The Rise and Fall of a Saint's Community

William A Strange

Part 1 - Llandeilo Fawr, 600-1200


It is well known that early medieval Wales was home to communities which perpetuated the names of the great local saints. Less well known is the process of development of these communities, their emergence to power, wealth and prestige, and their eventual eclipse and decline.

Their emergence, it is presumed, is linked to the growing veneration for the figures associated with the 'Age of the Saints' in Wales, and especially for a cluster whose cult was established over wide areas: Dewi, Illtud, Padarn and Teilo prominent among them. Their eclipse is often associated with the intrusion of Norman power into Wales, and with the imposition of an alien diocesan structure and monastic rule upon the 'Celtic' church which had flourished in Wales previously.

The Teilo community at Llandeilo Fawr, Carmarthenshire, gives us an opportunity to examine at least something of the processes of growth and decline as experienced by one such religious centre. We have sources which give us some insight into the history of this place in the early medieval period. Particularly significant are the marginal entries in the Lichfield Gospels, which once belonged to the church of Llandeilo Fawr, and which record transactions of the ninth century. These eight brief texts are unique among Welsh ecclesiastical records in giving us contemporary evidence of developments in a religious community of the early medieval period. Taken with the material contained in the twelfth-century Book of Llandaff, which is more extensive, but less reliable, we have an opportunity to compare the experience of this community with the generally-accepted picture of the early medieval religious communities of Wales.


Of Teilo himself we can say little more than of any other Welsh saint. His 'Life' which appears in the Book of Landaff is a twelfth-century composition with an ecclesio-political aim, which was to divert the centre of the Teilo cult from Llandeilo Fawr to Llandaff. We are safe, though, to assume that Teilo existed: the marginal annotations of the Lichfield Gospels begin around 800 and attest a strong tradition about him already existing by that stage.

We would probably also be right to place him in the late sixth century, perhaps surviving to the early seventh. Only one of our sources specifies a particular date in his life, and that is the fragmentary Life compiled by Thomas Saint in the early sixteenth century, which states that in the year 602, St Teilo built a monastery dedicated to St John the Evangelist near Merlin's City (Carmarthen). But this date is difficult to reconcile with the story in the Llandaff Lives that Teilo led his people to safety during the visitation of the Yellow Plague, which is usually dated 547-550. Quite possibly, the source of Saint's Life has mistaken Teilo for St Toulidauc, who was the original patron saint of St John's Priory at Carmarthen, so that if we have to choose between the earlier and the later dates for St Teilo, the earlier period suggested by the Llandaff Life is probably preferable.

The Rise of the Household of Teilo, c. 600-900

The stories about Teilo assume as a matter of course that his life was one of suitable austerity and that he endured a solitary existence. But later tradition about Teilo imagined that he already had a community about him during his lifetime, and Llandeilo Fawr, even in the sixth or seventh centuries, is a more likely spot for community life than for solitary withdrawal from the world. The existence of the Lichfield Gospel book enables us to say that a community certainly grew up to perpetuate his cult within two centuries of his death.

The community called itself 'the household of Teilo' (familia Teilo). Its spiritual stature no doubt rested on the basis of Teilo's relics, preserved in the church. The altar of Llandeilo Fawr was 'Teilo's altar" and the Gospel book was Teilo's Gospel book," Nobis was Teilo's bishop and Sadyrnwydd was Teilo's 'priest'. The saint's continuing presence was guaranteed by his relics, and expressed by his appearance as a witness in one of the marginal memoranda (No.2).


The material prosperity of the community was assured by its acquisition of land. The marginal notes in the Lichfield Gospels are one source of information here, while Geoffrey and Urban of Llandaff in the early twelfth century seem to have had access to a collection of charters originally brought together at Llandeilo Fawr, and from which they added suitably amended versions to the Book of Llandaff. Although we cannot chronicle the acquisition of Llandeilo Fawr's lands in detail, the Lichfield Gospel memoranda give us a starting point from which to survey the process.

