Home  »  Volume IV: April  »  St. Beuno, or Beunor, Abbot of Clynnog, in Caernarvonshire, Confessor

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

April 21

St. Beuno, or Beunor, Abbot of Clynnog, in Caernarvonshire, Confessor

HE was a native of Powis-land, 1 and son of Beugi, or, as the Welch write it, Hywgi, grandson to the prince of Powis-land, or at least part of it, called Glewisig. For the sake of his education he was sent into Arvon, the territory opposite to Anglesey, from which island it is separated by the river, or rather arm of the sea, called Menai. This country was also called Snowdon forest, from its hills, the highest in Britain, which derive their name from the snow which covers them, being called in Welch, Craig Eriry, words of the same import with their English name Snowdon. These mountains afford such an impregnable retreat, and so much good pasture, that the usual style of the sovereigns was, Princes of North-Wales, and Lords of Snowdon. Sejont, called by the Romans Segontium, was the capital city, situated on the river Sejont. Its ruins are still visible near the town and castle of Caernarvon, (or city of Arvon,) built by Edward I., on the mouth of the river, at the great ferry over to Anglesey. That island had been, under the pagan Britons, the chief seat of the Druids, and was afterwards illustrious for many holy monks and hermits. On the coast opposite to this island, in the county of Caernarvon, stood three great monasteries: that of Clynnog Fawr, near Sejont, or Caernarvon; that of Conway, on the extremity of this county, towards Denbighshire, on the river Conway, which separates the two counties; from which it is called Aberconway, that is, Mount of the Conway. It was the burying-place of the princes of North-Wales. Edward I. built there a strong castle and town facing Beaumaris, the capital of Anglesey, though the passage here is much broader than from Caernarvon. Bangor, or Banchor, i. e. White Choir, or Place of the Choir, was on the same coast, in the midway between Caernarvon and Aberconway. This monastery and bishopric were founded by St. Daniel, about the year 525. The very town was formerly called Bangor Fawr, or the Great Bangor: but the monastery and city were destroyed by the Danes; and, though the bishopric still subsists, the town is scarcely better than a village. St. Beuno seems to have had his education in the monastery of Bangor: he afterwards became the father and founder of several great nurseries of saints. Two monasteries he built in the isle of Anglesey, Aberffraw and Trefdraeth, of both which churches he is to this day titular saint. On the continent, he founded Clynnog, or Clynnoc fechan, i. e. Little Clynnog; and Clynnog Fawr, or Vawr, i. e. Great Clynnog. This last was situated near the river Sejont, and the present Caernarvon. Cadvan was at that time king of North-Wales, and had lately gained a great victory over Ethelred, king of the pagan English Saxons of Northumberland, who had barbarously massacred the poor monks of Bangor, in the year 607, or somewhat later. St. Beuno made the king a present of a golden sceptre, and the prince assigned a spot to build his monastery upon, near Fynnon Beuno, or Beuno’s well, in the parish of Llanwunda, of which he is titular saint. But when he was beginning to lay the foundation, a certain woman came to him with a child in her arms, saying, that ground was this infant’s inheritance. The holy man, much troubled hereat, took the woman with him to the king, who kept his court at Caer Sejont, and told him, with a great deal of zeal and concern, that he could not devote to God another’s patrimony. The king, refusing to pay any regard to his remonstrances, the saint went away. But one Gwyddeiant, cousin-german to the king, immediately went after him, and bestowed on him the township of Clynnog Fawr, his undoubted patrimony, where Beuno built his church about the year 616. King Cadvan died about that time; but his son and successor Cadwallon surpassed him in his liberality to the saint and his monastery. It is related, amongst other miracles, that when a certain man had lost his eye-brow by some hurt, St. Beuno healed it by applying the iron point of his staff: and that from this circumstance a church four miles from Clynnog, perhaps built by the person so healed, retains to this day the name of Llanael hayarn, i. e. church of the Iron brow: though popular tradition is not perhaps a sufficient evidence of such a miracle; and some other circumstances might give occasion to the name. Some further account of St. Beuno will be given in the life of St. Wenefride. The year of his death is no where recorded.—He is commemorated on the 14th of January and 21st of April. And on Trinity Sunday great numbers resort to the wakes at Clynnog, and formerly brought offerings to the church.  1
