August 02, 2020 5 min read

Saint Tydfil – Saint Tudful's Day 23rd August


Saint Tydfil (Tudful in Welsh) is the dedicatee of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. The old parish church of St Tydfil, Merthyr Tydfil is dedicated to her and is reputed to be the site of her death. According to legend, Tydfil was the twenty-third daughter of Brychan, king of Brycheiniog, by his fourth wife. St Tydfil's Day is celebrated each 23rd August.

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Early Years - Who was Saint Tydfil?

Tydfil gave her name to Merthyr Tydfil (Merthyr meaning martyr in Welsh). Her martyrdom took place during a pitched battle between her family and the invading Picts during the fifth century AD. Little contemporary written evidence exists about Tydfil but there is still some evidence today showing that she did exist and that she did meet with a violent end.

Tydfil was the daughter of King Brychan, the half-Irish, half-Welsh ruler of Brycheiniog (Brecon). Brychan was allegedly the son of the Irish king Anlach, the son of Coronac, and of Marchell Dewdrig heiress of the Welsh kingdom of Garthmadrun, which the couple later inherited., Brychan returned to Garthmadrun following his father’s death and changed its name to Brycheiniog. Brychan had four wives and several concubines. Some accounts suggest 11 sons and 25 daughters whereas others suggest up to 24 sons! Tydfil was his 23rd daughter by his fourth wife. Most of Brychan's children were well educated at a school in Gwenddwr on the river Wye and went on to live deeply religious lives. They founded churches all over Wales, Cornwall and Brittany and were known as the "wandering saints".

Tydfil forms a Community

Tydfil chose as her home the Taff River valley, sparsely populated by Celt farmers and their families. She became known for her compassion and healing skills as she nursed both sick humans and animals. She established an early Celtic monastic community. She built a "llan" or enclosure around a small wattle and daub church, much as other "saints" of the time. Her home included a hospice, outhouses, and a scriptorium. There she lived quietly, bringing hope and support to the people of the Taff valley.

Death in 480AD

In approximately 480AD in his old age, King Brychan decided to visit his children one last time. He was accompanied by his son Rhun Dremrudd, his grandson Nefydd and great grandson, together with servants and warriors. They visited his third daughter, Tanglwstl, at her religious community at Hafod Tanglwstl, what is now known as the village of Aberfan, south of Merthyr Tydfil. Brychan wanted to stay with his daughters a little longer, so he sent most of his warriors and Nefydd on ahead, along the homeward journey. The king went on to Tydfil's home while Rhun and Nefydd's son were still at Hafod Tanglwstl.

So, the party was spread out along the Taff Valley, about seven miles and all uphill. Wales at this time was suffering from raids from Scottish Picts who were free to roam around now that the Romans had long gone. Some had even settled at South Radnorshire, near Brychan's kingdom. Perhaps the news of the king's absence had reached the Pict settlement and they decided to take advantage of the king's vulnerability. In retrospect, Brychan would appear to have made a very foolish decision in allowing his party to split up.

Rhun Dremrudd was attacked by a raiding party, a mile from Hafod Tanglwstl and he died defending a bridge over the river at what is now the village of Troedyrhiw. The bridge gave the Picts free access to the King's party and Rhun Dremrudd put up a good fight. One group of Picts destroyed Hafod Tanglwstl whilst the other pursued the king.

The king and his followers were robbed of their jewellery, money, and clothes. Servants and family were all cut down. While the others ran and fought and panicked, Tydfil knelt and calmly prayed, before she too was brutally slain.

Tydfil's Final Resting Place

Tydfil was buried within the church she founded; amongst the people she had cared for. A Celtic Cross was put up in a clearing near the Taff which became a meeting place for the people of the valley. In the 13th century the cross and wattle and daub church were replaced by a stone church dedicated to Saint Tydfil the Martyr. This was in turn replaced in 1807, and rebuilt again in 1894. The church still stands at its place by the River Taff.

When the Norman church was demolished, a stone coffin was found, forming part of the foundations. Also, there were two stone pillars, one of which was dedicated to Brychan's son Arthen, who also died in the battle. The site was probably still being kept sacred to the memory of Tydfil and her murdered family.

What contributed to the veneration of Tydfil as a saint?

  1. Tydfil was not an abbess although she did lead a community of Christian men and women who were probably living under semi-monastic Rule. But it was never a big community just a small group of people comprised of farming families with a few monks and nuns serving the local people in whatever way they could through works of mercy. Tydfil certainly lived in dark times but her 'good deeds' and those of her community, attracted people like moths to a flame. And although her individual 'light' was extinguished by death, she lit a fire that burnt on throughout those dark and difficult times, showing others the way to God.

    2. Her great faith and dignity in the face of death. She did not resist or run but 'turning the other cheek' she awaited her death with quiet courage and a sincere belief that she would go to be with Jesus in the place prepared for her.

    In the Letter to the Romans Paul, himself awaiting martyrdom, writes that "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers. nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Nice words which we all believe in the comfort and safety of our peaceful, ordered, and affluent society. But it is in the heat of battle and in the face of suffering or death when that belief is truly tested. Tydfil faced that test head on and passed. She is rightly remembered both here and in heaven as a consequence.

    3. Her love and compassion towards others. For those of us living in a 'Christianised' society we very much take those qualities for granted as they are built into the very fabric of our society after centuries saturated in the teachings of Christ. And so, they can come across as no big deal. We take as read the fairness of our laws, the peace we enjoy and the great benefits of a National Health Service which provides us with such wonderful care. We forget that no such things existed in Tydfil's day. Christianity was still trying to win the Celts, never mind the Saxons, Jutes, Picts, and others. There was little law in Tydfil's time other than the survival of the fittest. Love and compassion no doubt were seen as a sign of weakness in a disordered and fragmented society where the power went to the strongest. In such a time Christians inevitably stood out and the teachings of Christ must have seemed counter-cultural with its insistence on love, meekness, and humility. 

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Last update 23rd August 2020