Memoranda 3 and 4 of the Lichfield Gospels record the gift of some lands and services to the Llandeilo Fawr community c. 850. Memorandum 3 states that Rhys and the 'kindred of Grethi' had given 'to God and St Eliud (Teilo) a place named Trefwyddog (treb guidauc) with food renders from the place, and Memorandum 4 that Rhys and others had given a piece of land, whose boundaries are then described, and with it also were given food renders. It is likely that these are either neighbouring parcels of land, or that Memorandum 4 serves to clarify and extend the grant made in Memorandum 3. The lands in question have been convincingly shown to lie north of Pumsaint in the headwaters of the Cothi valley.

The Lichfield Gospel memoranda therefore give us evidence that Llandeilo Fawr was acquiring lands in the upper Cothi valley in the mid-ninth century. This evidence should make us look more favourably than we might otherwise do at the claims of Llandaff in the early twelfth century that the patrimony of St Teilo included a place in the upper Cothi valley called Llandeilo Pumsaint Caercaeo (lanteliau pimpseint kaircaiau).

The name 'Llandeilo Pumsaint Caercaeo' suggests a threefold development, with an original name ('Caercaeo' - 'the Fort of Caeo'), to which two qualifiers have been added ('Pumsaint' - 'of the Five saints', and ''Llandeilo' - ''of the church of St Teilo'). ''The Fort of Caeo' is in all probability a reference to the Roman fortification which lay on the site of the modern village of Pumsaint. Evidence of Roman settlement there is clear, and exploitation of the nearby gold mine would have made this a place of some importance in the Roman period. Gold extraction may have continued on a small scale in the post-Roman era.

If the 'Fort of Caeo' points us to the Roman period, the 'Pumsaint' element evidences the early Christian period. The ''five saints' of Pumsaint were taken over by the Teilo community and woven into the stories of their own saint. In a late medieval story recorded at St Davids, the five saints were the sons of a poor man of Ystrad Tywi, who was about to drown them when Teilo intervened and took them to ''a lonely and wooded place' called Geneu''r Coed, where 'the dead become renowned through miracles' This story could be interpreted as an attempt by Llandeilo Fawr to subordinate a local cult at Pumsaint Caercaeo to the cult of Teilo himself. The element 'Llandeilo' would then have been added to the name after the incorporation of the place into the Llandeilo Fawr estates.

The presence of a significant and powerful community in the Cynwyl Caeo area in the fifth to seventh centuries is suggested by the presence of three early Christian monuments in the vicinity: one at Cynwyl Caeo church and two at Maesllanwrthwl, two miles to the south. Of particular interest is the stone from Maesllanwrthwl which commemorates Paulinus 'preserver of the faith, constant lover of his country … the devoted champion of righteousness'. It is written horizontally, in Roman fashion, rather than vertically in the Celtic manner, and shows a certain classical pretension in its phrasing as well as its layout. If this is the memorial of a secular ruler, as is now generally thought, then he (or his kinsfolk) could well have been the benefactor who demonstrated his willingness to 'preserve the faith' by donating valuable estates at Caercaeo in his territory to the Llandeilo Fawr community.

Rhys in the ninth century could, then, have been continuing a tradition, begun two or three centuries before, of the ruling families of the upper Cothi valley making generous donations to the Household of Teilo. Rhys's donation of Trefwyddog made a marginal upland addition to the core territory of Llandeilo Pumsaint Caercaeo.

The Lichfield Gospel memoranda unfortunately give us no clear information about the landholding of the community in Llandeilo Fawr itself. According to the Book of Liandaff, King Noë son of Arthur gave Llandeilo Fawr 'with its two territories' not to Teilo initially but to his teacher Dyfrig. From Dyfrig, it is supposed to have passed to Teilo.

The most that we can say is that if in the mid-ninth century the household of Teilo was carefully recording the gift of a relatively small landholding in the upper Cothi valley (see above), then it is likely already to have had extensive possessions around its own llan . This central estate will have been granted sometime between the time of Teilo (600?) and the time at which acquisitions began to be recorded in Teilo's Gospel book (800).

The charter of donation by King Noë in the Book of Llandaff contains a document detailing the boundaries of the land of Llandeilo Fawr. The boundary list is hard to date. It cannot be later than the early twelfth century, when the Book of Llandaff was compiled. The Llandeilo Fawr boundary list must therefore be dated to some time between the start of Llandeilo's era of prosperity (c. 800?) and c. l100. It is similar to the ninth-century boundary lists in the Lichfield Gospel memoranda, and could well be from a similarly early period.