  This monastery passed afterwards into the hands of Benedictins of the congregation of Clugni: whence it had the name of Clynnog, or Clunnoc, being formerly known only by that of its founder. The church, built of beautiful stone, is so large and magnificent as to remain to this day the greatest ornament and wonder of the whole country, especially St. Beuno’s chapel, which is joined to the church by a portico. In this chapel, the fine painted or stained glass in the large windows is much effaced and destroyed, except a large figure of our blessed Saviour extended on the cross. Opposite to this crucifix, about three yards from the east window, is St. Beuno’s tomb, raised above the ground, and covered with a large stone, upon which people still lay sick children, in hopes of being cured. This great building, though very strong, is in danger of decaying for want of revenues to keep it in repair. Those of the monastery were chiefly settled on the Principal of Jesus College in Oxford, except what was reserved for the maintenance of a vicar to serve the parish. Some still bring offerings of some little piece of silver or chiefly of lambs, which are sold by the church-wardens, and the money put into St. Beuno’s box, to be employed in repairing the chapel. From an ancient custom, farmers in that country continue to print on the foreheads of their sheep what they call St. Beuno’s mark. Mr. Robert Vaughan of Hengwrt, the great Welch antiquarian, has given us an ample list of benefactions bestowed upon Clynnoc, by princes and others. On St. Beuno see his MS. life, Howel’s History of Wales, p. 11 and 12, and a long curious letter, concerning him and his church, which the compiler received from the Rev. Mr. Farrington, the ingenious vicar of Clynnog Fawr, or Vawr, as the Welch adjective Mawr, great, is written in several parts of Wales.  2
Note 1. Powis-land was a great principality in Wales, and anciently comprised all the country that lay between the Severn as high as the bridge at Gloucester, the Dee, and the Wye. The capital was Pen-gwern, now Shrewsbury. King Offa, to restrain the daily incursions and depredations of the Welch, drove them out of all the plain country into the mountains, and annexed the country about the Severn and the Wye to his kingdom of Mercia, and for a curb, made a deep ditch, extending from one sea to the other, called Clawdh Offa, i. e. Offa’s dike. On this account the royal seat of the princes of Powis was translated from Pengwern to Mathraval, in Montgomeryshire. In the time of St. Beuno, Brochwel, called by some, in Latin, Brochmaclus, was king of Powis and Chester. He resided at Pen-gwern, in the house where, since, the college and church of St. Chad were built; was religious, and a great friend to the monks of Bangor. When Ethelred, the Pagan Saxon king of Northumberland, had massacred a great number of them, Brochwel assembled an army, and being joined by Cadfan, king of Britain, Morgan, king of Demetia, (now Caermarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, and Cardiganshire,) and Blederic, king of Cornwall, gave a memorable overthrow to Ethelred, upon the river Dee, in the year 617. Brochwel was soon after succeeded in Powis by his son, Cadelh-Egbert, king of England, who, having discomfited the Danes and Welch together at Hengist-down, about the year 820, made all Wales tributary, and annexed Chester, called till then Caer Dheon ar Dhyfrdwy, for ever to England, which till then had remained in the hands of the Welch. Under King Ethelwulph, Berthred, his tributary king of Mercia, defeated and slew at Kettel, Merfyn Frych, king of the Welch. But his son Roderic, surnamed Mawr, or the Great, united all Wales in his dominion in 843. But, in 877, left it divided among his three elder sons, having built for each a royal palace. That of Gwineth, or North Wales, at Aberffraw, he gave his eldest son Anarawd: that of South Wales at Dinefawr, or Cardigan, he left to Cadelh: and to his third son Merfyn, he gave Powis, with the palace of Mathrafel; but this was soon usurped by Cadelh, and added to South Wales. King Athelstan drove the Britons from Exeter, and confined them in Cornwall, beyond the river Cambria, now Tamar, and in Wales beyond the Wye. All Wales was again united under Howel Dha, i. e. Howel the Good, in 940, who, having been long prince of South Wales and Powis, was, for his great probity, elected king of North Wales. He drew up the code of the Welch laws, which he prevailed upon the pope to confirm, and Lambert, archbishop of St. David’s, to declare all transgressors excommunicated. He died in peace in 948, and his kingdom was parcelled among his four sons, and the sons of the last king of North Wales; but by his laws all the other princes in Wales paid homage to the prince of North Wales. Lewelyn ap Gryffydh, the brave last prince of North Wales, after many great exploits, being betrayed and slain near the river Wye, Edward I. in the twelfth year of his reign, united Wales to England, built two castles in North Wales, at Conwey and Caernarvon, and caused his queen Eleonore to lie-in soon after in the latter place, that in his new-born son Edward II. he might give the Welch a prince, according to his terms, who was born in Wales, could speak no English, and was of an unblemished character. King Henry VII. abolished the oppressive laws which his predecessors had made against the Welch, and Henry VIII. ordered their code and customs to be laid aside, and the English laws to take place in Wales.
  Public annals of Wales were kept, in which all things memorable were recorded, in the two great monasteries of Conwey in North Wales, and Ystratflur in South Wales, where the princes and other great men of that country were buried. These were compared together every three years, when the Beirdh, or Bards, i. e. learned writers, belonging to those two houses, made their visitations called Clera. These annals were continued to the year 1270, a little before the death of the last prince Lhewelyn, slain at Buelht, near the Wye, in 1283. Gutryn Owen took a copy of these annals, in the reign of Edward IV. Humphrey Lloyd, the great British antiquarian, in the reign of Henry VII. translated them into English. And from them David Powel compiled his History of Wales, under Queen Elizabeth, augmented by Mr. W. Wynne, in 1697. [back]