Eurodd, adeilodd y delwau – a’r côr
The main service of the Catholic Church was the Mass. In large churches the Mass would be sung, and with its music, costumes and bright colours it would have been an spectacular, emotional ceremony.
Latin was the language of the Mass in this period. Only the priests, their servants and the choir participated; the audience would merely listen and watch. The content varied but reading the gospel and reciting the Lord’s Prayer was common practice. It was believed that attending Mass was truly beneficial for the body and soul and that not attending was a great sin. There is a description of the Mass by the poet Ieuan ap Rhydderch. Some illustrations of church altars can be found in manuscripts with Welsh connections; for example, a depiction of Richard II wearing a red gown and a black hood during Mass in Aberconwy abbey in 1399.
The Holy Communion was an important part of the service. However, unlike today, in the Middle Ages the laity would only occasionally receive the Communion. During Communion the congregation would receive bread and wine. Christ had called Himself the bread of God and eating bread and drinking wine commemorate the breaking of Christ’s body and the outpouring of His blood (Mark 14:22-4, 1 Cor 11:23-5). This consecrated bread, or wafer, was called afrlladen, and the wine had to be drunk from a special cup called a caregl ‘chalice’. This fine cup was placed on a white cloth on the altar. Some communion vessels such as cups, plates and other vessels to hold water and wine have survived in Welsh churches. A special communion cup dating from the late fifteenth century, engraved with an image of the Crucifixion, is kept in the church of St Elian, Denbighshire. These vessels were mostly made of silver as they were reserved for ceremonial purposes.
Most of these treasures were lost or destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries; others were moved to different parts of the country for safety. Therefore, the poetry is a valuable source of evidence for the use of these expensive objects in medieval Welsh churches. In his poem in praise of the town of Oswestry, Guto’r Glyn mentions that there is a very special communion cup in the church: Gorau eglwys gareglwych ‘The best fine-chaliced church’ (poem 102.27). He also mentions that there were golden vessels at Strata Florida abbey in the time of Abbot Rhys and that Valle Crucis abbey had golden communion cups in the time of Abbot Dafydd ap Ieuan:
Eurodd, adeilodd y delwau – a’r côr
A’r cerygl a’r llyfrau;
He gilded and constructed the images and the choir,
and the chalices and the books;
Special Masses were sometimes held, such as the Mass to honour the five wounds of Christ, known as the ‘Mass of the Five Wounds’, during which the petitioners would light five candles. There was much devotion to the wounds and blood of Christ in the fifteenth century, especially the wound in His side. The poets often refer to the spear that caused this wound, and Guto mentions the apocryphal tale that it was wielded by a blind man named Longinus (whose blindness was afterwards cured miraculously by Christ’s blood):
Aeth dall â gwayw i’th dyllu,
I’r gwaed ir â’r gwayw du.
A blind man took his spear to pierce you
into the fresh blood with the bitter pain.
Another service that was part of life in this period was the ‘Mass of the Dead’. This was performed thirty times for the benefit of the soul of the deceased. To ensure that this Mass would take place, it was usually paid for in advance by the individual, and the payment was called trental (from the English ‘trental’). During the Mass of the Dead a cloth was placed over the coffin of the deceased; usually a purple cloth, the liturgical colour associated with penance or mourning. It is quite possible that elegies were important parts of this interval spent in singing the Mass of the Dead. Indeed, an elegy was often composed quite soon after the death of a patron and his or her burial place is sometimes mentioned by the poets. Meurig Fychan and his wife Angharad of Nannau were buried at Cymer abbey according to Guto, and he also mentions the burial place of some other patrons. Gweurful daughter of Madog of Abertanad was buried in the chancel of the church of St Michael in Abertanad, Llanyblodwel (poem 88.44), and Einion ap Gruffudd of Llechwedd Ystrad was buried at the church in Pennant Melangell (poem 42.25).
Bibliography: R.I. Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Ieuan ap Rhydderch (Aberystwyth, 2003), poem 7; cf. E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (Yale, 2005), 91-130.
: P. Lord, The Visual Culture of Wales: Medieval Vision (Cardiff, 2003), 198.
: P. Lord, The Visual Culture of Wales: Medieval Vision, 177.
: D. Gray, ‘The Five Wounds of Our Lord’, Notes and Queries, CCVIII (1963), 50-1, 82-9, 127-34, 163-8.
: D.F. Evans (gol.), Gwaith Hywel Swrdwal a’i Deulu (Aberystwyth, 2000), 39; ODCC³ 135; E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, 370.
: H.M. Edwards, ‘Dwyn marwnadau adref’, Llên Cymru, 23 (2000), 21-38.
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