The boundaries are not easy to identify, but they describe a large estate, some of whose limits can be recognised. The boundary description starts with the Tywi, to the north of the town, and proceeds in an anti-clockwise direction. The boundaries are these (with unidentified places in italics): ' Ffynnon Ida , the head of the Glasbwll on the Tywi, the head of the Glasbwll at Y Tir Melyn , Nant Erddil, the Dulais, Cymmer (Confluence), Nant Llwyd, Cegin March, Crug Petill, Bechan , Hebog Faen , the Dulas Busweilog, Nant yr Eilin , Crug Cust, Crug Corn Cam , Blaen Iscaio, the Myddyfi, Yr Hen Allt , Cil yr Adar, Llygad Tafarn, Pistyll Dewi , Gwaith Dinefwr, Lethr Cell on the Tywi.' The boundaries of this estate coincide in a general way with the lands claimed by the bishop of St Davids in the early thirteenth century (see below).

One of the charters in the Book of Llandaff records that King Maredudd gave to St Teilo three places, called Mainaur Brwnws, Telichcouman and Tref Canus. 'St Teilo' in this instance is not to be taken literally. Gifts to the saint's community were understood to be given to the saint himself. 'King Maredudd' seems to be Maredudd ap Tewdws ap Rhain of Dyfed (d. 796). This gift, then, would have been made c.790, a date which would roughly confirm the evidence of the Lichfield Gospel memoranda that the eighth and ninth centuries witnessed the growth of the community's landed possessions.

Mainaur Brwnws is Maenor Brwnws, alias Llandeilo Brwnws in Llanegwad parish. It appears as 'Llandeilo Maenor with its appurtenancies' on two occasions in the lists of the Book of Llandaff third in position at Llandeilo Fawr and Llandeilo Pumsaint Caercaeo. It was a valuable possession of the community.

Tref Ganus is otherwise unknown, though a possible guess at its identity might be 'Pentre Kennir', one of the townships of Llandeilo parish. Telichclouman appears to be Tachleuan, also a township in the parish of Llandeilo Fawr. It may be significant that Tachleuan township included two farmsteads with 'Teilo' names: Ffynnon Deilo and Maesteilo.

Memorandum 7 in the Lichfield Gospels records the gift of an unidentified place called Alt Guhebric by a man called Morfach Tudnred. Guhebric could be the modern Gyrre (Gurrey), the name of a stream and of a small estate known from the sixteenth century onwards. Gurrey lies in what was, in the medieval period, the bishop's estate of Tiresgob. This very brief note is undatable, but may well belong with the other memoranda to the ninth century. If Alit Gwefrig was indeed Gurrey, then it, together with Telichciounan and Tref canus, would have been increments to the core estate around Llandeilo Fawr.

Part 2

The Life of the Household of Teilo

The status of the household of Teilo would have been obvious to anyone visiting Llandeilo Fawr in the ninth century. It was home, in the first place, to a community of clergy.

We read in the Lichfield Gospels of a 'Bishop of Teilo', called Nobis. This Bishop Nobis may well be the same man as the Nobis, who 'reigned' at St David's from c.840 to 873, and who was the kinsman of Asser, a prominent Welshman at the court of the English King Alfred. The fact that Llandeilo Fawr was the seat of a bishop is important in itself. The 'Bishop of Teilo' probably did not have authority over a territorially-defined diocese, but exercised his authority over the scattered Teilo churches and over a large kinship group.

A man named Sadyrnwydd is named three times (Memoranda 3, 4 and 5), on two occasions as the priest (sacerdos) of Teilo. Sadyrnwydd evidently had a position of seniority, denoted by his title (distinguishing him as more than a member of the clergy, who are designated clericus), but while he heads the clerical witnesses in Memoranda 3 and 4, in No. 5 he is subordinated to Bishop Nobis.

