St Gwyno, Confessor Britain



A saint of this name is entered in the genealogies in the Iolo MSS., where he is stated to have been of the lineage of the mythical Bran Fendigaid, and to be the patron of Llanwynno, or Llanwonno, in Glamorgan. Elsewhere, in the same work, we are told that this church is dedicated to S. Gwynog, the son of Gildas, whose name is deliberately cut down to Gwyno to match the church-name.

There was, however, a S. Gwyno, who was one of the Five Saints of Caio (see SS. GWYN, etc.), but probably we have another of the name here. To him is dedicated Llanwonno, which was formerly one of the five capella under Llantrisant “the Church of the Three Saints,” of which latter Gwyno is also considered to be patron in conjunction with SS. Illtyd and Tyfodwg. He is likewise the patron of
Vaynor, formerly called Maenor Wyno, in Breconshire; but he is not the patron of Wonastow, near Monmouth, as is sometimes supposed. The saint’s Holy Well, Ffynnon Wyno, is near Llanwonno
Church, and also a farm called Dar (or Daear) Wyno.

S. GWYNOG, Bishop, Confessor Europe

Gwynog, son of Gildas, is probably the Guiniauc invoked in the tenth-century Celtic Litany from Rheims published by Mabillon. There is, however, liability to confusion, owing to there having been several saints bearing the same name. A Winnoc belonged to the family of Judicael, and died in 717, but he left Armorica at an early age and lived all his monastic life in Flanders, and it is there rather than in Brittany that he was culted.

Gwynog, son of Gildas and grandson of Caw, must have been born between 487 and 507, if our chronology of the life of Gildas be correct. We may with confidence regard the Genocus of the Latin Life of S. Finnian of Clonard, as this Gwynog.

Finnian came to Britain in 527-9, and settled a controversy that had arisen between Gildas and David. Then he went on to Llancarfan, where, having been affectionately greeted by Gildas and Cadoc, he returned to Ireland with his two British disciples, Buite and Genoc. Whether he had received Gwynog as a pupil before this, or only now, we are not informed. We can well understand Gildas committing his young son to Finnian to be trained by him in Ireland, to be his spiritual foster-father, before he himself departed for Rhuis, doubtless intending that his son should rejoin him when fully educated and disciplined.

In Ireland, Genoc made a foundation at Kilglin, near Kilcoch, in Meath, and he is commemorated in the Irish Martyrologies on December 26, under the names of Genoc and Mogenoc.

On his way home, Finnian visited S. Coeman at Dairinis, and S. Loeman. He arrived in Ireland when Muiredach mac Aengus was king of the Hy Cinnselach, who is supposed to have died in 525 after a reign of nine years. We must either suppose that this arrival in Ireland refers to a previous crossing thither, which is most probable, or that Gwynog had been confided to Finnian at an earlier period; that is, if the identification be admitted. The reception given to Finnian is described as effusive, as given to a stranger, so that the former conjecture is most likely to be right. How long Gwynog remained with Finnian we do not know; we next find him settled in Wales. His most noteworthy church there was Llanwnog, near Caersws, in Montgomeryshire. The position was one of importance, as Caersws was an old Roman town at the junction of three rivers that combine to form the Severn, in an extensive basin surrounded by mountains. To the north of Caersws stands a dome-shaped height surmounted by a fortress of earthworks, and on the slope of the mountain, commanding the plain and the gorges down which stream the rivers, facing the sun, as the spot chosen by Gwynog for his church.

In or about 540, perhaps as late as 544, appeared the Increpatio of Gildas against the princes of Wales. If Cuneglas, against whom Gildas hurled abuse, and whom he called by offensive names, were, as is supposed, the King of Powys, the son of Gildas could not remain in his territory, enjoying his protection.

It is not credible that a prince, against whom Gildas had railed as “a bear, a rider of many, wallowing in the old filth of his wickedness, a tawny butcher,” would endure the presence on his lands of the son of the man who had so publicly and grossly insulted him. The sons and brothers of Gildas must have cursed the day when that intemperate epistle was flung at the heads of the princes, and have forced them to quit their pleasant settlements.

That Gwynog went now to Rhuis is a mere matter of conjecture. That he was for a while at Cadoc’s monastery on the Sea of Etel is rendered probable by there being a Church, Plouhinec, dedicated to him, near it. We venture on a suggestion. Gildas had lived on the best possible terms with Weroc, Count of Broweroc. The country round Vannes was occupied by immigrant Britons. He had interfered in the domestic arrangements of the Count, had persuaded him against his better judgment to give his daughter in marriage to Conmore, the regent of Domnonia, and had received the grandson of Weroc, also named Gildas, into his monastery.

Weroc died about 550, leaving five sons, Canao, Macliau, and three others. To divide the county into five equal portions was to give meagre mouthfuls to men with large appetites, and following Celtic precedent, Canao murdered three of his brothers, and sought the life of Macliau, who, however, managed to make his escape to Conmore. About 552 Macliau crept back into the country and secretly stole into Vannes, which was a Franco-Gallic city not in the power of the Counts of Broweroc, had his head tonsured, and offered himself for the throne of bishop, which was then vacant. He was elected and consecrated.

About eight years later, Canao accorded protection to Chramm, the fugitive son of Clothair, who had revolted against his father, and had been defeated. What follows has been already described, but may be repeated here to make clear what we suggest.

