St Beuno’s Well
Beuno seems to have been one of Wales’ most peripatetic of saints, travelling the length and breadth of the country practising his particular speciality of replacing severed heads and restoring the dead to life.
Born somewhat as an afterthought into the royal family of Gwent he was packed off at an early age to Caerwent to study for the priesthood. He established his first church in Powys following the death of his father there. Beside his father’s grave he planted a magical oak tree. It grew such that on of the branches dipped down into the ground forming an archway. It was said that any Englishman who walked through the arch would quickly die, although Welshmen could walk through it with impunity.
The king of Powys then granted him land at Berriew where he established his next church. Fearing attack from England however he soon moved north to Meifod where he teamed up with St Tyssilio.It soon proved that this town wasn’t big enough for the both of them and he travelled north again to Gwyddelwern where Cynan provided land for yet another church.
It was here at Gwyddelwern that he began his career of life restoring, supposedly bringing back to life an Irishman, Llorcan Wyddel. The name Gwyddelwern implies that it was once the home of people of Irish descent.
He didn’t remain here long though, for an altercation over the provision of hospitality to the grandsons of Cynan, in which it seems Beuno was very much in the wrong, Baring-Gould explains:
Coming to Gwyddelwern they imperiously demanded food for themselves and their party. They induced Beuno to kill a young ox for their refection, but the meat did not cook in the pot to their liking, and the youths swore that this was due to Beuno, who was sulky at their quartering themselves upon him, and had bewitched the food. When Beuno heard this he was very wroth and cursed the young men. “What your grandfather gave to God free, do you demand of it tribute and service? May your kin never possess the land, and may you be destroyed out of this kingdom and be likewise deprived of your eternal inheritance!”
Verily it was a risky thing to interfere with these old Celtic saints, who wielded the keys of Heaven in a very arbitrary fashion.
The real facts seem to be that the young men claimed food and shelter as a right, such as they could demand of any lay householder in the tribe; but this was a claim from which the ecclesiastics considered themselves to be exempt.
He was, however, led to move northwards again to Flintshire. It was here that he made his greatest claim to fame in replacing the severed head of his niece Winefride and thus restoring her to life at the site which became the great St Winefride’s Well at Holywell.
Here he struck up a friendship with Cadwallan, king of Gwynedd, and he soon moved his establishment westwards to Caernarfon. He finally settled at Clynnog Fawr on the Llyn peninsula, founding churches and restoring life both there and on Anglesey. Perhaps his best known well today is that at Clynnog and we shall pick up on the later stages of his life when we cover that well.
In his travels through North East Wales he left behind five wells and several churches, including the one here at Gwyddelwern.
Both church and well here have seen better days, hopefully this isn’t still down to those sons of Cynan taking retribution. The church is currently unsafe for use and ringed around not with the traditional woven wooden fencing but with orange plastic mesh which prevented us visiting.
His baptismal well too is covered by grating, this of old iron. It lies in a field close to the side of the road, a couple of hundred yards to the north of the church. It is a deep well, lied with concrete, brick and stone, the water level being about four or five feet below ground level. There is another spring, at surface level, a few yards to the south which forms a stream running down the field boundary. Further water, possibly overflow from Beuno’s well, is channelled away in an underground pipe, emerging down the field into an old iron bath, very like that at Ffynnon Wyryd.
The well was in the past resorted to for its powers to cure cattle, the beasts would be sprinkled with water from a yew bough that had been dipped into the well.
Beuno’s church and well at Gwyddelwern are probably not his greatest legacy to the Welsh tourist industry, but it still marks the spot of his introduction to the art of miracle cures.
St Beuno’s feast day is celebrated on April 21st.
There is a second spring, also dedicated to Beuno, to the south of the village which we did not locate on this visit.
This life of St Beuno is based on that in Baring-Gould and Fisher’s “Lives of the British Saints” which in turn is based on medieval manuscripts written long after Beuno’s death. I have seen it recently discussed that to fit in with all the timelines of other characters involved that it might be necessary to consider the possibility of two Beuno’s whose stories have over time been concatenated into a single history.