Friday, February 25, 2011


Not far from the foot of the Black Mountains of Brecon, in a low lovely fertile valley, under the shadow of Mount Troedd, lies Savaddan Lake (the Llangorse Lake of our maps). The following tradition is told regarding it.

Many years ago, when all the surrounding country was under Prince Tewdryg, the bed of the lake was occupied by Savaddan, a town identified with the Roman Loventium. It was, at the time of our story, ruled by a maiden, the beautiful and high-spirited Gwenonwy, who was under Tewdryg’s suzerainty. From far and wide came suitors for her hand and throne, but none found such favor as the noble Gruffydd, youngest son of a neighboring prince named Meigyr. He was all that her heart could desire, yet the maiden Princess dared not wed him, for her father on his deathbed had demanded, and received her promise, never to become the bride of one who was not her equal both in birth and fortune.

She was a rich and powerful Princess, while he, though of good birth, was poor. After long delays Gruffydd determined to bring matters to a crisis, and went one night to the Princess’s bower and urged her to forget her oath and wed him, regardless of her promise.

‘‘Never,’’ replied the Princess, ‘‘shall it be said that the daughter of the noble Ieuan broke her word. I love you, Gruffydd; but my honor is dearer to me than even your love. You, too, are a Prince, and of a noble family. Use your good arm and sword as your fathers have done, and gain wealth as they did, and come to me a year hence my equal as well in fortune as in rank. For a year and a day I will wait and pray for you; return to me within that time a bridegroom worthy of Gwenonwy’s hand, or return no more.’’

The Prince then left Savaddan and his love, and went to the court of Tewdryg, and for ten months fought under his banner against Madoc, the rebel lord of Skenpeth, gaining much honor but little wealth. At last the war ended, and Gruffydd resolved to make a final appeal to the love of Gwenonwy. Leaving Tewdryg’s capital, he arrived on the third day of his journey at Bryn-yr-Allt, a monastery on the mountain side overlooking Savaddan. Here he asked and obtained shelter for the night. He had not slept long when he was awakened by the sound of voices in the refectory, which was separated from his room only by a thin wooden partition.

He overheard a conversation between Owen the Sub-Prior and another monk, Father Aeddan, from which he learnt that the Prior was expected to return next day, bringing with him mules laden with precious stones and jeweled robes, bequeathed to the monastery by Howell, Prince of Cwmdu, whom he had attended on his deathbed. Gruffydd determined, on hearing this, to waylay and rob the Prior. He went to a spring, named Codvan’s Well, by which the Prior must pass, attacked him and left him for dead, and carried off his mules with their loads to Savaddan.

He told Gwenonwy his story, and was received by her with favor. Meanwhile the monks who had gone out to meet the Prior found him lying insensible, but he recovered sufficiently to tell them who the murderer was before he died. That night an order arrived from Princess Gwenonwy that a monk from the monastery should attend that night at the Palace to unite her to Gruffydd, Prince of Bronllys. In the evening a vast assembly thronged the royal chapel to witness the marriage.

Father Owen performed the ceremony, and as the young pair knelt before him for the final benediction, the priest stepped forward, and in a loud authoritative tone exclaimed, ‘‘Rise, Gruffydd of Bronllys, thou murderer; and thou, too, lady accomplice in his crime, inasmuch as thou hast not avenged it. Wedded, yet unblest, hear God’s decree. Thou, Prince, hast shed sacred blood, and thou, Princess, rejoicest in the unholy deed. Therefore God shall visit you with a great and terrible punishment. In His mercy He will bear with you for a time, but in the fourth generation the blow will fall not only on yourselves, but on all your unblest seed. It shall be; God hath spoken it.’’

Without the blessing of the Church upon her union, the kneeling Princess rose in a rage, and, turning to her guards, she said, ‘‘This presumptuous man has dared to offer an insult to a Princess of Savaddan within her own palace walls. Hence with him to the guard tower. Let him there await the fulfillment of his prophecy. Should he still live at the fourth generation, and his words prove vain, he shall die. It shall be; I have spoken it.’’

Many long and weary years the good father spent in a lonely cell at Savaddan, while the town and Court were given up to debauchery and vice.

Meanwhile Gruffydd and Gwenonwy, now growing old, saw springing up around them a goodly family of children and grandchildren. Soon Myvig, their eldest grandson, married, and in due course a child was born. This was the longdreaded advent of the fourth generation; still there was no evidence of the predicted punishment.

On the fortieth day from the birth of Myvig’s son, the Princess, persuading herself that Owen’s curse was merely an idle threat, summoned all her family and friends to a great banquet in honor of the young prince’s birth. On the appointed day the great hall of the palace was full. The feast was at its height, and wine was flowing freely, when four guards entered, leading the venerable Sub-Prior.

The Prince taunted him with the non-fulfillment of his prophecy, but he only repeated that vengeance was at hand unless the guilty ones repented. The Prince ordered that he be shut up in the topmost room of the watch-tower, which should then be burnt to the ground. And this was done.

Father Aeddan, now Prior, heard of what had happened, and from the monastery above watched the town and flames of the burning tower shoot up towards the sky. After the tower had fallen, a mist came down upon the valley and hid the town. While the Prior prayed the mist gradually rose, and the valley was seen entirely filled with a vast lake. No trace of the lost town ever appeared save a cradle containing a sleeping child, the infant son of Myvig, the last of the princes of Savaddan.

Lifting the child from its cradle, Father Aeddan bore it to the monastery. Naming it Gastayn, he taught it all that the good monks could teach. Gastayn afterwards expressed a desire to embrace the ascetic life, and built a hut on the lake’s edge in a sheltered spot. There he spent a life of great piety and rigor, in continual prayer for the souls of his wicked progenitors. His holiness and learning was so famed that one of the royal princes of South Wales entrusted his sons to Gastayn’s care. Following in the footsteps of their pious tutor, they became renowned for the purity and sanctity of their lives, some of them, indeed, even obtaining the glorious crown of martyrdom. Gastayn, at his death, was buried in his hermitage, where in after years a church was built which to this day bears the name of the ‘‘Church of St. Gastayn.’’

Such is the legend told by the country folk in the neighborhood, who still gravely tell you that on a calm summer’s day it is possible to see the church tower through the waters of the lake, and even to hear the bells ring!

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