Medieval Mystery

Dr David Stephenson had his audience transfixed throughout his fascinating lecture ‘Llandinam and the Medieval Welsh Chronicles’ on 27th November, in the Girls’ Parlour. He based the talk on his research into this period of of our history, and his listeners found themselves in the grip of a medieval mystery story.

A number of chronicles of Welsh history were written from the 9th to the 13th centuries, the earliest in Latin only, while some later in that period were in Middle Welsh. ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ (Chronicle of the Princes) was written in Latin but has been lost. However, some Welsh translations did survive, and Dr Stephenson’s research has included two of the most important of these – the Peniarth MS 20 version and the Red Book of Hergest. By analysing the writing style of the authors, he followed the trail from Bishop Sulien’s work on the Chronicle. Sulien was Bishop of St David’s for two periods in the 1070s and 1080s. The incumbent at the Cathedral in the intervening years met his end on the point of a Viking sword. In order to avoid the same fate, sometime after 1084 Sulien returned to his base in Llanbadarn Fawr, Ceredigion. He remained there until the abbey church fell into the hands of monks from England, at which point the family moved east into Powys and settled in Meifod. Mathrafal was at this period the main residence of the Princes of Powys and Meifod was an important religious centre.

After Sulien’s death in about 1090, Dr Stephenson suggests that his son Deiniol took over the chronicle writing, and in turn, that Deiniol’s son took over on the death of his father. Dr Stephenson’s research shows that for a period Deiniol’s son stayed in Llandinam at the monastic church of St Llonio’s. The sections of the chronicle covering the years 1128-32 were about the disrupted and violent times in Arwystli, the administrative area of north west Powys centred on the upper Severn catchment. He showed how the events are covered in gory detail in both versions of the chronicles, but that no mention is made of the place where these events occurred. This leads him to believe therefore that this part of the chronicle was written ‘here’, in Arwystli, at the abbey church of St Llonio, quite likely just a few yards from where the audience was sitting. What a denouement!