databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Healing properties

Lapidaries recount the Christian, scientific and astrological symbolism of precious stones. Originally, precious stones were associated with witchcraft and paganism, but under the influence of the Christian church, the authors of these writings concentrated more on their scientific and medicinal aspects instead. The only surviving Welsh lapidary belongs to the sixteenth century. It lists thirty two precious stones with their healing properties.

Terms for precious stones such as gem, maen, glain and rhigal are generally used as metaphors for patrons in praise poetry of this period (see e.g. poem 62.26 and poem 20.44). However, it is clear that Guto’r Glyn had a particular interest in the actual stones and their properties. In his praise for Sir William ap Thomas of Raglan, he emphasizes the difference between Sir William and other men by comparing him to a gemstone set in gold as opposed to other, ordinary stones:

Mwya’ gŵr, em y Goron, 
Ei ras wyd yn yr oes hon. 
Duw a’th ddonies, daith uniawn, 
Digon i ddynion o ddawn. 
Prifai-sêl y parfis wyd, 
Perl mewn dadl parlmend ydwyd, 
Ystiwart dros y Deau, 
Iustus doeth, eiste sy dau. 
You are the man of greatest grace,
O jewel of the Crown, in this age.
God has endowed you, you of the unwavering course,
enough of an endowment for men.
You are the privy seal of disputation,
you are a pearl in parliamentary debate,
steward over the South,
wise judge, it is your place to preside.

(poem 19.11-18)

Sir William ap Thomas of Raglan is described as ‘a pearl in parliamentary debate’ (perl mewn dadl, poem 19.16). Pearl is a common image for a patron in the poetry of the period, cf. ‘you are prelatic like a pearl’ for Sir Benet ap Hywel, parson of Corwen (Preladaidd fal perl ydwyd, poem 43.3). Powdered pearl was good for the eyes, according to some medical writings associated with Arab and Indian medicine from an earlier period. There is no mention of pearl in the Welsh lapidary, but many other lapidaries note its properties, including the lapidary written by Marbod, Bishop of Rennes 1067-81, which was one of the most influential medieval lapidaries written in Latin.[1] Pearls were likewise highly valued in this period for their use as decoration on clothes and jewellery. Small, artificial pearls were used to decorate mantles, headwear, gloves and shoes; they were popular because of their unique cream colour (cf. poem no. 138, lines 3-4 ‘put pearls and gleaming rubies / on their foreheads, golden and glistening’).

One of the stones listed in the Welsh lapidary is beril (or ‘beryl’ in English) and it appears that this stone was also good for the eyes. Sir Rhys ap Thomas of Abermarlais is described as ‘a beryl stone more valuable than any baron’ (Maen beril mwy no barwn, poem 14.9) and Lewys Glyn Cothi also uses this stone as an image for a patron.[2] Beryl is transparent and usually of a shiny green colour.

In contrast to beryl, jet or muchudd is a stone characterized by its dark colour. It is a hard, black, semi-precious form of lignite which can be cut to produce gems and other objects. In the poetry, jet is mostly used to emphasize the colour ‘black’. Guto’r Glyn includes muchudd in a list of very black things to be compared with the splendid black hair of his patron, Henry Griffith of Newcourt:

Y melfed (pwy nis credai?), 
Muchudd du fydd a di-fai; 
Velvet (who would not believe it?),
ebony too is black and pure;

(poem 33.9-10)

Jet or muchudd is also present in the Welsh lapidary, and it seems that this substance had many medicial and magical properties: ‘It is good to wear it next to the skin to protect against whitlow [an infection of the finger]’.

Cwrel was coral, traditionally associated with the colour red. It is listed in the Welsh lapidary and is described as a stone which is grown in the sea. References to coral in the poetry are mostly figurative and in connection with the colour red (and with red cheeks in particular), but there are some references to the stone itself.[3] It was one of the stones in the rosary of Elen Gethin, wife of Thomas ap Sir Roger Vaughan of Hergest, according to an elegy by Llawdden.[4] Guto'r Glyn thought that red coral came second only to black:

Haws caru lliw du llei dêl 
No charu owls a chwrel. 
It’s easier to love the colour black, wherever it appears,
than to love gules or red coral.

(poem 33.25-6)

Dimond is the first stone described in the Welsh lapidary. It is the hardest of all stones, and cutting it was a skill in itself in the Middle Ages. Because the stone was so difficult to cut, it was mostly used in jewellery and remained in its typical angular diamond shape. It main property, as highlighted in the lapidary, was the ability to protect the person who wore it, making him stronger and more robust. Evidently diamond was a suitable metaphor for a powerful and rich nobleman, for it is mentioned regularly by the poets in this manner.[5] Its brightness may well have added to the suitability of the image, especially when describing a patron ‘shining’ above all other men. Huw, son of Llywelyn ap Hwlcyn of Anglesey, is described as follows by Guto'r Glyn:

Deimwnt yw Huw, damwain teg, 
Dawn gŵr yw dwyn y garreg; 
Nid rhaid ym er treio da 
Ond cael deimwnt clod yma. 
Huw is a diamond, fair lot,
a man’s blessing is to bear the stone;
in case of a reduction in wealth there is no need for me
but to have praise’s diamond here.

(poem 63.41-44)

Red is the colour generally associated with this stone, although the stone itself can vary from pink to purple. Amongst its properties in the lapidary is that water in which the stone was immersed had the power to heal a sick animal if consumed. Dafydd ap Llywelyn ap Hwlcyn is compared to a ruby:

Mair hael a’i gad ym yrhawg, 
Maen rhuwbi Môn yw’r hebawg. 
generous Mary will leave him for me for a long time,
the hawk is the ruby stone of Anglesey.

(poem 63.47-8)

This is the second stone listed in the lapidary. Many properties are attributed to the sapphire, including healing powers such as being good for the eyes and head and for protecting against disease of the tongue. Blue is the colour usually associated with sapphire; as with diamond, this stone was also frequently used in jewellery. Guto notes the numerous properties belonging to the sapphire:

Pand praff rhinweddau’r saffir? 
Bwrw clwyf, ni ad berygl hir, 
A Rhys ffyrf yw’r saffirfaen 
Yn Uwch Conwy, modrwy’r maen. 
Aren’t the sapphire’s powers strong?
Overcoming a wound, it doesn’t allow great peril,
and mighty Rhys is the sapphire stone
in Uwch Conwy, the stone’s ring.

(poem 63.53-6)

Almwnt dulas
Unlike the other stones, there is little information about this one. It appears that it had similar properties of hardness and value to the diamond. Salisbury suggests that it was almandine, a purple stone with magnetic properties. It is described thus:

Maen tâl yw’r almwnt dulas 
Ac a lŷn wrth y dur glas; 
Maen talcen yw’r almwnt dulas
a maen sy’n glynu wrth y dur glas;

(poem 63.49-50)


[1]: R.A. Donkin, Beyond Price: Pearls and Pearl-Fishing: Origins to the Age of Discoveries (Cambridge, 1998), 259.
[2]: D.Johnston (gol.), Gwaith Lewys Glyn Cothi, (Caerdydd,1995), poem no. 145.44-5.
[3]: D. Johnston (gol.), Gwaith Lewys Glyn Cothi (Caerdydd, 1995), poem no. 92.9
[4]: R.I. Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Llawdden (Aberystwyth, 2006), 21.31-2.
[5]: D. Greene, ‘A Welsh Lapidary’, Celtica, (1952), 2,98-9; G.F. Kunz, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones (London, 1978), 376-9.
Website design by Martin Crampin    Website development by Technoleg Taliesin Cyf. and Alexander Roberts, Swansea University.