Monday, December 11, 2017


Maelduin's Boat

The secret to unlocking the truth about the Glastonbury Mystery resides in identifying the Melwas of the Life of St. Gildas. I had tried unsuccessfully to do this several times in the past.  As with the Hwicce etymology, I realized only recently that I've been trying TOO hard.  We need to ignore the usual derivation from W. mael, 'prince', and gwas, 'boy, servant.'  He is not found in any of the royal genealogies attached to Glastonbury, nor is he to be related to any Cornish or Breton personages.  Some have sought to identify him with Gwynn son of Nudd, who is also placed at Glastonbury, but there is no real justification for doing so. The idea that the name represents Maelwys son of Baeddan ('Prince Pig son of Little Boar') of CULHWCH AND OLWEN is slightly more attractive, given the foundation story of Glastonbury involving a sow (see The Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey: Essays in Honour of the Ninetieth Birthday of C.A. Ralegh Radford, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1991).  However,

"This theory has been more recently rejected most notably by Proinsias Mac Canna, Rachel Bromwich, and D. Simon Evans in favor of John Rhys's 1891 assertion that the name derives from the Irish Mael Umai mac Baitan—an early seventh century king who fought with the Scottish king of Dal Riata Aedan mac Gabrain (d. 608) against the English invader Aethelfrith at the battle of Degsastan (SAL, pp. 51, 344, CaO, p.69, DAB, p. xxxiv)."


Melwas could be (given the ease with which w/v and m could be substituted in many medieval MSS.), the Malmes- of Malmesbury.  In fact, we have examples of spellings for this place-name such as 'Malves-' and 'Malues-'.  The spelling as Malmesbury is found in the Domesday Book, with coins (1016-66) showing forms Mealmas, Melmes.  Many variants of the place-name are known (see The Place Names of Wiltshire by J.E.B Gover, Allen Mawer and F.M. Stenton Volume XVI published in 1939).  The actual personal name preserved in the first component of Malmesbury is Maeldu(i)b, later wrongly conflated with Maelduin.  Both are Irish names, and we are reminded that in the SANAS CORMAIC Glastonbury is referred to as 'Glasimpere na nGaedel' or "Glastonbury of the Irish."   

The 7th century St. Maeldub was considered the founder of the monastic settlement at Malmesbury.  

If this identification is correct, then why did Caradog of Llancarfan, the author of the Vita of St. Gildas, place this saint at Glastonbury?

The answer is straight-forward and simple: as Maelduin, Maeldub was associated with the Irish hero of that name from the Immram Maele Dúin or the Voyage of Máel Dúin, who had visited 1) an island with the branch of an apple tree, where they are fed with apples for 40 nights and 2) an island of apples, pigs, and birds. Hence, this saint of Malmesbury was linked in story with the Isle of Apple Trees, viz, Avalon, and placed at Glastonbury.  Guinevere, Arthur's queen (= the Irish Sovereignty Goddess Findabair), is abducted by Melwas. 

Now, while the Roman period Dobunni kingdom seems to have extended to the Brue, with Glastonbury on the border between the former tribal territory and that of the Durotriges, the Hwicce kingdom, a sort of successor state, only went as far south as the Bristol Avon, so far as we know.  Interestingly, Malmesbury itself was well within the Hwicce kingdom. There was an Iron Age hillfort at Malmesbury:

The excavator of Malmesbury, Mr. Mark Collard of Rubicon Heritage, has kindly provided me with additional information on the age of the town:

We have found nothing in the town itself of the sub-Roman period as yet but there is a very important Anglo-Saxon site nearby in a field at a place called Cowage Farm, Foxley – it was subject to very limited excavation and dating evidence was scarce but the form of the buried archaeological remains is very similar to royal sites of the earlier to Middle Saxon period found elsewhere in the UK, though the date of its origins are as yet unknown.

A summary is here:

The investigations were published in the Archaeological Journal:

The question naturally becomes, if Melwas = the founder of the monastery at Malmesbury, who was relocated in legend to Glastonbury, might the former site be the actual burial place of Arthur?

There was a medieval tradition concerning a Caer Bladon at Malmesbury.  The following selections are from Charters of Malmesbury Abbey, S. E. Kelly, OUP/British Academy, 2005:

Sad to say, while Malmes- would appear to be a good candidate for Melwas, there is a better possibility.  This is found in The Chronicle of Glastonbury Abbey: An Edition, Translation and Study of John of Glastonbury's "Cronica Sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis Ecclesie by James P. Carley, Boydell & Brewer, Apr 20, 2009.  In that source we are told that St. Patrick discovered among the monks at Glastonbury two named Weslicas (an eponym for the nearby town of Wells?) and Swelwes.  An elaborate story is told about Weslicas or Wellias:

The Charter of St Patrick the Bishop.

