Llanigon

The village of Llanigon is in the Brecon Beacons National Park to the North/West of the Black Mountains.

St.Eigons church is Grade II listed being mostly 15th-17th century, with some Norman remnants.  The 14th century south porch now housing the bells was once used as living quarters for the priest. The church was extensively restored after the second world war, having been bombed by the Germans in 1941.

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In the 1870s the diarist Francis Kilvert, curate of Clyro, was a regular visitor to the then vicar of Llanigon, the Rev. William Thomas, and fell in love with his daughter, Daisy.   Her father asked Kilvert not to pursue the matter, probably because as a mere curate he was not sufficiently well-placed. Kilvert noted “On this day when I proposed for the girl who will I trust one day be my wife I had only one sovereign in the world, and I owed that.” Daisy never married and is buried in Llanigon churchyard.

Up on a high bank to the south-east of the church is Penyrwrlodd farm-house.  The original farmhouse was built in 1651 by William Watkins, an active partisan and an officer in the army of the parliament during the reign of Charles I, and one of the principal agents of the propagators of the Gospel in South Wales. He resided here till his death. In 2002 there was a devastating fire and the farmhouse burnt to the ground.  The cellars were all that remained.  The owners have gradually rebuilt a new farmhouse with the original stone.  From the grounds, and more especially from the converted barns on the bank immediately above the house, there is one of the most magnificent views in South Wales, for grandeur, richness, and variety of picturesque beauty.

St Eigons Church is part of the Kilvert trail and the churchyard in which St. Eigon sits is reputedly one of the very earliest, if not the earliest in Wales, and possibly on Britain. According to local tradition it is dedicated to the daughter of Caractacus, the hero of British resistance to the invasion of the Romans ordered by the Emperor Claudius in 43BC.  He was eventually taken prisoner, with his family, to Rome where he was forced to remain, but after his death, his family are believed to have returned to Britain and to Llanigon where they had, according to tradition, lived before.  This saint, like many Welsh saints, has no other churches dedicated to her.

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The truth is probably more prosaic in that it is more likely that the original dedication of Llaneigon church was to St. Eigion, a 5th century saint and the brother of St Cynidr who was the bishop and leader of a missionary community at nearby Glasbury, a few miles up the Wye valley, to whom its church is in turn dedicated.  Cynidr, Eigion and their better-known brother Cadoc were princes and sons of Gwynllyw, King of Gwent, and his queen, Gwladys, daughter of the early Christian King Brychan Brycheiniog.

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Glasbury, whose name is derived from the Welsh ‘Y-Clas-ar-Wy’ (Churchland on the Wye) developed into an important Christian centre and became Bishopric that lasted until 1055 when it was absorbed into Llandaf.  The Normans attempted to erase the memory of St. Cynidr and stamp their authority on the area in 1090 by rededicating their newly rebuilt church on the site to St. Peter.

The probable site of Cynidr’s cell at Glasbury is at Ffynnon Gynydd Common, a mile to the north of the village. Here still stands the well named after the saint, with its wooden housing dating from the early 20th century.

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Similarly at Llanigon, just down the valley from the church near the Digedi brook, there is still a well called Ffynnon Eigion.  This supports the identification of the church with Eigion rather than Eigon.

There is no archaeological or textual evidence to support the idea of Caradoc or members of his family having a residence at Llanigon.  There is no military camp or high status residence building in the area to provide protection for the royal family and during the campaign they would most likely have travelled with Caradoc for safety.  We know that they were captured immediately in the wake of his defeat at Caer Caradoc in Ordovices territory to the North.

What makes the Eigon legend particularly interesting is that, in the first place, it is almost certainly a deliberate fabrication based on forged manuscripts and, secondly, that it may also have a basis in truth.

The story of St Eigen (also spelt Eigon, Eurgen, Eurgain or Eurgan) appears in various Welsh manuscripts.  She is mentioned in a genealogy of Taliesin as part of the History of Dunraven Manuscript and in the family records of Iestyn ab Gwrgant.  In these it is claimed that she was the daughter of Caratacus that later returned from Rome with St Cyllin and St Ilid bringing Christianity to Britain, making her arguably the first female saint.

