‘LITONINANCAN’ IN THE WELSH LIFE OF ST DAVID
By Andrew Breeze
Pembrokeshire is above all the land of St David; so it is excellent for the county that studies on him flourish.1 This note adds to them by looking at a problem in early lives of the saint. It deals with the location of litoninancan in the Welsh life, which the Latin life by Rhygyfarch had explained, a little obscurely, as the monastery of Maucannus or Depositi monasterium. Nora Chadwick wrote long ago that this place ‘has not been certainly identified ‘ , though she commented further (after G. H. Doble) that Rhygyfarch and the anonymous Welsh hagiographer apparently used a common source.2 This is a significant point and we shall return to it.
Rhygyfarch’s eleventh-century account begins with a dream of David’s father, King Sanctus of Ceredigion. An angel tells him to go hunting by the river, where he will find a stag, fish, and a hive of bees. Food from these is to be sent to the monastery of Maucannus to be kept for the king’s unborn son. A later gloss says the spot ‘to this day is called the Monastery of the Deposit (Depositi monasterium)’. The gifts are symbolic of the qualities David will have. Honey shows wisdom; fish, abstinence from liquor; and the stag, victory over the Devil (because stags were believed to kill and eat snakes, thereby providing a Christian emblem).3
The same story is told in the Welsh life of St David, preserved in the Book of the Anchorite, which was written in 1346 at Llanddewibrefi in Ceredigion, but is now in Oxford. In this version the angel tells the king how he will come across stag, fish, and bees by the river Teifi, and that the places Lin Henllan and Liton Mancan will belong to St David until Doomsday. The first is easily recognized as Henllan (SN 3540), three miles east of Newcastle Emlyn. Yet the whereabouts of the second has been perplexing. The question was discussed as follows by Simon Evans.4
Evans noted that the manuscript reading is litoninancan. It is easy to take the last part as Maucan (Modern Welsh Meugan), the ‘Maucannus’ of the Latin life. But what is liton, and how does it relate to ‘Deposit’? Evans believed that, since the Welsh for ‘deposit’ is adneu, the place would be the Llann adneu mentioned in a twelfth-century poem on David by Gwynfardd Brycheiniog. This Llannadneu has been taken as Llanarthne, in the Vale of Tywi eight miles east of Carmarthen.5 Evans thought that satisfying. Yet there are five objections to it. Llanarthne has no association with St Meugan; it does not explain litoninancan; it is far from the Teifi; it is not etymologically linked with adneu; and there seems no other evidence for its having an early monastery. 6
More to the point is Evans’s identification of litoninancan or (better) Liton Maucan with Llanfeugan in north-east Pembrokeshire, a suggestion first made by A. W. Wade-Evans. Evidence for this survives on the modern map, where Pistyllmeugan, Penlanfeugan, and Dyffrynmeugan are all marked within the parish of Llanfair Nant-gwyn (SN 1637), five miles south of Cardigan. This makes far better sense as the place mentioned in the Latin and Welsh lives. It is near the Teifi, and so where a king of Ceredigion might exercise power. It was also the centre of Meugan’s cult, which remained strong even in the sixteenth century. It had a chapel of St Meugan that was pulled down in 1592 by order of the Privy Council, since it was a centre of Recusant pilgrimages.7 It is hence the obvious place for the clas or early monastery of St Meugan mentioned in accounts of David.
Yet that leaves liton unexplained. Evans listed various attempts to solve the crux. The American scholar Slover thought it was a corruption of Irish liath ‘grey’, Meugan being the Irish saint Mancan. This is not probable. Evans himself proposed links with Old Welsh litu, Modern Welsh llydw, ‘host, household , community’. But to take this as meaning ‘ monastery ‘ strains the sense. Still less convincing is Lloyd-Jones’s suggestion that it represents Old Welsh liton ‘servant, captive, community’ and thus ‘monastery’. A new approach seems called for, based on elements known to occur in Welsh toponyms.
