databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Crosses and effigies

Roods, or large crucifixes, depicting Christ on the cross, were familiar features in medieval churches and the subject of a number of poems (the poets use the word crog ‘rood’ to refer to them). Generally, roods were positioned above the altar: the most sacred part of the church and the focal point for administering Mass. Whether carved in wood or stone or depicted in stained-glass - possibly in a window above the altar - the image of Christ on the cross was there to be seen by the worshippers as they took communion.[1]
A wallpainting of The Last Judgement at St Giles' Church, Wrexham.
The Last Judgement at St Giles' Church, Wrexham
Click for a larger image

Guto’r Glyn composed a poem to the Rood at St John the Baptist’s church in Chester, a very famous object of devotion in the fifteenth century.[2] The rood is described as the Y Grog a’i phedwargwyr grym ‘Rood and its four powerful men’ (poem 69.57), probably referring to the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

It is possible that a rood was present in a church connected with the Puleston family as Guto describes a crys ‘shirt’ or a cloth on the effigy of Christ in a poem composed for one of its members (poem 72.5). According to Guto there was also a large crucifix at the church in Wrexham:

 Abad o gariad, egorir – ei byrth, 
 A borthai bedeirsir: 
 Y grog sy ’m mhall Gwrecsam hir 
20A’i catwo yn y coetir! 
An abbot who through love would provide sustenance
for four counties, his doors are opened:
may the rood under the veil in far Wrexham
preserve him in the woodland!

(poem 111.17-20)

The churches in the abbeys also had crosses and Guto refers to a special rood at Valle Crucis abbey (see note on poem 118.59). Indeed, it seems that pieces of this rood were discovered in Plasypentre near Trevor.[3] These roods were usually accompanied by two candles on the altar, as noted by the poets. The word tapr ‘taper’ is used to refer to these wax candles and there were plenty of them at Strata Florida abbey according to Guto: tapr cwyr fyrddwn ‘multitude of wax candles’ (poem 8.5). There were wax candles, among other things, in the cathedral at Bangor during the time of Rhisiart Cyffin, dean of Bangor:

Cweirio y mae y côr moel 
Capten Dwynwen a Deinioel, 
Cario gwŷdd cerrig iddaw, 
Cwyr a chlych cair uwch ei law. 
St Dwynwen and St Deiniol’s captain
is restoring the bare chancel,
carrying timber for it,
there are wax candles and bells above his hand.

(poem 59.9-12)

Representations of other religious figures such as the saints, the Trinity and the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary could also be seen in the churches of this period.[4]


[1]: A. Vallance, English Church Screens: Being Great Roods Screenwork and Rood-lofts of Parish Churches in England and Wales (London, 1936).
[2]: For this rood see B.J. Lewis, (2005), Welsh Poetry and English Pilgrimage: Gruffudd ap Maredudd and the Rood of Chester (Aberystwyth, 2005); M. Paul Bryant-Quinn (gol.) Gwaith Ieuan Brydydd Hir, (Aberystwyth, 2000), 148-50 and R. Iestyn Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Llawdden (Aberystwyth, 2006) 133-4.
[3]: G. Williams, The Welsh Church from Conquest to Reformation (1976, Cardiff), 355.
[4]: P. Lord, The Visual Culture of Wales: Medieval Vision (Cardiff, 2003), 200-1.
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