As well as the Bishop of Teilo and the sacerdos, some of the clergy are named: Gwrgi and Cutulf (Memoranda 3 and 4) and in Memoranda 5 and 8 Sadyrnfyw cam ibiau. Memorandum 5 names Sullen 'the teacher (scholasticus), who faithfully wrote this'. Learning, and particularly the ability to write Latin, was evidently preserved at Llandeilo Fawr. Indeed, it may never have been lost from the period of Roman occupation. A memorial stone found by Lhuyd and dated by Nash-Williams to c.500, once stood near Llandeilo Fawr churchyard. This stone marked the burial of a man named Curcagnus and bore an inscription in Latin. It may be that Latinity was preserved in an unbroken tradition between the time of the sub-Roman carver of the Curcagnus stone and that of Sulien, the ninth-century scholasticus. Quite certainly the ability to write in the vernacular was one of the skills of the Llandeilo Fawr community, and the ninth-century memoranda in the Lichfield Gospels have the distinction of including the earliest surviving manuscript examples of written Welsh.

In addition to those expressly named as priests, Memorandum 5 mentions Dyfrin and Cuhelin, 'sons of the Bishop'. Their appearance is a reminder of the importance of kinship in the community of the time and their presence suggests that Llandeilo may have been a hereditary church, passed down from father to son, as were a number of major churches in early medieval Wales.

The church around which these men lived was more than a place of worship. It was supremely the resting-place of the saint whose name it bore, and who was understood still to be present with his church. The church was guarded by the unseen power of the saint's nawdd (protection). Spiritually, this protection could be invoked, as in Memorandum 5 of the Lichfield Gospels, in the form of 'the curse of St Teilo'. Physically, the limits of the nawdd were expressed by the llan , or enclosure, which surrounded the church. The present-day churchyard of Llandeilo Fawr is divided in two by the road, but the original three-acre llan was an impressive single enclosure and included a well, situated a few yards north-east of what was presumably the saint's resting-place, at the east end of the church building. This well, covered in the nineteenth century, was in the early modern period the major source of the town's public supply of water. It no doubt had ritual as well as practical significance in the early medieval period.

The church, by virtue of the saint's nawdd , was a place of refuge and sanctuary: the gift of King Maredudd c.790 was made as an act of penance because 'with great fury and with cruelty he had killed Gufrir, a man of St Teilo, in the refuge of God, and while Gufrir was before his altar'. The church was a centre of such learning as the community possessed, passed on by men like the 'teacher' Sulien. It was a place in which written records were kept, not only relating to the church's own possessions, but also to matters of importance to its major patrons.

Economically, the well-endowed community of the ninth century acted as a centre to which was brought the surplus production of a large part of the neighbouring countryside. The surplus would have arrived at Llandeilo Fawr in the form of food renders of the sort specified in Memoranda 3 and 4 of the Lichfield Gospels.

The accumulation of surplus produce at Llandeilo Fawr made it possible for the community to exist. It is quite possible that the inflow of agricultural produce and the occurrence of at least occasional surpluses beyond the requirements of sustenance, hospitality and almsgiving, could also have stimulated trade. Our first evidence for a fair at Llandeilo Fawr conies in the royal grant to hold a fair issued in 1291 but this could merely have been a recognition of something already long-established. In the early modern period the churchyard was the traditional site for the fair, and this location may have continued the memory of the role played by the Household of Teilo in the fair's origins.

The accumulation of landed wealth by the Household of Teilo may have had wider social consequences. It has been suggested that the alienation of land to the church by leading families throughout Wales in the early medieval period brought about a political crisis in the ninth and tenth centuries. In the post-Roman period, and down to the ninth century, a network of landed families ensured the cohesion and stability of Welsh society. But the generous donations which progressively enriched communities such as Llandeilo Fawr led to the impoverishment of these families. As these families were then unable to ensure stability, a period of social chaos engulfed Wales.

In the case of Llandeilo Fawr it would certainly seem that the local notables who added to the community's wealth until the ninth century were unable or unwilling to do so thereafter. The Household of Teilo favoured certain local patrons whose important legal transactions were recorded in the sacred pages of the Gospel book. As will be seen, possibly in the tenth and quite certainly in the eleventh century, the protection supplied by these patrons was no longer effective. Whether or not the community's wealth directly led to the impoverishment of its patrons and protectors, it seems clear that when their power was swept aside, the community suffered.