Let us look again at Llanfeugan as represented by modern ‘Penlanfeugan’. It should offer a clue as regards Liton Maucan . Yet Liton could hardly be a corruption of so obvious a place-name element as llan. However, llwyn ‘grove ‘ , which in Old Welsh was luin, is another matter. Llwyn has been corrupted to llan at various places in Wales. Llangwaran, a small place in Pembrokeshire, used to be ‘Llwyngwaran’; Llanliddan or St Lythans in the Vale of Glamorgan was once ‘Llwyn Eliddon’.8 This allows an answer for Liton Maucan. If Liton were a corruption of Old Welsh luin ‘grove’ or perhaps luyn by way of luon, it would solve various problems. Here llwyn has the advantage of being common in Welsh place-names, especially in Pembrokeshire, as with Llwyncelyn ‘holly grove’ near Cilgerran, Llwyngwair ‘hay grove’ (or ‘bent grove’?) near Nevern, and Llwyn-yr-hwrdd ‘ram’s grove’ five miles from Llanfeugan.9 So there are grounds for emending the Book of the Anchorite’s litoninancan to Luin Maucan or Luyn Maucan ‘ Meugan’s grove’, now Llanfeugan. If so, that confirms the identification made by Wade-Evans and Simon Evans, suiting a location not far from the Teifi, where a king might present gifts acquired while hunting, giving rise by whatever means to this place’s other name from the depositum or ‘entrusted gift’ passed on by Sanctus.
Since the above was written, a new volume on St David has come to hand, which mentions Meugan ‘s monastery of the ‘Deposit’, but does not say where it was. 10 So there is reason to stress that the evidence suggests it was Llanfeugan, in the parish of Llanfair Nant-gwyn, some twelve miles west of Henllan, by the Teifi. It may be added to the pre-Norman monasteries in Wales shown in John Koch’s recent atlas. 1 1
If the above reasoning is sound, it has various implications. It means we can identify without hesitation a reference to Llanfeugan in both the Latin and Welsh lives of St David. (Llanarthne on the Tywi can be ruled out as a red herring.) It provides evidence for a monastery in north Pembrokeshire which was of early importance and was thought to predate David himself, though it later came into the hands of the St Davids community. Bridell, which adjoins Llanfair Nant-gwyn and shared the cult of St Meugan, has a church dedicated to David, suggesting an ancient link. This proposed solution of two long-standing cruxes, if it has substance, would therefore strengthen St David’s Pembrokeshire associations.
It also casts light on Meugan, a much less familiar figure. The contradictory accounts of him by hagiographers, especially on his dates, imply they knew as little of him as we do, although even in the seventeenth century his feast day (25 September) was celebrated by Catholics and Protestants alike.12 The cult of Meugan extended far in space as well as time, being more widespread than that of any other Welsh pilgrim saint. There are churches dedicated to him in Anglesey, Denbighshire, Brecknock, Somerset, Cornwall, and north Brittany.13 Simon Evans quoted Canon Doble on Meugan as ‘an abbot, probably an abbot-bishop, of an important monastery in Demetia’, who shared in a great missionary effort beginnjng in the sixth century that by its completion had ‘covered Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany with churches and monasteries’ .14 If so, small wonder that his memory was treasured at Llanfair Nant-gwyn, and perhaps further at the mysterious Rosnat mentioned in the lives of Irish saints who studied there (which was not Whithorn in Galloway, despite what has been said). 15 The effects of his cult appear on the map of Cornwall, where the villages of Mawgan-in-Meneage (near Helston) and Mawgan-in-Pydar (near New quay) are called after him. 16 It may also be that Geoffrey of Monmouth (d. 1155) took his name and his reputation as a sage resolver of disputes for his own Maugantius, who encourages Vortigern to believe the strange story of Merlin’s conception and who ends up as Bishop of Silchester.1 7
We may go further. Meugan has been identified as the author of prayers, scriptural in their language, in London, British Library, MS Royal 2.A.xx, of the later eighth century .18 If this ascription is genuine , they will be a rare ‘ text from the British Church of the early sixth century, predating St David. If they were written at Llanfeugan, they will be the oldest literary text to survive from what is now Pembrokeshire. However, dedications to Meugan in Cornwall also attest his influence there. Lives of Irish saints, as already noted, mention their studying at a British monastery called ‘Rosnat’, ruled by a certain ‘ Maucennus ‘ (= St Meugan). 19 Recent discussion enables us to identify this place as Old Kea, on a creek of Truro River.20 Llanfeugan in Pembrokeshire may thus be linked with Old Kea in Cornwall as sites significant in the sixth -century British Church. These links are strengthened again by identification of ‘ (Wincdi-)lantquendi’ (which is obviously corrupt), where the youthful St Dayid studied.21 There are ground s to take this as likewise being Old Kea, which is recorded in Domesday Book as Landighe ‘Church of Kea ‘ , a form lurking behind the ‘lantquendi’ of David ‘s Latin life. So it can be seen that Llanfeugan had far-flung contacts.
