Albion, Alchemy, ancient sites, Archaeology, Books, Don and Wen, Photography, sacred sites, spirituality, symbolism, travel

Going West: The Poet’s Yew

Wales 195The rain continued as we walked from the Abbey to the church, the sky heavy and grey. Even the shelter of the trees was not enough to protect the lens from the constant drops, but it began to ease as we sought the solitary yew in the churchyard, beside which the mediaeval poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym, is though to be buried, although there is a dispute as to whether Strata Florida or Talley Abbey holds the poet’s remains.

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There are disputes too about the dates of his birth and death, though all agree that he lived in the mid-1300s, writing poems of nature, love and laughter that are still known and loved today. It seemed fitting that a bard should be buried beside a yew, one of the land’s sacred trees and as long-lived as verse. The hollow trunk seemed a portal to another world and, if Daffyd is not buried there… he should be.

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The rain paused for a moment, allowing us a good look at the Valley of the Flowers and its hills. It is a truly beautiful spot. Above us we saw that the Pilgrim had company…and wings.

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We walked around the outside of the little church to where an ancient cross stands against the eastern wall. This is far older than the Abbey, and was carved well over a thousand years ago, showing how long this site has been a holy place to the Christians… and how long before that had it held mystery and enchantment for those to whom divinity wore another guise?

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The rain felt it had given us long enough to ponder, so we escaped into the little church. A tiny place, built in 1815 with stones from the Abbey itself, it stands on the site of a church dating back to 1700… which in turn occupied the site of the Abbey’s infirmary.

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It is a very simple place, with little decoration and a quiet serenity that sits well with the memory of the monks who once gave their lives into the keeping of their God. The font looks old, but is impossible to date. There is little visible history here, yet it occupies a site of ancient sanctity.

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The oldest known item in the church, apart from the font, is the pulpit, carved with the date 1724 and a cryptic set of letters that have yet to be deciphered. There are beautiful modern windows though, made in 1961 by Whitefriars Glass, the oldest makers of stained glass in Britain, which seemed appropriate, as the Cistercians were known as the White Monks for their habits.

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David, the patron saint of Wales is depicted with St Bernard of Clairvaux, patron of the Cistercian order and a central figure in the early history of the Knights Templar. Saint Anne and St Non adorn another window, while behind the altar is an interesting depiction of the Last Supper.

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My favourite, though, is the depiction of St Francis of Assisi, “Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt. “

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The shifting light showed us a change in the weather once more as we left the calm interior for the churchyard. Burials still take place here and there are flowers dotting the dark stones of the memorials. Not all the graves are marked, though. In the eighteenth century, such was the poverty amongst the lead miners, that they would bring their dead at night, secretly, for burial and a field of unmarked graves remains. We looked up one final time at the figure on the pilgrim’s route on the hill. A lamb stood on the earth at its feet and a kite soared in the heavens. Perhaps we are all pilgrims, seeking a goal of which we have heard but have yet to see. It seemed a fitting image as we headed back to the car for the next stage of our journey.

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