The white stag has always enjoyed a prominent position in myth and legend. In Celtic cultures, the appearance of a White Stag was considered to be a message from Annwn, the Otherworld, ruled over by Arawn and Gwyn ap Nudd It was perhaps evidence of a transgression, as in the First Branch of the Mabinogion in which Pwyll Prince of Dyfed offends Arawn by baiting his dogs on the White Stag hunted by the Lord of Annwn. In Christianity, it would seem the white stag is a symbol of redemption or conversion. What is certain however, is that the white stag was a sign of something spiritual, and it is in this context that the Myth of the White Stag of Llangar is best understood.
The story of the founding of the Church, begins not in the idyllic setting its rests today, but at nearby Cynwyd, where rather ironically the new church was built in 1859. The people of the Vale of Edeyrnion were lacking a near enough place of worship, and employed three well thought of work men to raise a church to fulfil the needs of the people of the Vale of Edeyrnion.
The workmen set to work with the zeal of the righteous and well paid, and after a full day of back breaking work in the building of this house of God, they retired to their homes, much pleased with their efforts. However, come the morning, the three were horrified to find their work of the previous day ransacked. Footings and scaffolding lay shattered about the site, wood and masonry cast about as if with a giants frenzied strength. All was ransacked and broken, a full day’s effort reduced to splinters. Indeed, the signs of frenzy were deeply unnerving, and it was with real fear that the workmen looked upon the ruin.
‘Who has done this?’ asked one of the workmen, fearful and trembling. ‘Who would do this?’
‘This is the work of, Y Gwr Drwg,’ muttered the second. ‘Who else would find our worthy work so offensive?’
The third workmen, made of sterner stuff, looked at his friends with a little disdain, ‘And what if it is?’ he spat, ‘Are you going to let him beat us in this? We do God’s work here.’ And with that he took up his shovel and began to work.
His fellows watched him a moment as he busied himself, glanced at each other, a little sheepishly, and joined him in his work. By the time the sun was at its height, they had cleared the damage done. By the time the sun had begun to dip beneath the horizon, they had made real progress. They leaned on their pick handles, begrimed in mud and sweat but smiling now in appreciation of a good day’s work. Still, they walked home with a few furtive glances over their shoulders, worried as to what would happen that night.
They gathered in the town at dawn and walked down to the site together, a little fearful as to what they would find. And as they approached, they all heard the sounds of stone on stone and clattering and they slowed, for real terror was upon them. At the last, they ran towards the site, as a child will run at what scares them, and coming upon the site, they were brought up short. Before them was a scene of devastation. Was it possible that more damage had been done than the previous day? All was ruin.
The workmen were despondent. What was to be done? It was clear to them that their work was cursed. Was it something they had done? Had the community somehow offended the Almighty that He had allowed the diafol to have his wicked way with their endeavours? Despite this, they began again their work, unwilling or perhaps simply too stubborn to accept defeat. But it was with heavy hearts they worked.
They grafted all day in silence, throwing themselves into their work. They ate their food without speaking and by the end of the day, they picked up their tools and walked away from the foundations of the church with a mixture of unease and fear.
On the third morning, they arrived at the site to find more damage.
‘We are cursed,’ whispered the first workman.
‘God has turned his face from us’ replied the second.
‘Enough of this,’ snapped the third. ‘We shall talk to y Dyn Hysbys’.
They sought out the Cunning Man, an individual much evidenced in the myth and legend of North East Wales. Living alone in isolated cottage, they looked for his advice.
‘I know why you here’ said the old man, as soon as he opened the door. ‘You look for answers to the question of your failure to build a church to the worship of the Risen Man.’
‘Are we cursed?’ Asked the workmen.
‘Not as I can tell,’ replied the old man, ‘but you are working in the wrong place,’ he smiled. ‘Look for the White Stag. Where you see him, lay your foundations, for there you will find success in your efforts. When it runs, hunt the beast and when you bring it down its blood will be a blessing.’
The workmen thanked The Cunning Man and gave him gifts for his words, as was traditional and much advised for fear of consequences.
Many days passed until one morning, close to where the Afon Alwen runs into the Afon Dyrdwy, they saw the stag. Unpeturbed, it watched them implacably, until as they approached it suddenly sprang into a run, thrashing its majestic antlers as it fled towards the Dee. It leapt the river in a single bound. The workmen followed as quickly as they could. It seemed to them that the stag could have left them standing at any point, but on the point of losing it completely it would stop and wait, as if leading them and not fleeing them. Finally, at a height overlooking the Dee it halted. The workmen fell upon the beast and butchered it where it stood. Ever after it was known as Moel Lladdfa, the Hill of Slaughter.
All Saints was built on the spot the stag was first seen, and remains to this day, serene and untroubled.
Y Gwr Drwg ~ The Bad Man
Diafol ~ The Devil
The devil is known by many names in North East Wales. Some are common to Wales in general, and some are rare outside of the region.
Dyn Hysbys ~ Cunning Man
A wise man, sometimes referred to as a wizard.