databas cerddi guto'r glyn


Men of the Church such as priests and abbots were very generous patrons of poets in this period. If a priest did not have a university degree and did not belong to a particular diocese, the poets would usually refer to him as Syr ‘Sir’. This is probably the reason why the title Syr was used for the poet-priest Syr Rhys who exchanged satirical debate poems with Guto’r Glyn (poem 101, poem 101a), and also for Sir Benet ap Hywel, parson of Corwen. In his elegy for Sir Benet, Guto refers to him as a curate:

Curad aur y côr od aeth, 
Corwen, gwae ni rhag hiraeth! 
Er pan aeth, gwaeth ydyw’r gwŷr, 
A phrinnach offerenwyr. 
If the excellent curate of the church of Corwen
has gone, woe to us the longing after him!
Since he departed, the men are worse off,
and the priests scarcer.

(poem 47.37-40)

The term curad ‘curate’ denoted someone who had the cure of souls, or specifically the clergyman or parson who had the spiritual charge of a parish.[1] Other terms are used for churchmen in the poems. A churchman of high status, such as a bishop or archbishop, was called a prelad ‘prelate’.[2] This would also be used for an abbot or a prior of a religious house, and could occasionally refer to a priest or other clergyman (poem 70.24). Guto also uses the term micar .../ sienral, borrowed from the English ‘vicar general’, an Episcopal officer or clergyman (poem 58.33-4).

Occasionally, there is a reference to the priest conducting Mass. In his poem in praise of Sir William, priest of Merthyr Tydfil, Guto says:

Ei gywydd beunydd o’i ben, 
Eiriau ffwrm, yw’r efferen. 
His cywydd daily from his lips
is the mass, words following a set form.

(poem 16.67-8)

An effigy of an unknown clergyman at the Priory Church of St John the Evangelist, Brecon.
Unknown clergyman
Click for a larger image
To administer the Mass priests would wear a special garment called a casul ‘chasuble’. This was a loose, sleeveless robe, highly decorated, and was worn only for the celebration of Mass. The swrplis ‘surplice’ was worn for less formal services. A poem by Lewys Glyn Cothi provides a detailed description of a vicar’s robe, worn on a Sunday, namely the chasuble of Sir Hywel ab Ieuan, vicar of Darowain.[3] A remarkable chasuble has survived from the sixteenth century which is now kept at the Catholic church of Our Lady and St Michael, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. [4] Even when a priest was not officiating, he was expected to wear a collar and a long robe, as noted by Guto when he compares other things to a priest’s attire (poem 77.54, poem 100.52).

There was also a specific form of dress for bishops, and poets often make comparison to their golden vestments when describing other objects (poem 53.54, poem 94.35-6, poem 94.34). However, the two objects referred to in particular are the mitre and the pastoral staff (also called a ‘crosier’), both of which are still part of a bishop’s attire today. Accessories such as rings, chains and rosaries were also worn on special occasions. Abbots wore vestments that represented the order to which they belonged. The best description of an abbot’s dress is that of Dafydd ab Ieuan, abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Valle Crucis:

Arglwyddwalch o ŵr gloywddu 
Â’r fagl aur a fagai lu; 
Eglwyswr yn y tŵr teg 
Ac ail Asa Eglwyseg; 
Edn i Grist a Duw ’n ei grys, 
A drych aberth drwy’i chwebys. 
a chieftain of a man with shining black hair,
with a crosier, one who would care for a host;
a priest in the splendid tower
and a second St Asaph for Eglwyseg;
in his surplice he is a bird for Christ and God,
and he elevates the host with his six fingers.

(poem 112.19-24)


[1]: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (Caerdydd, 1950-2002), d.g. curad; ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’,, s.v. curate.
[2]: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, d.g. prelad.
[3]: D. Johnston (gol.), Gwaith Lewys Glyn Cothi (Caerdydd, 1995), poem no. 200.35-43.
[4]: P. Lord, The Visual Culture of Wales: Medieval Vision (Cardiff, 2003), 200-1.
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