databas cerddi guto'r glyn


Two vessels from Strata Florida abbey
Two vessels from Strata Florida abbey
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Very few vessels have survived from fifteenth-century Wales. Even small pieces of pottery are rare and such discoveries are much harder to find in archaeological sites in Wales when compared to England. However, references to tableware in the poetry of the period are quite numerous and from the fourteenth century onwards it was common to praise the patron for his vessels of gold and silver.[1]

The main material used for vessels such as dishes, crocks and pans during this period was pewter: a material made of tin alloy and a small amount of lead which provided a blue-gray slate color. This was used to produce vessels of all types, along with spoons, and became more popular than wood as the period progressed. Fourteenth-century poets seem to refer to wooden vessels, but Guto’r Glyn clearly states that pewter dishes were popular in Oswestry by the fifteenth century:

A garo physygwriaeth 
I gylla oer, drwg yw llaeth; 
Iachach i gleiriach y glêr 
Ei botes a’i ddesgl bewter, 
Cael gwres trefi dinesig, 
Caru’r can a’r cwrw a’r cig. 
Milk is bad for one who desires medicine
for a cold stomach;
healthier for a decrepit old man of the minstrels
is his potage and pewter dish,
to have the warmth of noble towns,
to desire the white bread, the beer and the meat.

(poem 102.5-10)

Drinking vessels are referred to frequently in the poetry as drinking in itself is such a central subject to convey a patron’s hospitality. Wine was served in beautifully decorated jugs, many imported into Wales from European centres known for their pottery making. There was fine tableware at Strata Florida abbey according to Guto; vessels of gold and silver:

 Gwnaeth gyfrestri gwydr ffenestri, 
 Gaer fflowrestri, gôr Fflur Ystrad, 
 Gwin fenestri ag aur lestri, 
60Gwalchmai’r festri, gweilch Mair fwstrad. 
He made rows of glass windows,
flowery ornament of a court, the chancel of Strata Florida,
dispensers of wine in gold vessels,
Gwalchmai of the vestry, mustering of Mary’s hawks.

(poem 8.57-60)

Of course, actual gold and silver tableware seems unlikely for this period; the references are evidently used to highlight wealth and status. However, there were some fine vessels at the religious houses, some which were possibly used for administering Mass.[2] Basingwerk abbey had a special drinking vessel called a picin, described by Siôn ap Hywel and Tudur Aled in a series of englynion in the sixteenth century. A picin (‘piggin’) was a wooden drinking vessel with one stave longer than the rest to serve as a handle. According to the poets, this one at Basingwerk had an ‘image of a woman riding on a back of a horse’. [3]

Sometimes alcoholic drinks were held in a ffiol (‘phial’), a long vessel with a slim neck, usually used to serve wine. This vessel could be quite elaborate - to go with the exotic liquor which was held in it - and there are a couple of poems to these phials in the fifteenth century such as a poem entitled ‘Cywydd y Ffiol’ by Lewys Glyn Cothi and a poem to the phial of Ieuan ap Siencyn Llwyd of Llwyndafydd by Deio ab Ieuan Du. [4]

The tableware would normally be kept in the ewri, a loan-word from the English ewry denoting the room where water vessels and table cloths were kept. The word is closely related to the word ewer, denoting a vessel used for washing the hands before eating.


[1]: D. Johnston, Gwaith Llywelyn Goch ap Meurig Hen (Aberystwyth, 1998), 6.31-2, N.A. Jones ac E.H. Rheinallt, Gwaith Sefnyn, Rhiserdyn ac Eraill (Aberystwyth, 1995), 3.83-4.
[2]: P. Lord Gweledigaeth yr Oesoedd Canol (Caerdydd, 2003), 198.
[3]: A.C. Lake, Gwaith Siôn ap Hywel ap Llywelyn Fychan (Aberystwyth, 1999), poem no.28.1-8.
[4]: D. Johnston, Gwaith Lewys Glyn Cothi (Caerdydd, 1995), poem 224; A.E. Davies, Gwaith Deio ab Ieuan Du a Gwilym ab Ieuan Hen (Caerdydd, 1992), poem 9.
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