Dear brothers and sisters,
I have just entered the house and boiled the kettle for a cup of tea at the end of a very long but very blessed day of pilgrimage, with our senior sister and seven of the brothers of the parish, having greatly enjoyed our spiritual-journey to Mathern and Tintern.
After chanting the Paschal Hours at Nazareth House, our eastward journey took us to Mathern, the place where St Tewdrig died from his battle wounds after leading the Welsh army against the invading Saxons.
His hope was to be buried on Ynys Echni (Flat Holm), but divine intervention took him only as far as Mathern, where a miraculous spring gushed forth – though today the waters in it are choked with autumn leaves and decaying vegetation.
However, the brothers of the parish have suggested that cleaning the well is something they would very much like to do.
Three of the brothers from Bath and Chippenham met us, having already explored the churchyard.
Our first stop, however, was neither the well nor the church – a graceful and imposing building despite its stark protestant interior – but the lovely little green area around the statue of St Tewdrig, where the instant-appearance of a table from Menna’s Land-rover (in which I greatly enjoyed travelling!) and the assembly of parishioners’ offerings conjured up a much appreciated picnic lunch.
After visiting the church, enclosing the site where St Tewdrig’s coffin and relics were found, and subsequently reburied in the 17th century, we made our way to the Holy Well, where we chanted the Paschal moleben, with the Paschal Canon and hymns to the saint.
We then made our way through the beautiful Wye Valley to Tintern, with its ruins of the great abbey.
It was here, Din-Teyryn, long before the Norman Conquest and the arrival of the Cistercians, that St Tewdrig retired from kingly-rule to live as a hermit, until an angelic messenger commanded him to emerge from his seclusion and lead the warriors of the local kingdom against the invading Saxons, and despite their victory, a blow to the head by a spear thrown by one of the fleeing Saxons mortally wounded the king.
To quote his hagiography,
“…Tewdrig, fully harnessed, mounted his horse and stood at the head of the troops to defend the ford over the Wye. The Saxons were put to flight, but one of them hurled a lance across the water and wounded the old king.
When it was perceived that the wound was mortal, his men were for removing him, but he forbade them to do so, and said that he would die there, and that he had desired his body to rest in the Isle of Echni, the Flat Holm, in the Severn Sea.
On the morrow, however, appeared two stags harnessed to a wagon, and Tewdrig, recognising that they were sent by the will of God, allowed himself to be lifted into the conveyance. The wagon carried him to the bank of the Severn and there stayed, and on the spot a sparkling spring began to flow. Then suddenly the wagon dissolved, and Tewdrig gave up the ghost.
Meurig erected an oratory on the spot, which was blessed by S. Oudoceus. The spot was Mathern, below Chepstow; there the old king was laid, and not conveyed, as he had desired, to Echni.”
The beautiful village that has grown in the more than a thousand years since the death and burial of St Tewdrig, with its centuries old cottages and gardens full of spring flowers and trees in bud and blossom, was a wonderful place in which to honour our martyred hermit-king and saint, and whilst the drama of Tintern was so impressive, and the social time spent there after exploring was a blessing, the spiritual heart and climax of our day was in the little village by the Severn, sacred to St Tewdrig.
I would partcularly like to thank our drivers, Peter, Porphyrios and Menna – and also Aldhelm for playing the accordion and bringing such cheer during our picnic lunch.
Dioch yn fawr!
Venerable Hermit-King and Martyr, Tewdrig, pray to God for us!