Ffraid, Saint Mary’s Prayers, and Bardsey Island
SAINT BRIGID OF KILDARE
The Welsh poet, Iorwerth Fynglwyd (Edward Greybeard, 1480-1527) described the life of Saint Bridget originally in verse, in the course of which he also recalled some of the many miracles that have been attributed to her:
“She was a beautiful nun, the
daughter of Dubtach, an Irish nobleman. She procured honey from stone
for the poor and gave her distaff to a ploughman to do duty for his
broken mould-board. She converted butter that had been turned into
ashes into butter again and gave to a certain district all the cheese
in the steward's store, but not so much as one was ever missed by him.
Of course, Iorwerth's biography draws more on the contemporary medieval view of the Saint than on any solid, historical evidence. However, it is said that at one time the ‘brwyniaid’ were called in Wales ‘pysgod Sant Ffraid’ (St. Bride's fish). The legend used by Iorwerth Fynglwyd is said to be an amalgamation of earlier legends of several different Saint Bridgets including Brigid of Kildare, Brigid of Cill-Muine, Bridget of Sweden and several distinctive Welsh traditions.
‘She knew the fifteen prayers’ - this phrase stands out from all the rest. First thoughts suggested the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary as preached by Saint Dominic’s friars throughout Europe from the 13th century onwards. Further reading showed that the ‘fifteen prayers’ were almost certainly those attributed to Saint Bridget of Sweden (1302-1373) the founder of a new Order of Double-Monasteries of monks and nuns (on similar lines to those of Gilbert of Sempringham) except that in every case they were governed by an Abbess rather than by an Abbot. The ‘fifteen prayers’ are said to have been taught by Our Lord to Bridget in a dream or vision. Said originally to have been in the Swedish vernacular, they were translated into Latin and extensively propagated by English members the Brigittine Order in the 15th Century. St. Bridget also prescribed the ‘Hail Mary’ and the ‘Our Father’ but each said only once with each of the fifteen complex (collect type) prayers. It was considered meritorious to recite each of the fifteen prayers daily for a whole year.
But Iorwerth was writing about Saint Brigid of Ireland – not Bridget of Sweden. We cannot know that he intended the fifteen rosary prayers, or indeed St. Bridget of Sweden’s fifteen prayers. It is unlikely that Saint Brigid (patron of Ireland) in her lifetime had ever seen a set of prayer beads but she most certainly knew her Psalter, her prayers, and the great mysteries of the Christian faith. Certainly by Iorwerth Greybeard's time, St. Dominic’s prayer of the Rosary was an integral part of life in the church of late medieval Wales as elsewhere in Britain.
BRYNCROES – THE HILL OF THE CROSS
The delightful little church
of Saint Mary at Bryncroes on the Lleyn Peninsula was almost completely
rebuilt in 1906 on the original foundations.
My good friend Elwyn Jones, knowing my personal interest in Bryncroes, sent me his own translation from the Welsh of ‘The Church and Parish of Bryncroes on the Lleyn’ by the Rev J. Lodwick Davies, Vicar – being a chapter in ‘Hanes Eglwysi a Phlwyfi Lleyn’ ‘The History of the Churches and Parishes of Lleyn.’ Editor: The Rev D.T. Davies, sometime Vicar of Tydweiliog. Published c1910.
…… “Christians in the past
chose to build a church near a sacred well. The church at Bryncroes is
one such. The church stands near St. Mary's well and there is no doubt
that converts were baptised in St. Mary's well, and it is from this
well that the water is obtained to this day for use in the sacrament of
baptism in St. Mary's Church Bryncroes.
“There was a close association in the Middle Ages between Bryncroes and the famous monastery on Bardsey. Such names as 'Mynachlog' and 'Ty Mair' on local farms would appear to bear this out. Old documents also show that the Bryncroes tithe was paid to the Monastery on Bardsey. The Church was on the pilgrim's way to Bardsey and there is no doubt that the monks came over to the mainland frequently to visit the churches under their care. It is said that some of them spent the winter in the parish and there are to this day two farms bearing the name 'Bodgaeaf' 'Winter Stay' close to the church.
…… “The inside of the church was also renovated some seventy years ago. The door was on the north wall at that time but this was blocked up and a new one opened on the western wall. Some people remember going to school at the church and it seems likely that the church was used by the Rev Griffith Jones, Llanddowror and Madam Bevan as a peripatetic school.
…… “It is said that there was a large piece of timber reaching from one side of the church to the other which was called
There it is again, that reference to fifteen – ‘The Fifteen Wood’ with its symbols. Perhaps here also first thoughts of the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary of Blessed Mary must give way to the fifteen prayers of St. Bridget of Sweden. These fifteen meditations on the passion of our Lord are most suitable for meditation below the Holy Rood in the church on the hill of the Cross. But, on the other hand, they seem more suitable for the monastic cloister than the popular pilgrimage. Here at Bryncoes, with Saint Mary’s Well and Saint Mary’s Church, one instinctively feels that the Holy Rosary would have been prayed.
Again by Tudor times the Rosary was well established as the popular medium of contemplative prayer. Indeed King Henry VIII was noted for the extremely large rosary links that he, himself, used often and notably as a pilgrim walking barefooted to Walsingham (where a candle burned constantly for his intentions and at his own expense) until greed got the better of him.
‘The Fifteen Wood’ – what a remarkable folk-memory this is, a memory surviving through four centuries, just a detail, the mere wooden location of something that happened daily in that little church, total strangers, tired but happy travellers, with a common cause, kneeling in prayer, a fifteen-fold prayer, and then leaving as quickly as they came. It was greed that brought about the demise of pilgrimage, the destruction of the monasteries, the despoliation of sacred shrines and the specific order to destroy the Holy Roods of the Cross of Christ in the parish churches of England and Wales. Happily, in Saint Mary’s Church at Bryncroes, the beam remained – at least until the mid 19th century.
By 1140, Bardsey was being called by Meilyr Brydydd (court poet to Gruffudd ap Cynan, Prince of Gwynedd)
Those pilgrims to Bardsey followed established routes from all parts of Wales and beyond. One came down to Aberdaron from the north via Bangor Fawr and Clynnog Fawr. Another from South Wales, after visiting the Church of the Holy Rood at Y Mwnt on the coast between Cardigan and Aberporth and then crossing the Dovey estuary at Pennal – with its Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula. Then onwards via Sarn Helen, the old Roman Road, would after many days make its final station at Bryncroes. There the pilgrims, kneeling in Saint Mary’s Church, before the Holy Rood (the fifteen wood), would recite the fifteen prayers of the Rosary, thankful to be starting the final stages of their journey to Fair Mary’s Isle. The last stage was through the little port of Aberdaron where they might need to stay for days waiting for favourable tides for the short crossing of the treacherous sound.
Click Re: Saint Dyfrig Click Re: The Rosary Today Click Re: Bardsey History
Click Re: Saint Brigid of Ireland Click Re: Fifteen Prayers of Saint Bridget of Sweden
Click Re: The Church of Saint Hywyn at Aberdaron
To visit the Bryncroes
Community website, click: HERE
To visit the Bardsey Island Trust website, click: HERE
To visit Llandudno, Queen of North Wales Resorts, click: HERE
Compiled by Noel Walley. Updated December 2008