Clothair marched into Brittany at the head of a large army, and a battle ensued in which Canao was defeated and slain. No sooner did Macliau know of the death of his brother, than he donned military equipment, recalled his wife and children, whom to satisfy Franco-Roman prejudice he had dismissed, and claimed to be Count of Broweroc. The bishops of the province of Tours excommunicated him, but he disregarded the sentence. Then he entered into a compact with Budic II of Cornugallia, in virtue of which each was to stand by the children of the other in the event of the death of one of them. Budic died in 570, whereupon, with total disregard of his oaths, Macliau drove Tewdrig, son and heir of Budic, from his domains, and annexed them to his own. Tewdrig for some time wandered as a fugitive, but having collected a band of adherents, suddenly came down on Macliau, killed him and one of his sons, Jacob, and reinstated himself as King of Cornugallia. This was in 577. At once, another son of Macliau, named Weroc, assumed the countship, and ruled Broweroc for twenty years, engaged nearly the whole time in conflict with the Merovingian kings. The Church of Vannes must have been in a sorry plight, when its bishop had been leading a purely secular life, and was under a sentence of excommunication. When Macliau was dead, it was important that it should have over it a man of integrity, morals and piety, as its chief pastor. Gildas died in the same year that Macliau unfrocked himself.

The Church of Vannes chose as his successor one whom Gregory of Tours calls Eunius. Was this Gwynog the son of Gildas? We cannot be sure. Welsh tradition represents Gwynog as a bishop; he is so figured in stained glass in the Church of Llanwnog. None, it might well be supposed by the people of Vannes, could be better calculated to redress the disorders caused by Macliau than a son of
Gildas summoned for the purpose from the neighbouring monastery of Rhuis.

We do no more than offer the identification as possible.

After the defeat of Canao for seventeen years (577-594) hostilities were almost incessant.

The Franks had devastated Broweroc, and had established themselves in Vannes itself. Macliau had not attempted to expel them, but it was other with Weroc II. He took the town by surprise directly after his father’s death.

Next year (578) so as to recover it, Chilperic collected a large force and marched to the river Vilaine, but was attacked in the night, and a rout and slaughter ensued. Weroc II, however, was not in a condition to pursue his success; he came to terms with the Frank King, and promised to pay arrears of tribute, and surrender the city of Vannes. Thereupon Chilperic withdrew. No sooner was he gone, than Weroc made difficulties about fulfilling his engagement, and sent the bishop, Eunius, to Chilperic with a catalogue of grievances and demands. Chilperic was furious at the breach of engagement, and resented it on the unoffending bishop, whom he sent into exile, and hostilities recommenced.

Weroc, on his part, was highly incensed at the treatment his envoy was receiving, and he carried fire and sword into the country of the Franks.

Gregory of Tours does not speak highly of the character of Eunius ”Nimium vino deditus erat, et plerumque ita deformiter inebriatus, gressum facere non valeret.” He was taken from Angers, whither he had been relegated, to Paris. Whilst there he was celebrating the Divine Mysteries, one morning, when he broke out into a snort, like the neighing of a horse, and fell down with blood streaming from his mouth and nose. He had, in fact, broken a blood-vessel.

Eunius was reconducted to Angers, where he died in 580.

The only church in Wales that we know for certain to be dedicated to Gwynog is Llanwnog (at the foot of Allt” Wnog), in Montgomeryshire. The church of the adjoining parish of Aberhafesp is sometimes given (by Browne Willis and others) as dedicated to him, and sometimes to S. Llonio, of the neighbouring parish of Llandinam. At Penstrowed, adjoining Llanwnog, Gwynog’s uncle, Gwrhai, has a dedication. The chapels of SS. Gwynog and Noethan, near the Church of Llangwm Dinmael, Denbighshire, have long ago been converted into a mill and a kiln. A chapel, Llanwynog, under Clodock, in Herefordshire, is now extinct, as is also the little chantry chapel, Capel Gwynog, in the parish of Caerleon, mentioned in the Chantry Certificates, 1548, and Bishop Kitchin’s Return, 1563. There was formerly a Capel Gwynog in the parish of Llanfachraith, Merionethshire. According to tradition, Gwynog paid a visit there to S. Machraith, and caused a crystal spring to burst forth near the church, whose water was efficacious in various ailments. A small chapel was afterwards erected over it, and the well is still called Ffynnon y Capel. The church of S. Twinnels, Pembrokeshire, which appears, for instance, in the Taxatio of 1291 as Ecclesia S. Wynnoci, cannot be regarded as a dedication to him.

In Wales Gwynog is generally found coupled with his brother, Noethan or Nwython.

The Welsh Calendars do not agree upon the day for his commemoration. The festival of SS. Gwynog and Noethan occurs on October 22, in the Calendars in Peniarth MSS. 27 (part i.), 186, 187, 219, Mostyn MS. 88, Llanstephan MS. 117, Jesus College MS. 6, Additional MS. 14,882, and the Welsh Prymer of 1546; on the 23rd, in the Calendars in the lolo MSS. and the Prymers of 1618 and 1633; and on the 24th in the calendar in Peniarth MS. 172. There is very little doubt, however, that the correct day is the 22nd.

In a window in Llanwnog Church, Gwynog is represented, in stained glass of the fifteenth century, as a bishop. The inscription underneath, “Sancte Guinoce [ora pro nobis],” is imperfect. “Gwallter Mechain in The Cambrian Quarterly, i (1829), pp. 30-1, gives as the inscription, “Sanctus Gwinocus, cujus animae propitietur Deus. Amen.” This is absurd. Moreover, the “Sancte Guinoce” still extant show that it was an invocation of the saint. The glass was removed about 1860 from the east window to a small one on the rood-loft stair in the north wall.

In an Ode to Henry VII, Dafydd Nanmor commits the King to the guardianship of upwards of a hundred saints by name, among whom he gives Gwynog.

A S. Guinochus, Bishop and Confessor, commemorated on April 13, is known to the Scotch, being honoured in Buchan, but he is assigned to the ninth century, and sometimes to the thirteenth.