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Unfortunately all of the manuscripts that name her were part of the collection of Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams, 1747-1826), an influential early Welsh antiquarian.  After his death if was discovered that he had forged a large number of his manuscripts to lend authenticity to his romantic vision of Welsh history.  This vision, a fusion of druidic and Arthurian influences, was later carried forward uncritically by writers in the British Israelite movement, such as Rice Rees (1804-39) in his influential book “Welsh Saints” that further propagated the Iolo’s fictions.  Such was the extent of Morganwg’s forgery that even now some of his tampered versions of medieval Welsh texts are better known than the original versions.  In “Lives of the British Saints” (p416-7), Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) describes this story as “perhaps … the most impudent forgery in Welsh literature”.

It would be interesting enough to stop there were it not for tantalising evidence of the presence of a British princess among the very earliest Christians in Rome.  Certainly the annals of Tacitus mention a daughter Caratacus appearing with him and his brothers before the Senate and Emperor Claudius in Rome around the year CE53, though does not name her.  They were, unusually, spared the brutal execution that normally awaited such prisoners and permitted to live out their lives as hostages in Rome.

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A visitor to Rome might be forgiven if the missed, among the great sights to be seen there, the quaint little church of St. Prassade and, across the Via Cavour, its sister church of St. Pudentiana, tucked off a small courtyard.  St. Pudentiana is most commonly noted mainly as the national church of the Phillipines.  It might be a surprise, then, to learn that it was the residence and seat of the popes until the 4th Century when Emperor Constantine ordered the construction of the basilica over the tomb of Peter in CE303 and donated  the Lateran Palace to the pope in CE313.

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In fact the church of St Pudentiana is the oldest church in Rome, if not also in Western Europe, the only one never to have been ruined and to have been continually occupied since Roman times.  The mosaics in its apse, depicting two virgin martyred sisters, Prassade and Pudentiana, date from the early 4th Century and are the oldest Christian mosaics in Europe.  Inside the church, on the left, is the chapel of St Peter with part of the wooden table on which he is said to have celebrated the first mass in Rome.  The other half of the table is embedded in the papal altar at St. John Lateran.  This was confirmed by tests conducted at the behest of Cardinal Wiseman that the wood was identical.

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Evidence for the earliest Christian community in Rome is patchy and mixed with legend.  The story goes that both St Peter and St Paul stayed in Rome as guests in the house of Pudens, a Roman Senator sympathetic to their cause.  This Pudens was married to a woman called Claudia and they had two daughters; Prassade and Pudentiana, and a son named Linus.  Some sources also name two other sons, Novatus and Timotheus.  Before his martyrdom, St Peter appointed Linus as his successor to lead the Christian community and so Linus is recorded as the first Pope, reigning from CE67-76 as recorded first by Ireneus in CE180.

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Claudia is the only member of the family to have died a natural death, at her husband’s villa at Sabinum in Umbria, around CE97, her body then brought to Rome and laid to rest in her husband’s tomb.  Later a pubic baths, known as the ‘Thermae Novatus et Timotae’, was built on the site of his house around CE150 by Pope Pius (CE140-154), which served as a secret meeting place for Christians.  During his trial in CE160, Justin Martyr in his testimony states his address as close to the baths called ‘the Timotine’.

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This building was later converted into the church of St. Pudentiana around CE390.  A 2nd Century inscription at St Pudentiana relates that it was “known as that of the Paster, dedicated by Sanctus Pius Papa, formerly the house of Sanctus Pudens, the Senator, and Home of the Holy Apostles”.

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The ‘sella gestatoria’ or St. Peter’s chair, the oak framework of which is of great antiquity, is said to have been the senatorial chair of Pudens.  In his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul specifically mentions Pudens, Linus and Claudia together (2 Timothy 4:21), offering supporting evidence that they were a family and leaders among the early Roman Christians.  Roman tradition holds that it was Pudens and Claudia that retrieved the body of St. Paul after his martyrdom and buried it in what was probably their family cemetery in the Via Ostiensis.

