Friday, July 1, 2016

Saint of the Month: St. Cewydd

St. Cewydd
St. Cewydd's Church at Aberedw, Wales.  Very picturesque.

Feast Day: July 1, although see below.

Really Existed?  Eh, maybe.
Timeframe: Sixth or Seventh Century, maybe?
Place: Wales.

Credentials: Recognized by tradition.
Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: Welsh rain, kind of.
Symbolism: None.

At CatholicSaints.Info, they say that Saint Cewydd is “Known to have lived in Anglesey, Wales. No other information has survived.” FAIL! Because there is a whole article on Saint Cewydd in The Lives of the British Saints: the Saints of Wales and Cornwall and such Irish Saints as Have Dedications in Britain by Sabine Baring-Gould and John Fisher (1907). Given how intertwined most popular sources of information about saints seem to be, I’m genuinely surprised that CatholicSaints.Info missed the memo.

This all sounds very technical and learned in a nineteenth century sort of way, so much so that you almost don’t notice the absence of any context. For instance, who was this Caw fellow? When did he and his son live? By whom are we “also told” this information? And, since “Cewydd” means “son of Caw,” is this whole paragraph just one big tautology?

We get a bit more from M.L. Dawson, writing in the "Archaeology Notes and Queries" section of the 1888 volume of Archaelogia Cambrenses. Quoting Rees’ “Essay on the Welsh Saints,” he explains that Caw was lord of Cem Cawlwyd and sire of a notable family:

This gives us a lot of context, but it also veers off into the world of mythology. It raises the question of which is more useful, to be told that “no other information has survived” or to be told that our guy’s sister was married to the son that the great King Arthur sired on his half-sister. Wait, what? Well, never mind. It’s obvious which approach is more interesting, anyway.

Speaking of interesting, the fun fact about Saint Cewydd is that he is connected with rain. If it rains on St. Cewydd’s Day, it will continue to rain for 40 more days. It’s hard to test his out, because it’s not really clear what day counts as St. Cewydd’s Day. July 1 seems to be the modern front-runner – hence this post – but I see references to July 2, July 13, July 15, the second Sunday in July, and the first Sunday after St. Swithun’s Day.

Speaking of St. Swithun, did you know that if it rains on St. Swithun’s Day, it will continue to rain for 40 more days? So, in modern hagiography – that of the last few centuries – St. Cewydd is usually cast as the Welsh equivalent to St. Swithun. “No tradition remains to tell us how he became the Welsh S. Swithun,” says The Lives of the British Saints. “The idea is probably derived from some general pre-Christian belief regarding the meteorologically prophetic character of some day about that period of the year.”

That is a lovely example of a throwaway sentence, dignified, learned, and almost empty of meaning. It also fails, like other sources I peeked at, to ask the obvious question: Since “Cewydd” and “Swithun” don’t really sound all that different, isn’t it probable that their overlapping dates and legends are just a matter of people getting them confused one with another? Maybe St. Cewydd is the Welsh St. Swithun because people in Wales started saying “Cewydd” instead of “Swithun.”

It can’t work the other way around, because St. Swithun was Bishop of Winchester and has a relatively robust paper trail.  St. Cewydd is said to predate St. Swithun, but frankly St. Cewydd's paper trail looks pretty flimsy to this amateur.  Maybe no other information has survived after all.


Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

THE King Arthur? The one who pulled the sword from the stone and used to kick it with Merlin?

Michael5000 said...

Yep, that one. Apparently he had some issues.