The Rood of Grace

‘In this church stood a cross, celebrated for its miracles, which are celebrated in an owdal or poem, about the year 1500, by Gruffydd ap Ifan ap Llen. Vychan. The Cross is now demolished, but the carved capital is still to be seen in a building adjoining the churchyard.’

Thomas Pennant, ‘A Tour in Wales’ 1784

In the churchyard of Corpus Christi Tremeirchion stands the famous Rood of Grace, which was believed to be the cause of many miracles.  It was said to have been one of the two, 'Croes Gwenhwyfar', that were believed to have existed in North East Wales, the other at Llangollen.  Indeed, such was its reputation at the beginning of the 16th century that it was the subject matter of the lengthy ode, ‘Y Grog o Rhiw Dymeirchion’, by the Tudor bard, Gruffydd ap Ieun ap Llewelyn Vychau (c.1485-1553).  The lengthy poem, as written down by Elias Owen in ‘Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd’ (1886) was in its original bardic Welsh.  Owen refused to attempt a translation into English, claiming that do so was impossible, that, ‘it must be pronounced a masterpiece of old Bardism’.  What miracles the Cross caused to be performed are not known.

Such a treasure you would think would be venerated, looked after and treasured, but clearly that was not the case.  By the time that Pennant visited the churchyard, only the cross head remained, apparently in a nearby building.  However, for reasons unknown, it seems the head was returned to the churchyard between Pennant’s visit and 1862, since in that year it was sold for £5 to a catholic gentleman by the name of Henry Hynde who had seen it lying on the ground beneath a yew tree.  It is hard to understand why such a lack of care was taken with the cross through the 18th and 19th centuries, when a considerable amount of respect for ancient religious monuments had returned after the madness of the 16th and 17th centuries.  Elias Owen, writing at the end of the 19th century was clearly angry that the Rood had been sold, confronting those responsible who scurried away from his questions.  ‘There can be no doubt,’ he says, ‘that the parish authorities thought more of a few pounds than they did of this ancient relic’.

Cleric with crozier

The Rood was given by Hynde to St Beunos College, where it stood proud upon a new shaft in the front quadrangle for some 140 years, until it was returned to Corpus Christ in 2002 as a Millennium gift.  It now stands erect once more beneath the yew tree it was found, thus probably upon the spot on which it stood in ancient times.

The cross itself, though weather worn and generally battered, is elaborately styled.  One of the larger niches has within it a Crucifix upon which Jesus wears his crown of thorns, with what is believed to be the Virgin Mary and St John on either side.  The opposite niche has an image of the Virgin and Child, Mary with her right hand held up in an act of benediction.  The two narrower sides have clerics upon them, one in the act of blessing, the other holding a crozier.  There are holes on the top of the cross which possibly suggest that some addition to the cross once existed.  As for a date, the cross could possibly be older than the once suggested 15th century, maybe much older given its status as a cross of miracles, a rood.

The Crucifixion

Christ with his throne of thorns

As Elias Owen writes, at a time when the Cross still stood at St Beuno’s, ‘The high veneration in which the Cross was held distinguishes it from the ordinary Churchyard Crosses, and it is therefore additionally well worthy of careful preservation.’  It is to be hoped that lessons have been learned.

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