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Llanddewi Brefi

Llanddewi Brefi has gained notoriety in recent years as the home of Little Britain's Dafydd, the only gay in the village. The television Llanddewi is a mining village whereas the real Llanddewi Brefi is an old rural village with an important history. It is also possibly unique in that the stream running though the village is known as the Brefi until it reaches the bridge in the village and the Brenig when it emerges the other side of the bridge.

The name of the village is partly clear and partly shrouded in mystery. In the sixth century a convocation was held at Brefi to rule on the church's views on the Pelagian heresy. George Borrow in his Wild Wales gives us the story:

It is not without reason that Llan Ddewi Brefi has been called a place of old renown. In the fifth century, one of the most remarkable ecclesiastical convocations which the world has ever seen was held in this secluded spot. It was for the purpose of refuting certain doctrines, which had for some time past caused much agitation in the Church, and which originated with one Morgan, a native of North Wales, who left his country at an early age and repaired to Italy, where having adopted the appellation of Pelagius, which is a Latin translation of his own name Morgan, which signifies "by the seashore," he soon became noted as a theological writer. It is not necessary to enter into any detailed exposition of his opinions; it will, however, be as well to state that one of the points which he was chiefly anxious to inculcate was that it is possible for a man to lead a life entirely free from sin by obeying the dictates of his own reason without any assistance from the grace of God - a dogma certainly to the last degree delusive and dangerous. When the convocation met there were a great many sermons preached by various learned and eloquent divines, but nothing was produced which was pronounced by the general voice a satisfactory answer to the doctrines of the heresiarch. At length it was resolved to send for Dewi, a celebrated teacher of theology at Mynyw in Pembrokeshire, who from motives of humility had not appeared in the assembly. Messengers therefore were despatched to Dewi, who, after repeated entreaties, was induced to repair to the place of meeting, where after three days' labour in a cell he produced a treatise in writing in which the tenets of Morgan were so triumphantly overthrown that the convocation unanimously adopted it and sent it into the world with a testimony of approbation as an antidote to the heresy, and so great was its efficacy that from that moment the doctrines of Morgan fell gradually into disrepute.

Rhygyvarch's Life of  St David gives the following account:

THE ANTI-PELAGIAN SYNOD AT BREVI

Because after the aid of Saint Germanus for the second time the Pelagian heresy was reviving, introducing the vigor of its stubbornness, like the venom of a poisonous serpent, into the inmost joints of the country, there gathers a universal synod of all the bishops of Britannia. Accordingly, one hundred and eighteen bishops having assembled, there came an innumerable multitude of presbyters, abbots, and other orders, kings, princes, laics, men and women, so that this vast army covered all the places round about. The bishops whisper among themselves, saying, "So great is the multitude that not only a voice, but even a trumpet's call will fail to sound into the ears of everybody. Consequently almost the whole of the people will be unaffected (or alienated) by the preaching, and will carry the heretical taint back with them as they return home." It is arranged, therefore, to preach to the people in this manner, that a heap of garments should be piled up on high ground, whereon one should stand and preach from above; and whosoever should be endowed with such gift of speech that his discourse sounded into the ears of all, who stood afar off, should be made with universal consent metropolitan archbishop. Then at the appointed place, the name of which is Brevi, they endeavor to preach on a heaped tower of garments, but scarcely does speech, being swallowed as it were in the throat, reach the very nearest. The people wait for the word, but the most part hear it not. One after another tries to expound, but they avail nothing. The difficulty increases. They fear the people will return to their homes with the heresy undiscussed. "We have preached," say they, "and have no gain. And so our labour is rendered void." One of the bishops, called Paulinus, rises, with whom the pontiff, Saint David, had formerly read, and says, "There is one, made bishop by the Patriarch, who has not yet appeared at our synod, an eloquent man, full of grace, approved in religion, who has an angel as comrade, a lovable man, pleasing in feature, distinguished in form, upright in stature of four cubits. My advice, therefore, is that you invite him."


