Chapter 2

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A Sense of Wales

In 731, the English churchman and historian Bede wrote "There are in Britain, in harmony with the five books of the divine law, five languages and four nations - English, British, Scots and Picts. Each of these has its own language, but all are united in the study of God's truth by the fifth, Latin." It was also apparent, that the differences between native Briton and the now long-settled and Christianized Saxons had become a subject of religious discord.

Not the first Englishman to show his prejudices against the native people, Bede then went on to add "The Britons for the most part have a natural hatred for the English and uphold their own bad customs against the true Easter of the Catholic Church; however, they are opposed by the power of God and man alike." It is significant that Bede calls the Welsh Britons; it would be many, many centuries before this name would also be given to the English invaders of the Island of Britain (Ynys Prydain).

It is also from this time that the Welsh word Llan appears, signifying a church settlement and usually followed by the name of a saint, for example, Llandewi (St. David) or Llangurig (St. Curig). It was sometimes used by the name of a disciple of Christ, such as Llanbedr (St. Peter) or even by the mother of Jesus, such as Llanfair (St. Mary).

Bede claimed that the Welsh had possessed no desire to Christianize the pagan English; subsequently, this task had been left mainly to the Irish missionaries and later to St. Augustine. He added:
It is to this day the fashion among the Britons to reckon the faith and religion of Englishmen as naught and to hold no more converse with them than with the heathen.
Wales did not adopt St. David (Dewi Sant) as its patron saint until the 18th century, with the reputed date of his death March 1st chosen as the day of a national festival. Very little is known about him for certain except that he lived in the sixth century and probably died in 589. Information concerning his life comes from the Latin "The Life of St. David" written in the late 11th century by Rhigfarch but supplemented by Geraldus Cambrensis around 1200. David's fame as a missionary reached Ireland and Brittany, and from the 12th century the church named for him at Ty Dewi (St. David's) became an important place of pilgrimage.

Though the Welsh Church was eventually forced to conform to the new forms of the Roman Church introduced by Augustine, made permanent by the Synod of Whitby in 664, political differences remained between Celt and Saxon. In the mid-eighth century, these differences were emphasized when a long ditch was constructed, flanking a high earthen rampart that divided the Celts of the West from the Saxons to the East. The boundary, known as "Offa's Dyke," in memory of the powerful king of Mercia (the Middle Kingdom) who ordered it built, runs from the northeast coast of Wales to the southeast coast.

Offa's name was given to the lengthy extension of the earlier Wat's Dyke (attributed to Aethelbald, King of Mercia), that had more or less fixed the boundary between the Welsh and Saxons between Chester and Shrewsbury. The rest of the defensive wall was probably built to follow the lines of an earlier boundary made by the Emperor Severus, and known as Gaual, a prominent landmark noted by writers such as Nennius, Bede and others.

The much more substantial second dyke was fortified and strengthened by Offa to show his power, but was also a defensive measure, not only giving his territories a well-defined western boundary, but also marking the eastern border of Wales proper. To cross the ramparts, for hundreds of years, meant bloody defiance, even though many Welsh-speaking communities remained to the east of the boundary, in the lands that became known as England (Lloegr) and English-speaking communities existed to the west, in the lands that became known as Wales (Cymru).

Today, you can still see some of the remains of this barrier consisting of a bank of earth, ditched mostly on the western side. Its average height is six feet, with an average overall width of sixty feet across bank and ditch. It travels 149 miles, from Prestatyn, in Flintshire all the way south to Sedbury, just outside Chepstow in Gwent, on the banks of the River Severn. Behind this barrier, as insignificant as it may seem to the modern observer, the people of Wales were able to think of themselves as a separate nation. Behind it, too, they continued the long, hard struggle to retain their language and culture.

Chapter 3: A Unified People
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