Llancarfan and Carisbrooke: some thoughts on a seventeenth-century cross slab in the Vale of Glamorgan
Visit this monument
Church of Saint Cadoc,
Church of Saint Cadoc,
The recent discoveries of medieval wall paintings at Llancarfan in the Vale of Glamorgan have produced excitement on an international scale. Strangely, the church has no medieval monuments, not even a humble cross slab: but it does have a post-medieval stone of considerable interest. It sits just inside the south door, which is the main entrance into the church. Llancarfan’s church is almost always open, though it’s as well to check before making a visit. Cleaning and conservation of the wall paintings is continuing, and when work is in progress the church has to be closed to visitors.
If medieval cross slabs are the unsung heroes of the commemorative industry, post-medieval cross slabs are the unknown warriors. Along with requests for prayer for the souls of the dead, religious iconography was supposed to disappear from monuments after the Reformation. In spite of this, the churches of south-east Wales have any number of late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century cross slabs. Some, like the one described in July 2014’s Monument of the Month, are elaborate baroque designs with floriated or interlaced heads. In the Vale of Glamorgan, though, the standard design is much simpler, a plain four-line cross on a stepped base. The earliest surviving example of this design, at Llantwit Major, is dated 1534.
Most of these slabs have simple inscriptions with the details of the individuals commemorated. Several have evidence of recutting. The Llancarfan stone has obviously been reused. At the top it says
HERE LYETH THE BO
DY OF ROBERT
But underneath is
and a final date which looks like 169… (the last number I cannot decipher).
What makes the Llancarfan slab so interesting is that it has a few lines of verse:
[MY HOPE] ON CHRIST
[IS FI]XED SURE
WAS MY WOUNDS
TO CURE W R
This little poem is intriguing, to say the least. The Victoria & Albert Museum has a seventeenth-century window with the poem scratched on its glass. According to tradition it came from Carisbrooke Castle and was scratched by Charles I when he was a prisoner there (more about it at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/4726774/Treasure-island.html) . A quick trawl with Google (how did we ever do research before the Internet?) shows that the poem is actually quite common on gravestones, often with some other lines. This fuller version is on the monument of Thomas Urquhart of Kinundie in Ross and Cromarty and recorded in Charles Rogers’ Monuments and Monumental Inscriptions of Scotland:
My hope shall never be confounded,
Because on Christ my hope is grounded,
My hope on Christ is rested sure,
Who wounded was my wounds to cure ;
Grieve not when friends and kinsfolk die,
They gain by death eternity
Thomas Urquhart died in 1633. So the poem predates Charles’s stay at Carisbrooke – but he could have come across it somewhere and felt that it expressed his own feelings in captivity.
Wales was predominantly Royalist in the Civil War, and conservative in sympathies after the Restoration. Whether WR (whoever he was – or whoever she was, for that matter) knew about the poem’s connection with Charles I we will never know.
The line about Christ’s wounds has a very medieval feel to it. Depiction of the Arma Christi, the Instruments of the Passion and the disembodied Five Wounds, was common enough on later medieval tombs. But like the cross this does not necessarily mean that Robert David or the mysterious WR was a Catholic. The wounds also figure in eighteenth-century Methodist hymns. Perhaps the best known example is Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn ‘Lo! He comes with clouds descending’. We belt this one out with great enthusiasm in the weeks before Christmas but do we really think about the words of the third verse –
Those dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshipers.
With what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!
You find the same ideas in Welsh hymns. The great William Williams Pantycelyn, writer of ‘Guide me, O thou Great Redeemer’, had a wonderful image of making his nest in the wounds. So our two seventeenth-century inhabitants of Llancarfan were well in the main stream with their poem.
We know nothing else about them, or why they are commemorated by the same stone. It is just possible in spite of the long time between them that ‘W R’ was Robert David’s son and had taken his father’s Christian name as his surname. In the seventeenth century Welsh people were just moving over from the old patronymic form of names (William ap Robert ap David …) to the English style of surnames. But there is a crossover period during which their names look like surnames but change with each generation – so David Edwards’s son could be Robert David, Robert David’s son could be William Robert, and so on.
They were probably yeoman farmers somewhere in the parish. Llancarfan had no resident great landowners: much of the land in the parish belonged either to the diocese of Gloucester or to Jesus College, Oxford. It was the lack of money in the parish which enabled the wall paintings to survive under their coats of lime wash: there was no-one with the money to ‘restore’ the church in Victorian Gothic style. The same lack of local money may explain the paucity of memorials in the church, but it has left us with this one intriguing reminder of the very complex local responses to the Reformation and subsequent religious change.
University of South Wales