'In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I Patrick, the humble servant of God, in the year of His Incarnation 430, was sent into Ireland by the most holy Pope Celestine, and by God's grace converted the Irish to the way of truth; and, when I had established them in the Catholic faith, at length I returned to Britain, and, as I believe, by the guidance of God, who is the life and the way, I chanced upon the isle of Ynsgytrin, wherein I found a place holy and ancient, chosen and sanctified by God in honour of Mary the pure Virgin, the Mother of God: and there I found certain brethren imbued with the rudiments of the Catholic faith, and of pious conversation, who were successors of the disciples of St Phagan and St Deruvian, whose names for the merit of their lives I verily believe are written in heaven: and because the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance, since tenderly I loved those brethren, I have thought good to record their names in this my writing. And they are these: Brumban, Hyregaan, Brenwal, Wencreth, Bamtonmeweng, Adelwalred, Lothor, Wellias, Breden, Swelwes, Hin Loernius, and another Hin. These men, being of noble birth and wishing to crown their nobleness with deeds of faith, had chosen to lead a hermit's life; and when I found them meek and gentle, I chose to be in low estate with them, rather than to dwell in kings' palaces. And, since we were all of one heart and one mind, we chose to dwell together, and eat and drink in common, and sleep in the same house. And so they set me, though unwilling, at their head: for indeed I was not worthy to unloose the latchet of their shoes. And, when we were thus leading the monastic life according to the pattern of the approved fathers, the brothers showed me writings of St Phagan and St Deruvian, wherein it was contained that twelve disciples of St Philip and St James had built that Old Church in honour of our Patroness aforesaid, instructed thereto by the blessed archangel Gabriel. And further, that the Lord from heaven had dedicated that same church in honour of His Mother; and that to those twelve three pagan kings had granted for their sustenance twelve portions of land. Moreover in more recent writings I found that St Phagan and St Deruvian had obtained from Pope Eleutherius, who had sent them, ten years[21] of indulgence. And I brother Patrick in my time obtained twelve years from Pope Celestine of pious memory.

'Now after some time had passed I took with me my brother Wellias, and with great difficulty we climbed up through the dense wood to the summit of the mount, which stands forth in that island. And when we were come there we saw an ancient oratory, wellnigh ruined, yet fitting for Christian devotion and, as it appeared to me, chosen by God. And when we entered therein we were filled with so sweet an odour that we believed ourselves to be set in the beauty of Paradise. So then we went out and went in again, and searched the whole place diligently; and we found a volume in which were written Acts of Apostles, along with Acts and Deeds of St Phagan and St Deruvian. It was in great part destroyed, but at the end thereof we found a writing which said that St Phagan and St Deruvian, by revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, had built that oratory in honour of St Michael the archangel, that he should have honour there from men, who at God's bidding was to introduce men to everlasting honour. And since that writing pleased us much, we sought to read it to the end. For that same writing said that the venerable Phagan and Deruvian abode there for nine years, and that they had also obtained indulgence of thirty years for all Christian folk who visit that place with pious intent for the honour of the blessed Michael. Having found therefore this great treasure of divine goodness, I and brother Wellias fasted three months, engaged in prayer and watching, and controlling the demons and beasts that in divers forms appeared. And on a certain night, when I had given myself to sleep, the Lord Jesus appeared to me in a vision, saying: Patrick my servant, know that I have chosen this place to the honour of My name, and that here men should honorably invoke the aid of My archangel Michael. And this shall be a sign to thee, and to thy brethren, that they also may believe: thy left arm shall wither, till thou has told what thou hast seen to thy brethren which are in the cell below, and art come hither again. And so it came to pass. From that day we appointed that two brethren should be there continually, unless the pastors in the future should for just cause determine otherwise.

'Now to Arnulf and Ogmar, Irish brethren who had come with me from Ireland, because at my request they were the first to make their humble dwelling at that oratory, I have entrusted this present writing, keeping another like unto it in the ark of St Mary as a memorial for those who shall come after. And I Patrick, by counsel of my brethren, concede a hundred days of pardon to all who shall with pious intent cut down with axe and hatchet the wood on every side of the mount aforesaid, that there may be an easier approach for Christian men who shall make pious visit to the church of the Blessed Ever- Virgin.'

Wellias or Swelwes could easily have been corrupted by Caradog of Llancarfan into Melwas.  Or someone could have misread the name, had a portion of it, over time, eroded from the pyramid. For example, /S/welwas > Melwas, with the same common change from w/u/v to m that I've already mentioned above.  As these monks were contemporary with St. Patrick, who was not far removed from Arthur's time, there is little difficulty in fitting them into the flexible chronology of hagiographical legend. 

Wellias and Swelwes are also brought into connection with the two great pyramids at Glastonbury:

These pyramids are interesting, for two such are mentioned in the context of the grave of Arthur and Guinevere.

Glastonbury, therefore, remains the only holy site to have claimed Arthur's grave - although, we must remember that as far as the Welsh were concerned, his final resting place was unknown.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.