The central window at the west end of the nave
The theme of the window is the saints of the early Celtic church in Wales. In twelve beautifully coloured panels we can see representations of 22 of these saints together with emblems which relate to incidents in their lives. The glass was installed in stages between 1949 and 1959 and was undertaken by the Swansea firm of Celtic Studios. Various members of the congregation donated individual panels (at a cost of £100 each!): their names are recorded on a small stone panel fixed to the wall beneath the window.
In the very topmost light of the window appears the Dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. In the two lights below that are the symbols of the Holy Eucharist, a chalice and a sheaf of corn.
The next six lights at the top, over the figures of the saints, contain the coats of arms of the six dioceses of the Church in Wales:
A. Swansea & Brecon
D. St David’s
F. St Asaph
All the other panels in the window contain figures representing a selection of Celtic saints from the early days of the Church in this country. Little is really known about them, but their lives produced such a powerful effect on their contemporaries that they were remembered down the ages as heroes of the faith. In the course of time picturesque legends gathered around them to supplement what little was really known. It was not what really happened, but the sort of thing that might, or ought to have happened, the sort of thing that demonstrated the great sanctity of these figures whose true achievements could no longer be recalled with any accuracy.
Panel 1 – Winefride (or Gwenfrewi), Elli, Tydfil
According to legend, Winefride, a saint of north Wales, was courted by a local prince but rejected his overtures. In his rage the prince struck off her head and where it fell a fountain of pure water burst forth. Her uncle, Saint Beuno (shown in panel 6) restored her to life and she spent the remainder of her days as the abbess of a monastery. In the Middle Ages her cult was very popular throughout Wales, the scene of the story, Holywell in Flintshire, being a major pilgrimage centre.
Virtually nothing is known of Elli, who gave his name to Llanelli. He is said to have been a contemporary of St David (6th century) and was no doubt responsible for bringing the gospel to this part of Wales.
Tydfil was said to have been martyred in 480 A.D. by pagans, variously described as ‘Saxons’ or ‘British’. The place where she was martyred thus acquired name of Merthyr Tydfil (Tydfil the martyr). Her father is supposedly Brychan (panel 9).
Panel 2 – David
David is, of course, the best known of all the saints of Wales. His dates are approximately 520-589. His sphere of activity was in south-west Wales, although he is said to have had connections with Glastonbury and to have travelled as far as Jerusalem (which could well be true). He is shown standing on a hillock and with a dove on his shoulder, which recalls the role he played in the Synod of Brefi at which the Pelagian heresy was refuted.
Panel 3 – Teilo
Another saint of south-west Wales, whose work centred on the town of Llandeilo, where he is said to have founded a monastery. He lived in the 6th century, a contemporary of David. He also had connections with Llandaff, where he is reputed to have been buried. The Welsh name for Bishopston, Llandeilo Ferwallt, probably indicates that a church was founded here by Teilo or by one of his disciples.
Panel 4 – Cyfelach, Rhidian, Gwladys
Cyfelach and Rhidian are two saints with local connections (Llangyfelach, Llanrhidian). Gwladys is said to have been the wife of Gwynllyw (panel 8) and mother of Cadoc (panel 6). After a life of armed violence Gwladys and Gwynllyw were converted by Cadoc and they took to the monastic life in what is now Newport.
Panel 5 – Dubricius (or Dyfrig)
An important monk/bishop who worked in south-east Wales and Herefordshire. He is said to have been born at Madeley in that county. The stories which are traditionally told of him suggest a close connection with Romano-British Christianity: he thus represents a link between the church which existed in Britain when it was still part of the Roman empire and the Celtic church which followed. He may have been abbot of Caldey at some stage and died (c.550) on Bardsey Island.
Panel 6 – Padarn, Cadoc, Beuno
Padarn (5th or 6th century) evangelised the country around Aberystwyth from his base at Llanbadarn Fawr, just outside the present town.
Cadoc was another of the 6th century saints. He is known to have been active in south-east Wales but many of the stories told of him are palpably later inventions. In one of them he ended up as Bishop of Benevento in Italy where he died: pilgrims from Britain were not allowed access to his grave in case they stole his bones to take home as relics.
Beuno is also said to have been born in Herefordshire, but the centre of his activity was in Gwynedd. He is often regarded as the most important of the saints of north Wales.
Panel 7 – Deiniol, Theodoric, Gildas
Deiniol, who died in about 584, founded two monasteries in north Wales, one at Bangor Fawr on the Menai Straits and the other at Bangor Iscoed near Wrexham. According to Bede, the latter became the most famous monastery of British Christianity and numbered over 2,000 monks before they were routed at the Battle of Chester by the pagan Ethelfrith, king of Northumbria. Deiniol is regarded as the first Bishop of Bangor.
Theodoric (otherwise known as Tewdrig) was a chieftain in Glamorgan who became a hermit at Tintern in his old age. When the Saxons invaded he put himself at the head of the people and was mortally wounded in battle.
Gildas (c.500-c.570) was a monk at Llantwit Major. For some years he lived as a hermit on Flatholm in the Bristol Channel and ended his days in a monastery in Brittany. He was the author of an important historical work in which he cast a jaundiced eye over contemporary society, attributing the Saxon conquest to the decadence of the Celtic rulers.
Panel 8 – Gwynllyw
Gwynllyw, whose name later became corrupted to Woolos, was traditionally the husband of Gwladys (panel 4) and father of Cadoc (panel 6). He and Gwladys were converted from a warlike way of life by Cadoc and then lived a life of self-denial on Stow Hill at Newport on the later site of the church which was dedicated to him and which is now the cathedral of the Monmouth diocese.
Panel 9 – Brychan and his children
Brychan, a legendary figure, is said to have been the father of a large brood of children (the number varies from 12 to 63), including Tydfil (panel 1) and Gwladys (panel 4).
Panel 10 – Cenydd
Cenydd was a local saint who is particularly associated with the village of Llangennith in Gower. According to legend, he was the son of Gildas (before the latter entered the religious life). After a period at Llantwit Major he established a hermitage at Llangennith and finally ended his days in Brittany, like Gildas.
Panel 11 – Illtyd
An important figure from the 6th century who was abbot of the monastery at Llantwit Major which, in its day, was regarded as the most important centre of learning in Britain. Illtyd himself had the reputation of being the most learned churchman of the time in the study of scripture and philosophy. His main sphere of activity was in south-east Wales, but he too seems to have had connections with Brittany.
Panel 12 – Tegwell, Brynach, Cyndeyrn
Tegwell, who is also known as Dogfael, Dochfael, Dogmael or Dogwel, was a saint whose life was lived in Pembrokeshire. His name is best known through the abbey of St Dogmael’s near Cardigan. A number of churches are dedicated in his honour in Pembrokeshire, and a saint with this name also figures in Brittany.
Brynach, too, was a Pembrokeshire saint. He had a hermitage in the village of Nevern, near Fishguard, and is said to have received visits from angels and to have been able to speak with the birds.
Cyndeyrn is better known as Kentigern. He was born in Scotland and was the probable founder of the church in Glasgow (where he is known as St Mungo). He undertook missionary work in Cumbria before being driven into exile in Wales as a result of persecution. Here he established a monastery at Llanelwy, now known as St Asaph from the name of his successor. There is a village near Kidwelly with the name Llangyndeyrn, but his association with this area is not clear.