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More Saints on the Move

Robert Vermaat


Vortigern and his family have long since been connected to Christian saints. Vortigern himself was known is Brittany as St Gurthiern, and his saga is intertwined with that of St Germanus. His family knows many saints as well, most notably Vortimer and his daughter Modrun, who was initially connected to the saints of South Wales, as I have touched upon elsewhere. But Vortigern's family also has some saintly connections in northern Wales.

Kentigern/Catigern
We start off with St Kentigern, who apparently lived in Strathclyde and Pictland for most of his days, living to a great age and dying in 612. According to two 12th-century Lives, St Kentigern was connected to Lailoken, one of the archetypes of Merlin. This might already set us in the direction of Vortigern (connected to the other Merlin-archetype, the 'boy' Emrys), but there is more to it (below). The name of St Kentigern (Cunotigernos or 'Hound-like Lord'), also written as Gonot(h)igernus, evidently confused medieval sribes enough to make mistaken identifications possible. Other members of Vortigern's family got confused with him as well;
Catigern's name was erroniously replaced with Can(t)egirnus and Kyndarn at several occasions.

Saints and rocks
As remarked above, St Kentigern was connected to Lailoken. He fulfilled the role of protector of this 'wild' man, the same as 'Myrddin' in the Welsh legend, who had gone crazy at the battle of Arfderyddd. Lailoken wandered through the northern wilderness, praying on a rock. In fact, this and other details are so similar to the wanderings of St Gurthiern, that a coincidence can hardly be ruled out. Both are cursed by killed their sister's sons unknowingly, both retire to the wilderness to fast and pray on rocks, where both are spotted by huntsmen and betrayed to kings, after which they flee again. Apparently, both stories drew upon some kind of similar source. We should not look for any historical links, for both men lived too far apart in time. I should mention in this context that also St Germanus, while hunting down Vortigern through Wales, also prayed and fasted on a rock in a river. (for comparisons between the flights of Vortigern and Gurthiern, see
Saints on the move).

Saints and lost heads
Another interesting link is that between St Kentigern, St Winefride and Modrun, daughter of Vortimer. Modrun seems connected with northern Wales, where several geographical locations are named after her. They are on the southern Lleyn peninsula, where we can find a Madryn Castle, a
Carn Fadrun (fort), a Carnfadryn (village) and a Cefn Madryn all huddled together. In this area we also find a lot of geographical names connected to her grandfather Vortigern; Nant Gwrtheyrn, Bedd Gwrtheyrn, Castel Gwrtheyrn and the unlocated Cwm Gwrtheyrn. Both Winefride and Kentigern share miracles like curing springs and restoring people to life by re-attaching their severed heads. Coincidentally (I think not), St Gurthiern also performed such a miracle! He restored a killed youth to life by replacing the severed head his mother was carrying along with her. Winefride lived in Flintshire (also connected to Vortigern through the Pillar of Elise at langollen and the hillfort of Foel Fenlli), where she escaped seduction by a man who then struck her head off. It was however joined again by St Beuno, after which she retired to a nunnery at Gwytherin, dying in 660. The name of this town may or may not be partly to blame for the transfer of her legend to Tegiwg, who was daughter of Modrun and granddaughter of Vortimer, at least according to the Bonedd y Saint.

But to make matters totally confusing, she was no daughter of Modrun. This is in fact a trap where the early medieval genealogist fell into on many occasions. Teigwg was in fact the daughter of Ynyr Gwent, but not the daughter of Modrun! For there were TWO persons named Ynyr Gwent... The first one, born c.425, was the husband of Modrun ferch Gwrthefyr and the father of Caradog, king of Gwent (Vita Tathei 6). But the second one was born a century later (c. 540) and was a contemporary of St Beuno, the guy who cured St Winefred! Confused by names and places, the genealogist made them into one person. This trap where names are misspelt or misread, is the most common problem in decyphering the tangle of these sources.

Which has brought us full circle.

Bibliography

  • Bartrum, P.C.: Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, (Cardiff 1966).*
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth: Life of Merlin, Vita Merlini, ed. and trans. B. Clarke, (Cardiff 1973).

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