If, then, litoninancan in the Welsh life of St David is correctly identified as Llanfeugan, it provides evidence for a Dyfed clas that predated David himself, and was the focus of an international missionary effort. It would have had a seminary and centre of studies that looked to Old Kea in Cornwall, as well as Brittany. There would have been a coming and going there of visitors from British lands beyond Wales. Yet David was to eclipse the fame of Meugan, so much so that (even though his cult persisted into Elizabethan times) the fame of his shrine had faded in Norman times, being recognized only in the 1930s by such scholars as A. W. Wade-Evans and Canon Doble. Thanks to their efforts, it seems possible to see once again at Llanfeugan a major centre of Christianity in sixth-century Pembrokeshire, one in its day as influential as St Davids itself.
I. 0. N. Dumville, Saint David of Wales (Cambridge, 2001).
2. Nora Chadwick, ‘ Intellectual Life in West Wales in the Last Days of the Celtic Church’, in Studies in the Early British Church , ed. Nora Chadwick (Cambridge, 1958), 12 1-82, at 136.
3. Vitae Sanctorum Britanniae, ed. A. W. Wade-Evan s (Cardiff, 1944) , 150 .
4. The Welsh Life of St David, ed. D. Simon Evans (Cardiff, 1988), 22.
5. Hen Cerddi Crefyddol, ed. Henry Lewis (Caerdydd, 1931 ), 190.
6. J. E. Lloyd, A History (d.Wales (2 vols., London, 1911), I, 158 n.165, 268.
7. Francis Jones, The Holy Wells of Wales (Cardiff, 1954) , 209.
8. R. J. T homas, Enwau Afonydd a Nent ydd Cymru (Caerdydd, 19 38), 50.
9. B. G. Charles, The Place-Names of Pembrokeshire (Aberystwyth, 199 2).
10. Richard Sharpe and John Reuben Davies, ‘ Rhygyfarch’s Life of St David’ , in St David of Wales, ed. J. Wyn Evans and J.M. Woodin g (Woodbridge, 2007) , I07-55.
11. J. T. Koch , An Atlas for Celtic Studies (Oxford, 2007), map 22.
12. John Hughes, Allwedd neu Ago riad Paradwys i’r Cymry, ed. John Fisher (Caerdydd, 1929) , C I ; Y Llyfr Plygain 1612 (Caerdydd , 1931), 25.
13. E.G. Bowen, The Settlements of the Celtic Saints in Wales (Cardiff, 1954) , 90-1.
14. G. H. Doble, Lives of the Welsh Saints, ed. D. Simon Evans (Cardiff, 1971), 52-3.
15. John Morris, The Age of Arthur (London, 1973) , 357.
16. 0. J. Padel, A Popular Dictionary of Cornish Place -Names (Penzance, 1988), 117-18; The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names, ed. Victor Watts (Cambridge, 2004), 404.
17. Catherine Daniel , Les propheties de Merlin et la culture politique (Turnhout, 2006), 18.
18 . David Howlett, ‘ Orationes Moucani: Early Cambro-Latin Prayers’ , Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, xxiv (1992) , 55-74.
19. D. N. Dumville et al., Saint Patrick (Woodbridge, 199 3), 142-3 n. 63.
20. Bewnans Ke: The Life of St Kea , ed. Graham Thomas and Nicholas Williams (Exeter, 2007), xxxviii.
2 1. Rhigyfarch’s Life of St David, ed. J. W. James (Cardiff, 1967), 7, 32 .