DAVID IS PERSUADED TO ATTEND

Messengers are forthwith sent. They come to the holy bishop. They announce for what purpose they had arrived. The holy bishop refuses, saying, "Let no one tempt me. What they cannot do, who am I that I can do it? I acknowledge my lowliness. Depart in peace." Messengers are sent a second and third time, but neither so does he consent. At last the most holy men and the most faithful brethren, Daniel and Dubricius, are sent. Saint David, the bishop, foreseeing this by the spirit of prophecy, says to his brethren, "Today, brethren, most holy men are visiting us. Receive them with a joyful mind. Procure fishes with bread and water." The brethren arrive. They salute one another. They enter into holy conversation. A meal is placed before them. They affirm that never will they eat in this monastery unless he returns with them to the synod. To this the saint replies, "Refuse you I cannot. Eat, and we will visit the synod together, but I am unable to preach on the occasion. Yet with prayers I shall bring what little help I may."


DAVID RAISES A BOY FROM THE DEAD

They start out and arrive at a place very near to the synod, and lo! they hear lamentable mourning close by. Says the saint to his companions, "I will go where this great wailing may be." His companions answered and said, "We will go to the assembly lest our delay vexes those who are waiting for us." But the man of God went forward and came to the place where the lamentation was, by the river Teivi. And lo! a widowed mother was watching over the body of her dead boy, who was called Magnus. Blessed David consoled the mother and comforted her with salutary admonitions, but she, having heard of his fame, threw herself at his feet, and begged with distressing appeals atht he should have pity on her. The man of God, having compassion on human weakness, went near to the body of the deceased, and watered the face with tears, and threw himself on the body of the dead, and prayed to the Lord, and said, "O Lord, my God, who did descend into this world for us sinners from the bosom of the Father to redeem us from the jaws of the old enemy, have pity on this widow, and restore life to her only son, and breathe into him the breath of life, that thy name may be magnified in all the earth." Then the limbs became warm, the soul returned, the body stirred. And taking the boy's hand, he restored him alive and well to his mother. The mother turns her sad weeping into joyful tears and says, "To me my son was dead, but to you and God let him live henceforth." The holy man took the boy and placed on his shoulders the copy of the Gospel which he always carried on his breast, and caused him to go with him to the synod. Afterward, as long as he lived, he led a holy life for many years. And all, who beheld that miracle, praised the Lord and holy David.


DAVID PREACHES TO THE SYNOD

Then he enters the synod. The company of bishops rejoices. The people are glad. The whole army exults. He is asked to preach. He rejects not the wish of the council. They bid him mount the pile of garments, but he refused. So he orders the boy newly raised from the dead to spread his handkerchief under his feet. On this he stands, and expounded the gospel and the law as from a trumpet. In the presence of all a snow-white pigeon, sent from heaven, settled on his shoulders, which remained as long as he preached. While he was holding forth in a voice clear to all, both to those nearest to him and equally to those who were far off, the ground beneath him swells upward and is raised into a hill. Placed on the top he is seen by all, so that standing on a high hill he might lift his voice like a trumpet. On the top of this hill a church is situated. The heresy is expelled. The faith is confirmed in sound hearts. All are in agreement. They pay thanks to God and to Saint David.

 

Llanddewi Brefi Church in 2009

Following the miracle of the ground rising under St David, the church was built on the site. 

 

Richard Fenton in 1804 described the church:

"The Church is a large shell only (for within it has nothing of sacred furniture besides the Pulpit), and once consisted of a double Nave separated by a range of columns, a Chancel, and a cross North Aisle. The Tower is large and well built. The few windows that are open have no glass or shutter ; and the whole inside exhibits a picture of the most scandalous neglect, disgraceful to a Christian Country. At the West Entrance, on the right hand side, stands a stone seven feet high, inscribed on the outer side with a cross and some Characters. Over a Window, as a lintern, another stone, removed of late years, I presume, with an Inscription. Another at the East entrance into the Churchyard."

Borrow describes his visit some 50 years later:

I went to see the church. The inside was very rude and plain — a rough table covered with a faded cloth served for an altar — on the right-hand side was a venerable-looking chest.

“What is there in that box?” said I to the old sexton who attended me.

“The treasure of the church, sir,” he replied in a feeble quaking voice.

“Dear me!” said I, “what does the treasure consist of?”

