We are all currently walking around wrapped up for the onset of winter and with the turn of the weather I secretly hope for a harsh winter with snow drifts in the inner court yard. The castle has seen all of the elements in different states and withstood them over time. Some of the old photos from the 1970’s show impressive amounts of snow around the castle, hence the wish for a good snowfall this year. The castle is one of the oldest buildings in Wales if not the oldest which has been continually habited in and it is sometimes easy to forget that we live amongst walls that have seen many different faces. I thought that some of the studentry (A term I read in a book the other day and from Professor Strunk of Cornell, 1869-1946, coined and substituted for student body; not much of an improvement but less cadaverous) may appreciate a brief history of the myths and fact that surround the grounds of the college and the people who lived in and around them. There are two books that have been written or contributed in by former staff members including; Roberts Denning’s the story of St Donat’s and Atlantic College, as well as Allan Hall’s St Donat’s castle a guide and brief history.
Quick (I’ve got a code in 5 minutes…) summary
Legend attributes old Brythonic King ‘Caratacus’ or ‘Caradog’ having founded a church at St Donat’s after being held captive by the Romans in Rome, converted to Christianity and returned to Wales. This would have been around 51 AD therefore making this one of the first places in Wales where Christianity was preached. The church used to be called Llanwerydd which is thought to be as a dedication to a St Gwerydd who is said to have been descended from a much older mythical king ‘Bran the blessed’. Bran the blessed appears in the Mabinogion which was written down in the 12th century however the 11 stories of the Mabinogion draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology and some of the details are attributed to going back to the Iron Age (summed up as being pretty old).
A more academic summary
To start we may as well look at some of the myth and legend that surrounds the castle. Caratacus who opposed the Roman’s and their advance into ‘Albion’ was thought to have kept a band of guerrilla fighters based in the Welsh hills. This was around the first century; he was betrayed to the Romans and taken to Rome where he won a pardon from Claudius, looking up at the grand buildings of Rome he was quoted as saying, ‘when you have all this, why do you covet our poor hut’s.’(Ashe 1990). It was in W.G.Hurlow’s book (1952) that the myth of Caratacus and St Donat’s is introduced. When in Rome Caratacus converted to Christianity and on his return was said to have lived at St Donat’s and founded a church in the hidden glen which is now at the foot of the castle and where the current church stands (Cwm Hancorne). In Rome it was said that either himself or his daughter Eurgain had met St Paul and become a Christian. (Before Norman times the church was known as Llanwerydd, the church (LLan) of St Gwerydd who was a saint in the 5th century (Williams 1852). He was said to be descended from the mythical ‘Bran the blessed’ who was a giant and King of Britain in Welsh mythology and appeared in the second branch of the Mabinogion (important medieval Welsh text that’s available from the library) and several of the Welsh Triads. The Church is also attributed with being founded by S. Catwardd of Cor Illtyd of whom we do not know anything else of (Baring-Gould 2005). St Donat himself is the patron and protector of seafarers and the renaming is likely to have occurred after the Norman Conquest. With Llantwit Major being one of the European hubs for the study of Christianity and its monastic school either resuscitated or originated by St Illtyd (lltutus) another 5th century saint who established a seat of learning which flourished for around 700 years. The general acknowledgement that the origins of early Christianity in Wales can be traced back to a few miles from St Donat’s, the notion that Caractacus founded the beginnings of the Christian Church in Wales earlier in Cwm Hancorne of Llanwerydd is a myth that is shrouded with intresting tibits of history. In respect to Llantwit, Enfys McMurry (1999) writes, “It’s proximity to St Donat’s is seen by many writers as more than coincidence. They believe an unbroken line of Christianity lies from Llawerydd to St Illtyd making this the seminal location of British Christianity.”
Llantwit at one point contended with Aberystwyth to be the site for the University of Wales at the time the then owner of St Donat’s castle, Dr Nicholl-Carne, offered a free six acres of land for the erection of the University of South Wales. At the time the town of Llantwit came under the estate and the site of the 5th century monastery (old buildings/ruins to the east of Llantwit Major Church) and was part of the intended site which was going to be given gratis to the University (Nicholas 1991). I think it would please Dr Nicholl-Carne that although he never lived to see a University on his estate, the notion that this historically punctured land should be given up for teaching again has lived on and come to fruition with the college.
Ashe G (1990) Mythology of the British Isles. Norwich. Guild Publishing. Pg 140.
Hurlow W (1952) The Story of St Donat’s. The National Magazine Company Ltd. St Donat’s. Pg 3.
Williams R (1852) Enwogion Cymru: A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Welshmen, from the Earliest Times to the Present, and Including Every Name Connected with the Ancient History of Wales. London. W Rees. Pg 196.
Baring-Gould (2005) The Lives of the British Saints: The Saints of Wales, Cornwall and Irish Saints, Volume 2. Oxford. Kessinger publishing. Pg 386.
McMurry E (1999) Hearst’s Other Castle. Bridgend. Poetry Wales Press Ltd. Pg 20.
Nicholas T(1991) Annals and Antiquities of the Counties and County Families of Wales. Cardiff. Geneological Publishing. Pg 525.
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