Brighid, Goddess and Saint
Places in Wales
In Wales St. Brigid is sometimes known as San Ffraid and over twenty churches and chapels are dedicated to her. There are a number of place names that begin with Llansanffraid or Llansantffraid. The word Llan refers to a small community, monastic enclosure or church. The Welsh poet, Iorwerth Fynglwyd (Edward Greybeard, 1480-1527) described the life of Saint Bridget originally in verse, in the course of which he also recalled some of the many miracles that have been attributed to her:
“She was a beautiful nun, the daughter of Dubtach, an Irish nobleman. She procured honey from stone for the poor and gave her distaff to a ploughman to do duty for his broken mould-board. She converted butter that had been turned into ashes into butter again and gave to a certain district all the cheese in the steward's store, but not so much as one was ever missed by him… She floated from Ireland to Wales on a turf and landed in the Dovey.”1
The legend of St. Brigid floating from Ireland to Wales on a sod of turf appears to refer to the life of St. Brigid of Cill Muine who is also known as Brignat. She landed on the banks of the River Conwy in North Wales. It is well to be aware that more than one St. Brigid may have contributed to the cult of San Ffraid. A chapel was built at the place but by the 18th century it had been lost through tidal erosion. The church of Llansantffraid Glan Conwy (Church St, Llansanffraid Glan Conwy LL28 5NB) is close by and is said to have been founded by King Maelgwn. In 1594, an investigation was held at the church into allegations of witchcraft against Gwen ferch Elis, a weaver and herbal healer of people and animals and she was subsequently hanged in the town square.2 Hagiographies of Celtic saints have something of a resemblance to stories of super heroes. Other Celtic Saints are said to have arrived in Britain in similar ways. St. Piran was tied to a millstone and rolled over a cliff into a stormy sea that becalmed as soon as his body touched the water. He was carried to Cornwall where he preached to a badger, a fox and a bear.
Llansantffraid Glyn Dyfrdwy
Llansantffraid Glyn Dyfrdwy (LL21 9AN) refers to the Church of Sant Ffraid by the Valley of the (River) Dee. The village is also known as Carrog. The original church (dating to at least 1190ce) was close to the river and near stepping stones where people crossed the river. There is a deed of a gift of land in Llansantffraid yn Edeyrnion made at this time. It was rebuilt on higher ground in 1613. Not far up the hill from Groes Faen is a sacred spring, Ffynon Sant Ffraid. It was destroyed in the flood of 1601.
"The Dee of the great leaps
Took Llansantffraid church.
The sacred books
and the Silver Chalice also."
A new church was built on higher ground and opened in October 1613/14. It was renovated in 1852 and again in 1928.3
Llansanffraid Glyn Ceiriog
St. Ffraid's Church Glyn Ceiriog (Llangollen LL20 7DH) is built on an ancient site. The oldest part of the church is the tower, the base is Saxon and the remainder Norman. It was rebuilt c1790 and was restored in 1839. In 1887 the box pews were replaced with oak pews and the chancel had oak panels installed.
St. Bridget & St. Cwyfan, Dyserth
St. Bridget's Dyserth (Waterfall Road, LL18 6DB). Dyserth means hermitage, perhaps that of St. Cwyfan. The first church must have sprung from the hermits presence in this place. The earliest record of a church is in the Domesday Book of 1087. The east window has stained glass dating from 1450 and the 1530s The date 1579 is carved into a roof beam. It was extensively renovated in 1873.
Llansantffraed Cwmdeuddwr (Rhayader, LD6 5AU) on the western edge of the Wye valley. It was possibly founded in the 12th century. It was rebuilt in 1778 and restored in 1866. The church has also been dedicated to St. Winifred.
St. Bridget's Church (Builth Elwell LD1 5RY) The Church sits close to a small stream in a D-shaped enclosure. A Cistercian convent may have been established here sometime before 1174. The village is small and the church was in a delapidated condition before it was demolished and rebuilt in 1895.
This church is situated at the end of Stryd-y-Eglwys Llanon, some 350m E of the coast. St. Non gave birth to Dewi nearby. Dewi (David) became the patron saint of Wales. In 1158 Roger de Clare granted the church to the Knights Hospitaller. The tower dates from the early 16th century. Except for the tower the church was entirely rebuilt between 1839 and 1841.
St Ffraid Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain (SY22 6AP) The church is normally open from 9am to 4pm daily. The church dates from the 12th century. It was extended in the 14th century. A porch and bell tower were added in the 17th century and a north transept in 1727. There was some restoration in 1893.
