibition demonstrates the survival of medieval traditions about the holy men and women who represent an important part of the country’s cultural inheritance.
Included in the exhibition are some important medieval Welsh manuscripts, such as the Hendregadredd, the Book of Llandaf, and the Llanbeblig Hours, alongside some early modern recusant manuscripts containing late medieval saints’ Lives and poetry. These Medieval Welsh ‘biographies’ of the saints preserves a wealth of tradition concerning local saints in Wales, as well as saints known across the Christian world.
Accompanying the project will be a programme of talks, the first of which will be given by Dr David Parsons, co-curator of the exhibition, on the 1st of March. Reminding us that the veneration of saints played a central part in pre-Reformation Welsh society, Dr Parsons will discuss medieval Welsh-language texts about saints, and examine their strong relationship with particular places and regions. This will be followed by gallery talks on the 29th of March, and a lecture by Martin Crampin, co-curator, on the 17th of May, who will introduce the fascinating range of visual imagery of Welsh saints that can be found within churches in Wales.
The medieval literature will be published on a dedicated website that will be launched at a one-day conference at the National Library of Wales on the 3rd of June. This electronic edition of some 100 medieval Welsh-language texts will comprise poems, prose Lives and genealogies with high quality digital images of many of the manuscripts. Providing reliable modern texts with detailed notes and English translations, it will make a discrete Welsh hagiographical tradition available for study both inside and outside Wales. The website will also host a compendium of information on the saints and their traditions, and this will continue to develop as the result of a new project that has recently been funded by the AHRC. Vitae Sanctorum Cambriae: The Latin Lives of the Welsh Saints, will continue new research on medieval saints’ Lives through new editions and translations of the Latin texts, in association with the University of Cambridge.
For more information about the project visit – www.welshsaints.ac.uk
For more information about the exhibition please visit the National Library of Wales’ website – https://www.llgc.org.uk/en/visit/things-to-do/exhibitions/stories-of-the-saints/