More talking about the weather.

Last time I mentioned it had been raining a lot where I live, in a certain coastal Welsh university town.  This ended up being a severe understatement, as you might have seen since on the news that parts of the area were under several feet of water, holidaymakers were being airlifted from their caravans, and even one of the lifeboat crews had to be rescued by the RAF. Despite living just behind one of the over-swollen rivers, my house is high enough to be out of danger, though after seeing the photos we thought it might not be worth trying to get to Morrisons for groceries.  (Yesterday, the shelves of Co-Op were bare of milk, bread, and fresh veg.  Apparently we in Wales fail at being survivalists; disaster strikes and there’s a run on perishable vegetables!)  But really, nobody’s been seriously hurt that I’ve yet heard, and despite a lot of damage to property, at least the people are okay. 

The obvious association for students of Welsh literature–see? I can drag this back to medieval studies after all–is the Cantre’r Gwaelod, the drowned city of legend which allegedly haunts the bottom of Cardigan Bay.  While evidence of underwater civilisation have always been a bit lacking, there actually is a sunken petrified forest up near Borth–you can see it out the window of the train up the Cambrian Coast line when the tide is out.

The ‘earliest’ recorded version is from the Llyfr Du.  (I can’t help anymore using quotes for the word ‘early’ when dealing with medieval Welsh, because of all the problems of dating, though I think in this case we’re still safe to say the Black Book version pre-dates the 17th-century one most people know.)  Until the last few lines, which talk about where his grave lies, it’s an invitation to Seithenhin to have a look at what’s left of maes Gwyddno (OW: maes guitnev) after the carelessness of a girl called Mererid let it get flooded by neglecting a well.  This is interesting for two reasons in particular–one, that it’s one of the few stories I can think of that starts with earlier versions blaming a woman and ends with the careless villain being a drunken man; usually the early modern writers seemed to prefer laying responsibility for all the ills of the world at the feet of the fairer sex.  But it’s also yet another small mention of the importance of wells in the early Celtic imagination.  (Oh, that’s going to get me in trouble, isn’t it?  New-agers are now shaking their heads saying, ‘that’s nothing we didn’t know already’ and thumbing through well-fondled copies of The White Goddess.)  But without trying to construct some kind of prehistoric pan-Celtic world, holy wells do show up quite a lot in medieval Welsh hagiography from the tenth century and later–still several centuries after the native Britons had been converted to Christianity, but since the idea of a healing spring can be traced back at least as far as the hot springs at Bath, the euhemerisation of a ‘magic’ spring to a ‘holy’ one doesn’t really seem out of the realm of possibility. Years ago, I lived in Berlin not far from one of the oldest, if not the oldest, churches standing; parts of it dated from its foundation by the Knights Templar in the early 13th century. Local wisdom had a church there even earlier (and there’s evidence the Cistercians had opened one a good 50 years before the Knights) and the neighbourhood was in general agreement that even before there was a church there at all, it had been a pre-Christian ritual site. Not even the oldest residents of the borough were quite long-lived enough to remember that far back, but humans do like to re-use and repurpose sites that have some power attributed to them.

I suppose the important thing to take away here is that if the sea swells up and swallows Ceredigion, it actually did exist, and the fault is no one’s (but might belong to global warming).  And at least the National Library is high up on a hill.


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