Three artefacts which adorned the church of the household of Teilo have survived.

One is the gospel book (or at least one half of it). This book had arrived by c.820, when the record of its donation was written into its margin. Its whereabouts before this point are unknown. The memorandum of donation states that:

It is shown here that Gelli son of Arthudd bought this gospel from Cingal and gave him a very good horse for it, and for his soul he gave that Gospel to God on the altar of St. Teilo. Gelli son of Arthudd and Cyngen son of Gruffudd. (Translation of Jenkins and Owen).

It is not clear who Cingal was, nor how he had come into possession of the gospel book. A horse, even 'a very good horse' does not sound much of a price to accept for a book which was to become the treasure of a major church. If Cingal had paid nothing for it, the transaction would make sense, and we must suspect that the book had been stolen from somewhere else before it came to 'the altar of St Teilo'.

The acquisition of the book was one way of making obvious the growing wealth and status of the household of Teilo in the early ninth century. The book does not seem to have been written principally to be read, since it lacks any of the annotations which scribes usually placed in the text to aid liturgical reading. Use was made of it while at Llandeilo Fawr for recording the memoranda at which we have already looked. No doubt it was also used for oath-taking, and quite likely for other rituals, such as ceremonial procession, and these ritual functions may have been its main purpose.

The other two artefacts to have survived from the era of Llandeilo Fawr's prosperity are the fine cross-heads now to be seen in the church. They were unearthed during the nineteenth century and have been dated to the ninth century. One (Nash-Williams no.155) has on both sides a unique rectangular shape joining the arms of the cross, where normally such crosses have a circle. The cross, on its front, its back and its sides, is decorated with knotwork. The second (Nash-Williams no.156) has a pattern similar to Nash-Williams 155's on one face, and on the other a different cross pattern, with circular bosses between the arms. The pattern on Nash-Williams 155 may have been influenced by manuscript decoration, while Nash-Williams 156 has affinities with crosses found in northern England.

Nash-Williams 155 was found when the church was being rebuilt in 1848-50. It was unearthed 'in the church, a little aside of the entrance to the Dynevor Chapel in the north aisle of the church, where the lower, and greater, portion of it was allowed to remain'. This cross was exhibited to the Cambrian Archaeological Association in l855 and was illustrated in Archaeologia Cambrensis for 1859, with a report that it was one of two 'slabs', found in the same place, of which the second had subsequently been lost. This 'slab' is perhaps to be identified as the 'lower portion' of Nash-Williams 155.

Nash-Williams 156 was discovered some time between 1878 and 1893 - when both crosses were displayed to the Cambrian Archaeological Association. This second cross was found by workmen digging a drain near the south entrance to the churchyard.

Part 3

The End of the Household of Teilo

Llandeilo Fawr's status declined between the height of its power in the ninth century and the period at which historical records really begin for the area, in the thirteenth century. In the case of Llandeilo Fawr, there is some evidence to suggest that the church suffered some concerted attack on its position.

The loss of the book is one part of this evidence, and is a major problem in Llandeilo Fawr's early history. We have only a general idea of when it left Llandeilo Fawr, but it had certainly arrived at Lichfield by the time of Bishop Leofgar (d. 1026). Since Bishop Wynsige of Lichfield (964-975) is mentioned in the marginal notes in the gospel book, it may have been at Lichfield by his time, but this is far from certain. As to why the book left, we are left only with conjecture. It may have gone as tribute to a Mercian king. Perhaps a border raid carried it off. Possibly a raid, or some other disaster, seriously undermined the status of the household of Teilo by showing that the protection (nawdd) of the saint was ineffective. This last is a strong possibility, and might also help account for the general eclipse of Llandeilo Fawr's significance. However, by itself, it does not explain this eclipse. St Davids, after all, was able to recover its position and status after repeated raids and frequent pillaging. The cult of Teilo was as resilient as that of David: Llandaff made good use of the cult to establish its own status in the twelfth century, and as late as the eighteenth century, Erasmus Saunders noted continuing invocation of 'Teilaw Mawr' in popular folk devotion. The cult centre of Llandeilo Fawr, rather than the standing of the saint himself, seems to have been eclipsed between the late ninth century and the thirteenth century.