St. Bride's Bay
The beautiful west coastline of Pembrokeshire overlooks St. Bride's Bay which stretches from St. David's in the north to Wooltack Point in the south. Near the southern end of the bay there stands the tiny hamlet of St. Bride's. According to local legend St. Bride sailed from Ireland about 500ce with a group of women and established a nunnery here. The church at St. Bride's (Haverfordwest SA62 3AJ) is mentioned in 1291. It was restored in 1863 and again in 2003. To the north of the Church on the beach of St. Bride's Haven there used to be the remains of a small chapel which has been lost to the sea. Fishermen prayed to Bridget for a good catch and protection at sea. Sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries this small chapel fell into decay and was used as a salt house for curing herring.
St. David's, Brawdy
Brawdy parish church (Haverfordwest SA62 6LX) is situated a little inland from St. Bride's Bay off the A487 at Penycwm. The present church is 13th century restored in 1879, 1901 and 1990. It is on the site of a much earlier burial ground and there is a 6th century tombstone to an Irishman, Macutrenus. This church was originally dedicated to St. Bridget and the nave is aligned on St. Bridget's Day sunrise. The dedication was changed when the manor came under the ownership of the Bishop of St. David's Cathedral.
St. Non's Well
This holy well lies on the coastal footpath to the south of St. David's (SA62 6BN). Monica Sjoo has suggested a connection with Brigid. The adjacent retreat centre has a modern chapel dedicated to St. Non with a window depicting St. Bride casting fishes into water.
Pistyll San Ffraid
The field to the North West of Castell Henllys (SA41 3UR) is called Pant Sant Fread and a spring rises there. Castell Henllys is a now an arcehological centre for the understanding of the Iron Age.
The Norman church of Llansanffraid-ar-Elai (St. Bride's super Ely) dates from the early 13th century. It is situated just south of junction 33 on the M4 (CF5 6HB). It is on a mound that is said to be a site of Druid worship and there is a very ancient yew tree in the churchyard. The church was restored in 1849 and again in 1902. There is a window dating from 1954 depicting St. Bride with a bishop's crosier in her hand.
Llansantffraed juxta Usk
This church is by the River Usk and A40 just south of Brecon (LD3 7YF). A church on this site is mentioned in 1254 but by the late 19th century it was in ruins. The present gothic style building dates from 1885 and contains some stone and features rescued from the old church including the 13th century font.
St. Bride's Major
St. Bride's Major (Lon-Yr-Eglwys, Bridgend CF32 0SH) is open from 0900 to 1730 daily. The earliest reference occurs during the first half of the twelfth century, when it is recorded that ‘In the year 1141 Maurice de Londonia gave to the church of St. Peter of Gloucester, the church of St. Michael of Ewenny, the church of St. Bridget (St. Brides Major) with the chapel of Ugemore (Wick), de Lanfey Lampha the church of St. Michael of Colvestone (Colwinstone), with all the lands, meadows and all other things belonging to them freely and willingly in free almoigne in order that it might become a convent of monks’.4 On each side of the chancel arch there is a squint through which those in the nave can see the altar. In one of these stands a lovely statue of St. Bridget holding a book under her right arm and a pen in her left hand.
St. Bride's Minor
The Church of St Ffraid, St. Bride's Minor (Llansanffraid-ar-Ogwr) (Aberkenfig, Bridgend CF32 9RH) is sited on sloping ground above Afon Ogwr to the west of the village of Sarn. Probably 14th century in origin but heavily restored in 1896.
St. Bride's, Wentlooge
The church of St. Bride's, Wentlooge (Llansantffraed Gwynllwg) (Newport NP10 8SE) is thought to be 14th century and later with a fine tower.
St. Bride's, Netherwent
St. Bride's, Netherwent (St. Bride's Rd, Caldicot NP26 3AT) is sited by St. Bride's Brook in a tiny hamlet just north of junction 23a on the M4. It was mostly rebuilt in 1846 and has an unusual bell tower.
St. Bridget's, Skenfrith
This church stands next to the River Monnow (Afon Mynwy) close to the border with England (NP7 8UG). The present building dates from 1207. Renovation took place in 1663, 1909 and 2011. Acorns, oak leaves and flames can be seen in the sanctuary and there is an ancient head of a nun over the porch which is said to represent Bridget.. The tower dates from a time when the Welsh borders were often raided by the English and people would need to take refuge. The walls of the tower are five feet thick. St. Fraed's Well is marked on the Ordance Survey map in nearby woods.