Did this legendary PR man for the Church in Wales really exist?

St Brynach was a sixth century monk who earned his sainthood while socialising with royalty and travelling extensively both in mainland Europe and on the route which is now the A 487 between Fishguard and Nevern.

He’s not exactly a top-ranking Saint but is still remembered on account of the seven or so Churches dedicated to him in the Pembrokeshire area, of which two are in Dinas, and the settlements he founded – all named Llanfyrnach*, after him.

The lives of the Welsh saints were not written about until 500 years after his death, but he survived in oral tradition and his doings may have been augmented in the telling.

It appears that St Brynach was Irish by birth and came to Wales as chaplain to Brychan (a confusingly similar name), conqueror of Brecon and son of an Irish king. The saint married one of his employer’s daughters and then went off (presumably without his wife and four children) to Rome where he visited the tombs of the apostles and slew a pestiferous monster. He returned via Brittany, where he broke his journey for several years before arriving back in Pembrokeshire.

Nevern CrossHis return to Wales was marked by harassment from a local lady (could it have been his aggrieved wife?) and great difficulty in finding anywhere to live. After several temporary halts, now marked by churches or place names that remind us of him, he ended up in Nevern where he could commune with the angels on the top of Carn Ingli and meet up with his contemporary, St David.  The local lord, Clechre, eventually entrusted him with the education of his sons and gave him some land where the ancient church of St Brynach still stands. This Church, with its beautiful 10th century celtic cross and its ancient avenue of yew trees, is a rewarding visit for anyone interested in the early Church in Wales.

St Brynach died on 7th April 570.

On the other hand, Brynach could have been an invention of the Church chroniclers of the 11th and 12th centuries, who were keen to find evidence to support the standing of the local church, in opposition to the political manoeuvring of the Normans.

*Welsh often makes changes known as “mutations”  to the beginning of words depending on the word that precedes it, or the role it plays in the sentence. The ‘f’ in Llanfyrnach is a mutation of the ‘B’ in Brynach.

About bookvolunteer

I'm passionate about books, about Oxfam and about making the world a better place. When I'm not filling the shelves in Oxfam Wilmslow, I might be found reading the books I've bought in the beautiful surroundings of North Pembrokeshire.
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