The fact that the crosses were buried, and that one of the crosses was unearthed beneath the north aisle of the church, is another potentially significant fact. Many ancient crosses were preserved in Welsh churchyards, but in Llandeilo Fawr two crosses (at least) were lost in the ground. Nash-Williams 155 seems to have been forgotten before 1400, since it was built over when the church received its north aisle. Perhaps the crosses were toppled and allowed gradually to disappear, or perhaps these emblems of Llandeilo Fawr's status were deliberately buried. Whatever process led to their disappearance, it seems to have happened well before 1400. The loss of the crosses is parallel to the loss of the Gospel book, and points to an eclipse of the church of Llandeilo Fawr in the early Middle Ages, and suggests a conscious and forceful removal from sight of its emblematic artefacts.

Further evidence for the degradation of Llandeilo Fawr may be preserved in the 'Life of St Oudoceus' which follows the 'Life of St Teilo' in the Book of Llandaff. In this 'Life', Oudoceus (supposedly Teilo's nephew) made a journey from Llandaff into west Wales. He took relics from St Davids, and 'from his own place of Llandeilo Fawr (Lan Teiliaumaur) he took with him something from the relics of the disciples of his uncle St Teilo and at the same time he placed this in a shrine (arca) suitable for it'. The saint and his entourage were attacked by robbers at Penallt near Kidwelly who act at one moment in the story almost as principled opponents of Oudoceus (they were 'ill-disposed to the works of the holy man'), and at another moment are depicted as simple thieves drawn to easy prey. In the story, Oudoceus is protected by a miracle and the robbers are brought to repentance.

'Oudoceus' here is a fictional figure, and the story contains some hints of its composite nature. The saint's journey, for instance, has two goals, with Llandeilo Fawr appearing as an afterthought as if inserted into a story originally dealing with St Davids: Kidwelly would lie on a route from St Davids to Llandaff but less probably from Llandeilo Fawr to Llandaff. The robbers have two motives, and the attackers suffer two punishments. Such inconsistencies are the tell-tale marks of a narrative conflated out of two earlier stories.

However, the story may preserve a recognition that the community of Llandeilo Fawr ('the disciples of his uncle St Teliau') was indeed despoiled at some point before the tale was written down in the early twelfth century. This narrative could preserve a memory of the removal of Llandeilo Fawr's emblematic artefacts and potent relics at some point far enough remote in time for it to have been woven into legend when the 'Life' was written.

The political context of the Household's eclipse

Our evidence, then, points to a crisis at some point in the two centuries either side of 1000. The most likely principal figure in these events appears to have been Joseph, bishop of Llandaff 1027-1045. Joseph was possibly the first bishop in Llandaff. and having established a bishopric there he proceeded to legitimate it by attaching to Llandaff the traditions of other episcopal centres which had formerly existed in south east Wales. He seems to have spread his ambitions wider still, and also to have intended to attach the Teilo traditions to his centre of Llandaff: certainly on his death he was styled 'Bishop of Teilo', the very title which Nobis of Llandeilo Fawr had carried two centuries previously.

Joseph apparently had his eyes on the territorial enrichment of his bishopric at the expense of the Household of Teilo. The Book of Llandaff contains a charter, purporting to have been granted in the early years of Joseph's episcopate, by which King Rhydderch of Morgannwg gave to Llandaff a grant including 'Llandeilo Fawr with its two territories', together with two vills near Pumsaint (one probably Brechfa), and Llandeilo Brwnws. The document is almost certainly not genuine in all its details, but W. Davies believed that it was based on a contemporary record.

A generation later (c.1060) Bishop Herewald of Llandaff gained a grant from Gruffudd, king of Morgannwg, which specified 'Lann Teilaumaur' and 'Pen Alun' as among Llandaff's possessions beyond the Tywi . This charter is probably authentic, and gives evidence for Llandaff's persistent attempts to enlist powerful political patrons so that it could profit from Llandeilo Fawr's weakness.

