Vitae Sanctorum Cambriae: The Latin Lives of the Welsh Saints

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic

Abstract

This project will produce a new online edition of the medieval Latin lives of Welsh saints. These are engaging, colourful texts, which locate the deeds, journeys and miracles of the country's first holy men and women in a legendary landscape of early kingdoms, tyrannical rulers, pagan Irish and Saxons, and occasional infestations by snakes and dragons. The works appear mostly to represent an extraordinary burst of creativity in and on the borders of Wales during the century or so after the Norman Conquest: a striking assertion of local traditions in a church undergoing absorption into a larger trans-national organisation.

The interest and importance of these compositions has long been recognised, and they have been mined over the years by students of early Welsh history, literature, culture and Christianity. Yet only a handful has been edited to exacting modern standards. Some are best known from the pages of a 1944 publication which offered no detailed analysis or commentary; others, where they have been printed at all, are scattered and unevenly treated. Where up-to-date work has been done, it has tended to show that significant progress can be made on questions of date, authorship, provenance and textual relationship. These advances in part reflect the development of British medieval Latin as a serious subject for academic study during the later twentieth century. Our edition will bring the entire corpus into line with the best modern work.

The texts in need of revision include material of evident widespread interest, such as the lives of Cadocus and Gildas, with their early representations of king Arthur as secular anti-hero rather than the more familiar saviour-figure, or the Lincoln manuscript of the life of David, which is known to be the closest Latin version to the Welsh translation, but has never been printed. There is also a substantial group of texts which has been almost wholly overlooked: lives of Caradocus, Clitaucus, Decuman, Keyna and Kynedus, for example, have attracted no modern work and have never been translated. Yet any modern reassessment of the literary genre, and of its historical, cultural and religious significance, ought to take account of the full corpus.

Such a reassessment of the Latin tradition follows naturally from recent and ongoing work. 'The Cult of Saints in Wales' [CSW] project (AHRC-funded, 2013-17) is preparing a new edition of all of the Welsh-language texts on saints, and 'Vitae Sanctorum Cambriae' [VSC] is designed to complement it intellectually, to build on its technical infrastructure, and to benefit from the momentum which CSW is bringing to the subject-area. Besides uniting Welsh and Latin editions on the same platform, the project will further develop the website's associated contextual materials, which are designed to be of broad general interest and value.

The cultural importance of the medieval veneration of saints must strike every visitor to Wales, where saints crowd onto signposts in a way most unusual for many other parts of Europe. The phenomenon calls for study through the range of textual evidence. The vernacular tradition of Welsh lives, poems and genealogical texts is the focus of CSW; VSC will turn the spotlight on the Latin lives, most of which are earlier compositions than the Welsh-language ones, with which they share a complex and intriguing relationship.

Besides offering a separate window onto cultural and literary tradition in medieval Wales, VSC will give rise to some distinct questions. Unlike the Welsh-language sources, works in Latin could readily travel across Europe, and some of our texts made their way into collections compiled in England and elsewhere. This phenomenon of Welsh saints moving east is one to which we shall give particular attention, looking both for clues as to the date and route(s) of transmission, and also studying what happens to these very localised texts when they are gathered into international compendia.

Planned Impact

During our current project, CSW, we have begun to exploit the potential for the topic's impact within Wales. In the proposed project, VSC, we will build on these foundations and introduce our work to comparable constituencies in England.

Research into the saints of Wales is relevant to the country's heritage, education and tourism sectors. We have contacts with 3 national bodies which have a stake in heritage: Cadw, the Royal Commission, and the National Museum. All 3 are committed to educational outreach and to promoting understanding of Welsh history. Their particular interest in the built environment meets, at churches and shrines, our interest in cult and religious practice. At the Museum's St Fagans site, the example of Llandeilo Tal-y-Bont, a medieval church rebuilt and decorated in the light of traditions of Teilo and other saints, well illustrates how research in this area can engage the public.

