11 August 2010

Two Dutch photographs from mediaeval Ferns

Afb 1: Saint Edan’s Cathedral in Ferns. Foto: Patrick Comerford

Patrick Comerford

Two of my photographs from Saint Edan’s Cathedral in Ferns, Co Wexford, first published last December, have now been published in a Dutch academic journal on mediaeval history.

Madoc is a specialist journal on the Middle Ages, edited in Utrecht and published in Hilversum by Uitgeverij Verlorem, publishers of books and journals on mediaeval history, art and literature.

The two photographs illustrate a paper in Madoc 24/1 by René Broens, “Madoc in Madoc” (pp 13-21), in which he examines the stories of Saint Madoc, and looks at the connections between the various saints with this name and Saint Aidan or Edan of Ferns.

Afb 2: Een inscriptie op de kathedraalmuur zegt dat Aidan stierf op 31 januari 632.. Foto: Patrick Comerford

According to folklore, Madoc was a Welsh prince who sailed to America in 1170, over 300 hundred years before the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492. According to the story, he was a son of Owain Gwynedd, who took to the sea to flee violence at home.

The legend, which appears to have evolved from a mediaeval tradition about a Welsh hero’s sea voyage, was popular in the Elizabethan period, when English and Welsh writers claimed Madoc had come to the Americas in a ploy to assert prior English discovery, and perhaps even English legal possession of North America.

The story remained popular in later centuries. Some developed versions of the story even claimed Madoc’s voyagers had intermarried with local Native-Americans, and that their Welsh-speaking descendents still lived somewhere on the American frontier.

Of course, there is no historical or archaeological evidence for the Madoc story. But the Belgian writer René Broens, who is well known in both Belgium and the Netherlands for his recent book Reynaert de vos (Reynard the Fox), asks interesting questions about Welsh and Cornish saints with similar names, and he seeks connections with the story of Saint Aidan of Ferns, who was also known as Mogue or Máedóc.

René Broens also provides links in his paper on the Madoc legend to this blog and to two of my postings about Ferns last year.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

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