“You shall see, sir,” said he, and drawing a large key out of his pocket he unlocked the chest and taking out a cup of silver he put it into my hand saying:— “This is the treasure of the church, sir!”

I looked at the cup. It was tolerably large and of very chaste workmanship. Graven upon it were the following words:-

“Poculum Eclesie De LXXN Dewy Brefy 1574.”

“Do you always keep this cup in that chest?” said I.

“Yes sir! we have kept it there since the cup was given to us by de godly Queen Elizabeth.”

I said nothing, but I thought to myself:— “I wonder how long a cup like this would have been safe in a crazy chest in a country church in England.”

I kissed the sacred relic of old times with reverence, and returned it to the old sexton.

 

The name Brefi may have been derived from the name of the river, but Borrow offers another explanation:

If this secluded gorge or valley is connected with a remarkable historical event it is also associated with one of the wildest tales of mythology. Here according to old tradition died one of the humped oxen of the team of Hu Gadarn. Distracted at having lost its comrade, which perished from the dreadful efforts which it made along with the others in drawing the afanc hen or old crocodile from the lake of lakes, it fled away from its master, and wandered about, till coming to the glen now called that of Llan Ddewi Brefi, it fell down and perished after excessive bellowing, from which noise the place probably derived its name of Brefi, for Bref in Cumbric signifies a mighty bellowing or lowing. Horns of enormous size, said to have belonged to this humped ox or bison, were for many ages preserved in the church.

Many will exclaim who was Hu Gadarn? Hu Gadarn in the Gwlad yr Haf or summer country, a certain region of the East, perhaps the Crimea, which seems to be a modification of Cumria, taught the Cumry the arts of civilised life, to build comfortable houses, to sow grain and reap, to tame the buffalo and the bison, and turn their mighty strength to profitable account, to construct boats with wicker and the skins of animals, to drain pools and morasses, to cut down forests, cultivate the vine and encourage bees, make wine and mead, frame lutes and fifes and play upon them, compose rhymes and verses, fuse minerals and form them into various instruments and weapons, and to move in masses against their enemies, and finally when the summer country became over-populated led an immense multitude of his countrymen across many lands to Britain, a country of forests, in which bears, wolves, and bisons wandered, and of morasses and pools full of dreadful efync or crocodiles, a country inhabited only by a few savage Gauls, but which shortly after the arrival of Hu and his people became a smiling region, forests being thinned, bears and wolves hunted down, efync annihilated, bulls and bisons tamed, corn planted and pleasant cottages erected. After his death he was worshipped as the God of agriculture and war by the Cumry and the Gauls. The Germans paid him divine honours under the name of Heus, from which name the province of Hesse in which there was a mighty temple devoted to him, derived its appellation. The Scandinavians worshipped him under the name of Odin and Gautr, the latter word a modification of Cadarn or mighty. The wild Finns feared him as a wizard and honoured him as a musician under the name of Wainoemoinen, and it is very probable that he was the wondrous being whom the Greeks termed Odysses. Till a late period the word Hu amongst the Cumry was frequently used to express God - Gwir Hu, God knows, being a common saying. Many Welsh poets have called the Creator by the name of the creature, amongst others Iolo Goch in his ode to the ploughman:-

"The mighty Hu who lives for ever,
Of mead and wine to men the giver,
The emperor of land and sea,
And of all things that living be
Did hold a plough with his good hand,
Soon as the deluge left the land,
To show to men both strong and weak,
The haughty-hearted and the meek,
Of all the arts the heaven below
The noblest is to guide the plough."

So much for Hu Gadarn or Hu the Mighty, whose name puts one strangely in mind of the Al Kader Hu or the Almighty He of the Arabians.

Borrow records that the remains of the beast's horn were no longer in the church though the sexton recalled speaking to an old man who had met an old man who had seen the tip of one of the horns.

Borrow viewed Llanddewi Brefi as wearing:

 a remarkable air of solitude, but presents nothing of gloom and horror, and seems just the kind of spot in which some quiet pensive man, fatigued but not soured by the turmoil of the world, might settle down, enjoy a few innocent pleasures, make his peace with God, and then compose himself to his long sleep.

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