The CSW team contributed to Cadw's 'Pan-Wales Heritage Implementation Plan: Celtic Saints, Spritual Place and Pilgrimage', and the agency's ongoing concern with ecclesiastical heritage is shown by its 'Faith Tourism Action Plan' (2013) and its 'Strategic Action Plan for Historic Places of Worship' (2015). Recommendations in these plans include the need to identify the rôle saints play in promoting Wales as a destination, the development of events around saints' days, and the need to build partnerships with universities better to understand the significance of historic religious buildings. RA Crampin is an invited contributor to an upcoming forum which will discuss these matters.

As a specific example of collaboration, CSW will hold a workshop in June 2016 at the Cadw-maintained chapel of St Winifride at Holywell. That event has also been planned in association with the holy well's Project Director, working with the Bishop of Wrexham, as one of a range of events timed to coincide with the annual pilgrimage to the site. Further details of our current series of evens will be found in 'Pathways'. Each event has been organised with local partners to bring in appropriate audiences; they have been popular and generated invitations to additional venues.

CSW has therefore already had success in reaching professionals in public bodies and the organisers of various local-interest groups. The appeal is a joint one across history and religious heritage, and its potential for tourism is clear. Building on this base, CAWCS is currently developing a bid with partners in Ireland for European Interreg funding to develop historical faith-tourism in the Celtic countries. If this bid were successful it would greatly enhance the impact of the proposed project (and vice versa). Even without it, however, CSW is providing considerable momentum on which VSC can build.

In addition to heritage professionals and volunteers in national and local organisations, librarians, archivists and teachers - all of those who in professional life offer information on the cultural, social or religious history of Wales - will benefit from, and pass on, awareness of our work.

Our research can affect these various bodies and people by offering:
1) access to a range of fascinating medieval texts, most of them with clear links to surviving places and landscapes. The educational value of this is clear, and extensive mapping on the website will offer appropriate access for all whose interests are local, regional or related to tourism.
2) a body of related resources on the saints which relates our specific research to an extensive network of cultural associations across Wales and beyond.
3) up-to-date assessment of traditions which play a central role in the early story of Wales, and have played a significant part in constructing national identity. Our work will affect all who want to understand or tell that story. This especially includes heritage and IS professionals: this is a field in which outdated and incomplete information is too often repeated.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Lecture at academic conference in Los Angeles 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Lecture on Gerald of Wales' Life of St David to the annual conference of the Celtic Studies Association of North America in UCLA, stressing the importance of looking at the later lives of Welsh saints but also the importance of looking at a work of Gerald's which has had no attention paid to it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Lecture at the launch of the website at the end of the Seintiau project in Aberystwyth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Discussion of the importance of the Latin lives of Welsh saints for a mixed audience of professional academics and also members of the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation to graduate students in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation of the project to the graduate students in the Department of ASNC; attend by some 70 students and senior members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentations on St Padarn at Llanbadarn Church, Aberystwyth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A series of presentations on the Vitae Sanctorum Cambriae project, St Padarn (the local saint), and the stained glass to Padarn in the church to about 70 members of the general public in Llanbadarn Church in Aberystwyth on 1 April 2017. The presentations sparked a lively discussion between the presentations and afterwards, and resulted in several requests for further information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentations on the VSC project and Teilo (the local saint) at Llandaff Cathedral (Cardiff) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A series of presentations on the Vitae Sanctorum Cambriae project,Teilo (the local saint), and the stained glass to saints in the cathedral to about 80 members of the general public in Llandaff Cathedral (Cardiff) on 11 November 2017. The PI talked about a text called 'Braint Teilo' a legal text about the privileges of the diocese; in the medieval period this was read out every year on the saint's day (Feburary 8); it was read out at the end of the presentations - probably the first time that has happened since the medieval period. The presentations sparked a lively discussion between the presentations and afterwards, and resulted in several requests for further information and invitations to talks elsewhere.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017