The Bridge of the Blessed Ford

Pontrhydfendigaid

Who blessed the ford and gave the village its name?

Page 2

Foreword

Precisely when the monks moved to the new site is uncertain. However, it is known that construction must have been well underway by 1184. Rhys ap Gruffydd, in his charter of that year, says that he had begun to build the venerable abbey entitled Stratflur which ‘he loved and cherished‘ [5]. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that the founding colony’s interest in the old abbey site lasted only for a very short time. Soon after Rhys ap Gruffydd’s became patron, the emphasis probably shifted to finding a new location and to rethinking the future. This was a massive undertaking for the early settlers, and in the early years progress must have been slow

The initial building programme near the Fflur, during Robert fitz Stephen’s short patronage, is unlikely to have advanced much beyond setting up basic, temporary accommodation. It has already been suggested above that the founding colony’s interest in the old abbey site was transitory ; it is unlikely that the original Cistercian had time, or incentive, to build anything substantial on the banks of the Fflur. Yet, significant stone foundations have been found close to the Old Abbey farm. The origin of these foundations remains unresolved, but it seems very doubtful that they can be attributed to the monks from Whitland. There is a strong local tradition that a modest, but permanent, monastery (also called Ystrad Fflur) stood on this site prior to 1164. There is no firm documentary testimony to underpin this conviction, but some supportive evidence does exist and this is considered later in the article. The following section looks at the earliest known reference to Rhydfendigaid, and what may be deduced from it, relating to the origin of the village name.

Rhydfendigaid and Rhys ap Gruffydd's charter of 1184

The name Rhydfendigaid appears in Rhys ap Gruffydd’s charter of 1184, in which he confirms his gift of large tracts of land to  the Cistercian order [5] ; he defines the land boundaries and Rhydfendigaid is mentioned as one of the more eminent place within these bounds. As indicated earlier, he probably donated, or at least, pledged the lands soon after he assumed patronage of Ystrad Fflur in1165, and in this charter, he was simply endorsing what he had already bestowed :

. . . all the Donation which I have heretofor conferred on the said Monastry I now again, in the 1184 year from the Incarnation of our Lord, have confirmed by the memory of the present writing.

Extensive use is made in the charter of natural boundaries to delineate, precisely, what was being bequeathed ; the rivers, places and properties along the borderlines were recorded in detail, using ‘proper‘ names :

. . . we have thought proper to express these by their proper names

Rhys ap Gruffydd’s charter was, effectively, a legal document and, to be meaningful, the names had to be well-known, time-honoured and widely accepted.They would have been, in all probability, long-established, and almost certainly, in everyday use well before the writing of the charter and the actual granting of lands. On this evidence, the name Rhydfendigaid must have existed before any religious community settled on the banks of the Teifi. Evidence relating to pilgrim routes to Ystrad Ffur (included in the next paragraph) also supports the notion that the blessed ford cannot be directly linked to the Cistercians.

Pilgrims travelling to Ystrad Fflur had no cause to cross the Teifi at Rhydfendigaid

S. M. Powell argued that visitors approaching Ystrad Fflur from the north and west (including the south-west) would follow generally accepted pilgrim routes ending in an old local lane, known as Lôn mynaches (or Lôn dywyll). This lane is clearly visible today, and has always been regarded in the neighbourhood as the main pilgrim track to Ystrad Fflur.  It starts near the present village school and then crosses Nant Mynaches at a point about 200 yards further on.  From there, it continues for another half-mile or so along the lower fringes of four large fields. Beyond the fields, it passes below Pen-y-bannau woods and then on to open grassland, near some long-abandoned lead mines. At this point visitors would look down at the abbey building and would, probably, marvel [6] :

Lôn Mynaches (or Lôn Dywyll)

. . . at its splendours, the massive limestone walls and finely executed tracery contrasting starkly with the crude vernacular architecture of the surrounding countryside. After a brief pause to stand and stare . . . the pilgrims descended [along a path past an old farm-building called Bronberllan] to ford the Teifi at a spot close to the present footbridge leading to the ruins of the abbey

S. M. Powell thought that this route, running along what is relatively high ground, would have been dry and solid. On the other hand, any visitors who crossed  the Teifi at Rhydfendigaid, would have to follow a path mirroring the present ‘abbey road’. Much of the surrounding land would have been wet and marshy, making the final route to the monastery more difficult and dreary. Certainly, there would be no place to stop, stand and stare along this way.

Undoubtedly, the monks of Ystrad Fflur would have chosen their main approach pathways with care. They regularly hosted royalty and pilgrims were highly valued ‘tourists’ ; creating the ‘right’ impression must have been of paramount importance. It is almost certain that they would have engineered things so that visitors, when nearing the abbey, would be greeted with a breath-taking view of their grand, imposing edifice.

It is possible that some pilgrims travelling from a point directly south of the abbey (perhaps, from Llanddewi brefi) may have followed a route along the edge of Cors Caron. Again, they would have no cause to cross the Teifi. More than likely, these travellers, on reaching the original site near the Fflur, would follow an established path between the old and the new. Almost certainly they would pass somewhere near a place called Waunwen [7], where they would (like the travellers approaching the abbey from a northerly direction) enjoy an elevated, awe-inspiring sight of the monastery.

It is also worth noting that anyone fording the Teifi at Rhydfendigaid would have to negotiate the river Glasffrwd before reaching the monastery.  The ‘rhyd  fendigaid’ would be, in effect, the ‘last but one’ crossing on the route to Ystrad Fflur which would, hardly, make it a significant landmark.

Finally, the holy ford seems to have little to connect it to Ystrad Fflur ; it is a crossing more appropriate for travellers heading directly south rather than in an easterly direction to Ystrad Fflur.

The next page returns to the question of who blessed the Teifi waters at Rhydfendigaid ; is it possible that pilgrims, at one time, travelled to an old abbey about a mile to the south of the village, near the Fflur?

Notes

[5]Stephen W Williams, The Cistercian Abbey of Strata Florida,  London, 1889, (A translation of Rhys ap Gruffydd’s 1184 Charter).
[6]Richard Moore-Colyer, Roads & Trackways of Wales, Landmark, 2001, pp 64-66.
[7]Waunwen is 0.6 miles south-west of Ystrad Fflur and 200 feet high (altitude) above the abbey (SN739651)
Waunwen today (2019)

There is no record of when the above property was actually built, but there is a reference to a messuage bearing this name going back to 1636

Indenture being a grant from John Vaughan of Trowscoed, co. Cardigan, Esq., of messuages and lands called Glan-gorffen, Blaen-moroth, Blaen-llygnant, Grofftie, Kil-y-garn, The ould abbey, Tythin-y-vagwr, Wayn-wen and Craynant in the granges of Mevenith and Pennarth, co. Cardigan, in as ample a manner as the same had been enjoyed by Sir John Price, baronet, or by Mathew Price and Arthur Price (see NLW, Crosswood Deeds).

The spelling is a little eccentrically outdated , but the reference to Waunwen is clear, and it is reasonable to believe that all the names and places date back to the time of Strata Florida abbey. The name has a divine ring to it and is a reflection of the white cotton-grasses that grow on the moor in the summer. It stands in a spectacular location, looking down on the old Strata Florida abbey and directly opposite in the distance is Pen-y-bannau once the site of an iron age fort.