The struggle for lands and churches continued for over a century, from the time of Bishop Joseph until the death of Bishop Urban (1134), and there may have been points during that period when the power of Morgannwg enabled Llandaff to make good its claim to the patrimony of Teilo beyond the Tywi. However, Llandaff's effort was only temporarily and partly successful, and whatever success it may have had in enforcing its claims to Llandeilo Fawr in the eleventh century, it failed permanently either to take possession of the lands of the Household of Teilo or to extend its diocese beyond the Tywi. Its most lasting success lay in its obliteration of the memory of Llandeilo Fawr as the chief centre of the Teilo cult.

After the Crisis

Llandeilo Fawr did not entirely lose its reputation as a shrine. As late as 1295, Edward I thought it wise to visit the church in the course of his return to England and made an oblation of a cloth to 'the tumulus of Saint Thilawi at Thianthilogh Vaur'. The king prudently chose the day before the town's annual fair, for which he had granted a charter four years previously, to make this very public gesture of support. Clearly, the church could still show a tomb (tumulus) of its saint even at this late stage, and kept some vestige of its former spiritual status.

What of the landed possessions of the household of Teilo, so assiduously built up in the preceding centuries? When Urban of Llandaff mounted his campaign to incorporate Llandeilo Fawr into his episcopal possessions in the early years of the twelfth century, he may have thought, or hoped, that the many churches and lands which feature in the papal bulls inserted in his book were still a recognised part of Teilo's patrimony. We cannot know whether he was correct to suppose that the rights which the church once had to these lands were still actively recognised by the early twelfth century - it is quite possible that the possessions of Llandeilo Fawr had already slipped out of ecclesiastical control before Urban began to play his part in the drama.

We can be a little clearer about the position a century later, when a settlement was reached between Bishop Iorwerth (Gervase) and Rhys ap Rhys, concerning lands in Ystrad Tywi (1222). This text helps us trace what had happened to the patrimony of Teilo, but it concerns several different lands, and it is important not to confuse what the text says about each. First, some episcopal lands at Abergwili were being unjustly held by certain nobles: for these Rhys pledged his aid to the bishop in regaining them. The great issue, though, was the bishop's claim to a second block of lands: 'the whole commote of Lanteilawmawr' with its appurtenancies, and also lands 'between amnem Dineleis Luiwlith (the River Dulais) and the brook Hylig. The description could encompass the same lands west and east of the Dulais as the Llandaff boundary list: in other words, the ancient estate of Llandeilo Fawr. This area was evidently held, not by 'certain nobles', but by Rhys himself.

At first sight the agreement of 1222 seems to confirm this whole area as an episcopal possession: 'Rhys the Younger and his son and heir Maredudd recognised the right of the church of St Davids and its Bishop in the above-mentioned lands'. But the concession is immediately qualified. First, Rhys and Maredudd declare that they have 'returned' to the bishop all the lands 'below the Dulais'. The implication must be that the family of Rhys had at some point taken these lands from the bishop. The lands 'below the Dulais' are most naturally understood as that portion of the estate lying west of the Dulais, and including Llandeilo Fawr itself, or as the text puts it 'below the Dulais ... as far as the boundary of the commote of Catheiniog'. Then, within this area, certain lands were withheld from the bishop, including the lands of the canons of Talley, 'which Rhys himself or his family had given to the church of Llandeilo Fawr or to the Abbey of Talley'. Finally, even in respect of the residue of land not alienated, the close of the 1222 agreement makes clear that in practice Rhys still held the greater part of them, and that he offered the bishop merely symbolic recognition of overlordship.

We might understand the agreement if we suppose that the ancient estate of Llandeilo Fawr had been lost to the church in the political chaos which periodically engulfed Ystrad Tywi in the eleventh century. Llandaff's attempt to incorporate the estate within its own possessions was ultimately ineffective and the bishops of St Davids emerged as Teilo's successors west of the Tywi. But these bishops had difficulty in establishing control over their possessions in the Tywi valley before the agreement of 1222, and whereas the interests of the local magnates four centuries previously had built up the estates of Llandeilo Fawr, now their effective successors put that process into reverse.

The greater part of the Teilo patrimony appears to have come into the hands of the Lord Rhys in the closing decades of the twelfth century. From these lands he created endowments for Talley Abbey. Certainly Llandeilo Fawr's former estates in the upper Cothi valley and Llandeilo Brwnws feature among the lands which the Abbey had received from the family of the Lord Rhys by the early fourteenth century. Much of what was left of the patrimony of Teilo slipped further from the control of the bishop of St Davids during the episcopate of Geoffrey (1204-14).

