Saint Derfel

Cwmbran’s Saint comes home nearly 500 years later!

“St Derfel Gadarn (The Valiant)”

 

In 2010 The Ancient Cwmbran and the Cistercians Partnership commissioned an artist, chosen by the project volunteers, to create a wooden life-size sculpture of this well loved and infamous 6th century Celtic Church Warrior Saint. The sculpture was unveiled at Thornhill’s Communities First’s annual St Derfel’s Day celebrations on Tuesday 6th April 2011

 

Derfel is celebrated in Medieval Welsh poetry as a follower of the famous King Arthur, one of only seven survivors of King Arthur’s last battle at Camlan, in the 6th century. The poem describes that Derfel survived through the strength of his spear.

 

Derfel is said to have retired into the church after the battle and to have built two churches in Wales, one in North Wales at what is now Llanderfel village, and the other here in Cwmbran at what is now known as Llanderfel Farm, within what was the Lordship of Caerleon. He finally became the bishop of Bardsey Island (the island of 20,000 saints).

Both churches became sites of pilgrimage in the medieval period. Every year during the pilgrim season, thousands of pilgrims visited these shrines to pray to St Derfel, as it appears to have been a tradition that Derfel could enter Hell and retrieve the lost soul of a relative of the praying pilgrim.

 

Later Medieval Tudor history records and describes a wooden statue of St Derfel with a legend attached to it that if burnt it would burn down a forest. The statue was taken from Wales under the orders of King Henry VIII. The Bishop of London, who described the Welsh devotion to such statues as the “idol worship of gargoyles”, decreed that the statue was to be used as part of the funeral pyre for the public burning of a Franciscan Friar, the confessor of Catherine of Aragon, one John Forest, for refusing to except King Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Church of England.

 

Hall’s Chronicles 1539 relate that, “upon the gallows that he died on was set up in great letters these verses follow

 

Derfel Gadarn

As sayth the Welshmen

Fetched outlaws out of Hell,

 

Now is he come with spear and shield,

In armour to burn in Smithfield,

For in Wales he may not dwell,

 

And Forest the friar,

That obstinate liar

That willfully shall be dead,

 

In his contumacy

The Gospel doeth deny 

The King to be supreme head.

 


 

 

St Derfell standing guard over a pile of chippings 

St Derfell before Painting 

© 2020

Ancient Cwmbran Society 

 

 

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