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The archaeology of the church of St. Pudentiana supports this narrative.  The three excavations in 1870, 1894 and 1928-30 revealed substantial layers of substructure below the current church and allow us to reconstruct its history.  At the lowest, earliest, level are the remains of a substantial 1st Century house including some impressive mosaics and large intact cellar rooms.  Above these are the sub-levels of the public baths with basins and heating ducts.  The bricks in the bath structure are easily dateable as they are marked with the chop of Emperor Hadrian (CE117-138) and those in the sewer are dateable to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (CE161-180) supporting the dating of the construction of the baths to circa CE140.

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The building was properly converted to a basilica around CE400, given the dating of the apse mosaic and a 4th Century funerary inscription to a certain Leopardus and the first proper mention of the church in CE384.  The inscription in the apse mosaic, naming those responsible for the rebuilding, dates the work as commencing between CE387-390 and finishing in CE398 with the apse mosaic following after CE402 during the pontificate of Innocent I (CE402-417) who was one of the priests responsible for the rebuilding before being elected Pope.  The rebuilding transformed the baths into a three-naved church but retained much of the original form of the baths, in particular the apse at the east end whose windows were bricked up and then covered with mosaics.  Later rebuildings joined the three naves into one, but the columns in the nave date from the original basilica structure.  All subsequent churches in Rome and elsewhere were built with semi-circular apses at their East ends for several centuries, but the form is derived from the bath-house apse at St Pudentiana.

The Pudens who hosted the Apostles in Rome and is referred to by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy can be identified as Aulus Aemilius Pudens, a Senator and Centurion, son of Quintus Cornelius Pudens, a Roman Senator and early Christian.  Cornelius was married to Priscilla, of the Glabrio family, and together they were among the first to be converted by St. Peter.  It has been suggested that Cornelius may have been the Centurion stationed at Caesarea mentioned as the first Gentile convert in Acts 10:10-16 when he was sent to arrest St. Peter in Joppa.

The most interesting evidence comes from an unrelated non-Christian source.  The poet Martial, writing during the reign of Nero and published after his death around CE90, mentions Aulus Pudens as being married to a Claudia Rufina in several of his epigrams. Furthermore he dedicates several other epigrams to a friend called Linus.

There are plenty of clues in the poetry to identify these three with the Christians of church legend.  Martial, who was famously rude to the subjects of his epigrams, is uncharacteristically respectful towards all three.  He describes Pudens with the epithet ‘sanctus’ (pius), hinting at his Christianity.  As a friend of the couple he wrote some poetry on the occasion of their wedding.  He also makes clear that Pudens had served in Britain prior to his marriage and speaks of him suffering from the cold of “the Scythian (North) pole” on campaign and returning to the honour of a knighthood (5.42-44).

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Martial, however, reserves his highest praise for Claudia:  “Claudia, the fair one from a foreign shore, Is with my Pudens joined in wedlock’s band.”  Similarly he teases her for being British, while praising her beauty and grace: “Though Claudia Rufina has sprung from the woad-stained Britons, how she possesses the feelings of the Latin race!  What grace of form has she!” (11.53) and “You might reach to the top of the Palatine Colossus if you, Claudia, were to grow shorter by a foot and a half” (8.40).

There are also indications that Linus is a priest with hints such as “I would have less to fear from a freshly-minted priest of Cybele” (7.95) and “Linus, educator of the long-haired crowd … You have been tested for perpetual faith” (12.49).  The “long-haired crowd” is a possible Christian reference since where Romans wore their hair short, Jewish Nazirites wore theirs long during their vows and in the early days the Christians were considered a sub-sect of Jews.

That the Claudia Rufina of Martial was a Briton deserves further comment.  In the first place her adoption of the Roman name ‘Claudia’ can only be a result of her father having been granted the name ‘Claudius’ by the Emperor Claudius.  Imperial Freedmen of Emperor Claudius always adopted the name ‘Tiberias Claudias’, as did the British client-king Togodumnus who built the huge palace at Fishbourne near Southampton and the Emperor’s secretary Narcissus (who may also have been the wealthy Christian convert greeted by St Paul in Romans 16:11).  This would make Claudia a British princess, for her father to have received such honour, and the most likely candidate for this at that date is Caradoc whom we know to have been so pardoned.