Bishop Iorwerth, as a former Abbot of Talley, would have been well aware of the political situation in Ystrad Tywi, and would have been aware of ancient ecclesiastical rights over the estate of the Household of Teilo around Llandeilo Fawr. Iorwerth's ambition was to undo the ill effects of Geoffrey's negligence by recovering what had been lost under his predecessor's rule. But he would not have been anxious to strengthen his new see at the expense of his old house, so he left alone the lands already alienated to Talley Abbey, and set out to assert the ancient ecclesiastical rights over the 'commote of Llandeilo Fawr', wresting back (he hoped) the ancient patrimony of the church from lay control.

The bishop successfully asserted his right to the lands of the 'commote of Llandeilo Fawr' in 1222, but failed to gain effective possession. Royal control of the commote became increasingly prominent from this point, until in the English period we hear nothing more of ecclesiastical claims to what had become the commote of Maenordeilo, beyond the lingering recognition in its name that these lands had once acknowledged a connection with the Household of Teilo. Bishop Iorwerth was only able to establish effective possession of a relatively small estate immediately around Llandeilo Fawr itself.

In the early fourteenth century we find from royal administrative records that most of Maenordeilo was in the hands of the crown. From the Black Book of St Davids we find that the bishop held Llandeilo Fawr as an episcopal manor, but a far smaller estate than the lands once held by the Household of Teilo: the episcopal manor consisted of Llandeilo Villa (the town) and Llandeilo Patria (the adjacent township later known as Tiresgob, or 'Bishop's Land').


In the rise and fall of the household of Teilo we can discern three phases. The first is the period from c. 600-c. 800, before the Lichfield Gospel book begins to give us contemporary evidence. This was the period of the major donations of land: chief among them Llandeilo Fawr itself, the Cothi valley estate around Pumsaint, and Llandeilo Brwnws. The second period, from c. 800-c. l000 was the era of Llandeilo Fawr's prosperity, into which the Gospel book gives us a small glimpse. Land acquisition continued, but on a smaller scale. The relics of Llandeilo Fawr's greatness, the book and the crosses, have come to us from this period. The third period, after 1000, is that of decline, or (if we are right to conclude that there was a concerted attack on the community) the period of collapse. The loss of its prestigious artefacts and relics reduced the community's spiritual stature. The stripping of the community's landed assets, and its inability to recover them in a period of political turmoil, brought about the end of the Household of Teilo. When some measure of stability returned to Ystrad Tywi with the consolidation of the Lord Rhys's Deheubarth, his new political unit favoured a new religious community, and the canons of Talley were given some, but not all, of what had once belonged to Llandeilo Fawr. Ecclesiastically, the church of St David incorporated St Teilo's church into its diocese. Economically, the bishop of St Davids acquired what remained of the Teilo community's assets. Spiritually, the church of Llandaff appropriated the saint's name and prestige.

By way of conclusion, we may make two observations about the fate of Llandeilo Fawr.

The first is that its eclipse may not be attributable to the imposition of alien religious and political structures in Wales. If the interpretation of the evidence given here is correct, then changes in native Welsh society, not the intrusion of Norman institutions, explain both the rise and the fall of the Household of Teilo.

The second observation is that a crucial aspect of the community prosperity or destruction was the loyalty and the power of patrons. Llandeilo Fawr's era of wealth and prestige coincided with the prominence of its local patrons, the kinsfolk of the 'good men' with whom it seems to have had a mutual relationship of support. The eclipse of Llandeilo Fawr coincides with the collapse of the world of these local patrons, overwhelmed in the instability and change of the late tenth and eleventh centuries.

From: The Journal of Welsh Religious History, Volume 2, 2002. Published by the Centre for the Advanced Study of Religion in Wales, pages 1-18

William A. Strange is Director of the Centre for Ministry Studies in the University of Wales, Bangor. His publications include The Authority of the Bible (2000), Children in the Early Church (1996) and The Problem of the Text of Acts (1992).