Similarly the surname ‘Rufina’ indicates that Claudia, before her marriage, had been adopted by the Rufine family.  These were connected to the gens Pomponia, so this was possibly under the patronage of Aulus Plautius, Conqueror of Britain, since he would have been the most likely host for Caradoc and his family in Rome.

Plautius was married to Pomponia Graecina; a minor member of the Imperial family.  In CE57 she was charged with practicing a ‘foreign superstition’ and forced to withdraw from public life.  It has long been supposed that she was a Christian, supported by two inscriptions in the Catacombs of St Callistus in Rome linking other members of her family, the Pomponii Bassi, and a third to a ‘Pomonis Graecinos’, possibly identifying her by her baptismal name as St. Lucia.

It is not proven that the Aulus Pudens and Claudia Rufina of Martial’s poems are the same as the Pudens and Claudia of St. Paul’s letter, or that there is any connection between the Pudens, Linus and Claudia of that letter, or between them and the Pudens that owned the house on the site of the church of St. Pudentiana, or that Pope Linus, whose mother is recorded as a ‘Claudia’ is related to that Claudia, or even to the Linus of martial’s cheeky epigrams.  But given the wealth of coincidences here and the relatively small size and aristocratic nature of both the Christian and British ex-pat communities in Rome, the chances of these coincidences being accidental are very small.

The identification of Pudens, Linus and Claudia as one family is not a new one.  The connection was first made by William Camden (1551-1623) in his 1586 book ‘Britannia’, citing Bishop John Bale (1495-1563) and Archbiship Matthew Parker (1504-75).  In Rome the same connection was independently noted by the Vatican historian Cardinal Caesar Baronius (1538-1607) in his ‘Annales Ecclesiasti’ published 1588-1607.  Irish Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) supported this identification, adding the link with Pope Linus and suggesting the intriguing possibility that the first Pope may have been an exiled British Celtic prince.

While controversial, this identification is generally accepted by the majority of scholars as at least highly probable if unproven.  Given that there is even less evidence for the presence of either St. Peter or St. Paul in Rome than that of Pudens and his family, and that the Apostolic Succession of the Papacy relies on Linus as the first Pope after St. Peter, and that there is no evidence that contradicts this identification, most scholars are happy to accept the consensus.  Short of actual proof it is hard to imagine a series of evidences more morally convincing.

Similarly there is no proof to connect Claudia, even if all the above Claudias are one and the same person, with Eigen, the daughter of Caradoc named in the Iolo manuscripts as having brought Christianity to Britain.  While Claudia may have been a British Princess and leader among the Christians of Rome, there is no suggestion that she ever returned home and the evidence is that she remained in Italy until her death.

However there is a further tantalising hint that the legend may have some basis in fact.  The Iolo manuscripts name several of the missionaries that came to Britain.  One of these was ‘Arwystli Hen’, described as a man ‘of Italy’, who became spiritual confessor to King Bran ‘the Blessed’.  King Bran is named in Welsh mythology as the ‘father’ of Caradoc, which may be based on the folk memory that Caradoc maintained his nine year long guerrilla campaign against the invading Romans from the territory of the Silures tribe of South East Wales, in which Hay-on-Wye and Llanigon are situated.

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The name ‘Arwystli Hen’ is traditionally translated as ‘Aristobulus the Aged’.  There is strong independent corroboration that an Aristobulus travelled to Britain from the writings of St. Hippolytus of Rome (CE170-235) who names ‘Aristobulus of Britannia’ as one of the seventy disciples sent out in pairs by Jesus as described in Luke 10:1-24 and as the first Bishop in Roman Britain.  He may also be the same Aristobulus named by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 16:10), which would place him in Rome as a contemporary of Caradoc and his family.  This claim is repeated by St. Doroteas, Bishop of Tyre, in CE303 (Synopsis de Apostol, Synops.23).

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It is therefore not beyond the bounds of possibility that Caradoc’s daughter, known to history as Claudia Rufina and a leader among the early Christians in Rome, may have sent some missionaries to her homeland, in particular Aristobulus, as emissaries of the new faith, in her name, and this may be the basis for the legend.

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There is one final connection.  The huge palace at Fishbourne was built by a client king, who ruled over the three divisions of the Atrebates tribe at Chichester, Winchester and Silchester and is named as Tiberias Claudias Cogidubnus by Tacitus, who praises him for his constant loyalty.  Two silver coins found in the vicinity of Fishbourne are of 1st Century Roman style and bear the inscription ‘CRAB’ which has been interpreted as ‘Cogidubnus Rex Atrebatum Britanniorum’ or Cogidubnus, King of the Atrebates of Britain’.

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A gold signet ring found at Fishbourne itself, dated as 1st Century, is inscribed with the seal of a ‘Tiberi Claudi Catuari’.  A ring such as this would only have belonged to a member of the Roman equestrian aristocracy but the name ‘Catuarius’ is undoubtedly Celtic.  The word ‘katu’ translates to ‘battle’, as in the name of the Catuvellauni tribe (literally ‘battle leaders’) of which Caradoc was king.  So ‘Catuarius’ could be translated as ‘noble man of battles’ or ‘prince of the catu [tribe]’.

All of this points to the identification of Tiberias Claudias Cogidubnus with Togidubnus, prince of the Catuvellauni and elder brother of Caradoc who faught with him against the Roman invasion until defeated at the Battle of the Thames and later captured at the Battle of Caer Caradoc in Wales along with Caradoc’s wife and daughter.  Caradoc himself escaped but was betrayed and handed over to the Romans by Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes to whom he had turned for protection.

The two accounts of the invasion come from Tacitus, only a few decades after the events and writing in Latin, and from Cassius Dio, writing much later in Greek.  Dio records the death of Togidubnus at the Battle of the Thames, but used the greek word ‘perished’ which may have been a mistranslation of the earlier latin word ‘amisso’ (lost) in his sources.

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Tacitus records Caradoc and his brothers as all being in Rome to be pardoned, and history records only two brothers of Caradoc; Togidubnus and Adminius, suggesting that they were both with him in Rome.  It should be noted that Adminius had always been a pro-Roman client king and had been exiled by his brothers as one of the events that precipitated the invasion.  Given some form of reconciliation between them after the event, he would have been well-placed to broker a deal that satisfied all sides.

This identification has been proposed by Sir Barry Cunliffe, Emeritus Professor of European Archeology at Oxford University, the chief archaeologist of Fishbourne Palace.  The name ‘Cogidumnus’ can be explained as a Roman mistranslation of the Brythonic name: the etymological root is the same. ‘Togi’ (axe or bow) and ‘-dubno’ (deep or underworld).  This would certainly explain the unprecedented mercy shown by Claudius to Caradoc and his family and why they were retained in Rome as hostages.

The Romans valued strong and competent leadership and were not above using talented local leaders and moving nobles from one tribe to another as a way of ensuring loyalty.  Roman history records several examples of such policy.  This may explain the relative ease with which the Britains accepted the Roman yoke if they felt that they were still, at least in some sense, under the rule of their own tribal leaders.  Togidubnus certainly remained loyal even during the Boudiccan uprising of CE68 when it appeared for a while that Roman rule over Britain was finished.

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In Chichester, near Fishbourne, a damaged marble plaque was discovered in 1723 as the dedication stone of a Temple of Neptune and Minerva built shortly after the invasion.  This identifies the local ruler as Tiberias Claudius Cogidubnus.  It also records that the land was donated by a Pudens, son of Pudens, (“[Pud]ente Pudentini fil”).  To own such a prime site and to sponsor the Imperial Temple would imply this was a wealthy and powerful Roman official, and probably a senior officer with the invading army.  We know from Martial that Aulus Pudens, son of Senator Quintus Pudens, served in exactly such a role.  This would place him in command of the Chichester garrison and bring him into direct contact with the close family of Caradoc, presenting an opportunity for him to meet and court Caradoc’s daughter, who would probably have been held as prisoners there (one of the main invasion bases) prior to being taken to Rome.

This is the story of an idea as much as of the facts behind it.  It is an idea with a long history of its own, and one that has been hijacked and embellished by romantic mystics to add authenticity to a national myth.  When we look at the facts with a critical and sceptical eye we may discern an underlying truth that is both exciting and romantic.