Today (16 June) in the calendar of early British saints we commemorate St. Curig, bishop of Llanbadarn (6th C). Celt-saints points out that there is a great deal of confusion over similarly-named saints, whereas Baring Gould dives in to sort them out:
S. CURIG, Bishop, Confessor
Curig Lwyd is famous in Wales. He is mentioned repeatedly by the Welsh bards. These generally style him Curig Lwyd, the Blessed, and occasionally Curig Farchog, or the Knight.
The Welsh saintly genealogies do not pretend to give his pedigree. Lewis Morris, in the middle of the eighteenth century, says, “We are told that this Curig was a foreigner, and that it was on the top of this hill (in Llangurig parish) he first rested, after he had landed at Aberystwyth ; from hence he perceived a fine valley (of the Wye) before him, where he determined to build a church in a sheltered spot.” It consisted at first, as we may gather, of a humble cell and chapel, which subsequently became a church, though not yet of spacious
dimensions, celebrated for the beauty of its architecture and the elegant carving and design of its roof. The rock on the hill whereon the pilgrim sat, is to this day called Eisteddfa Gurig, his Seat. The hill is 1,358 feet above the sea.
After the Norman occupation of Wales, the conquerors where possible displaced the native Saints as patrons of the churches, and placed them under the invocation of Saints in the Roman Calendar. S. Curig had everywhere to make way for Cyriacus, the boy martyr, with his mother Julitta. This produced confusion in the minds of the Welsh, and the legend of Curig Lwyd got vitiated by being mixed up with that of the youthful martyr of Tarsus.
There exists in Welsh a translation of a Latin Life of S. Cyriacus, which has a noteworthy appendix. It runs — ” Know all men how S. Ciric came to be honoured in Wales, and obtained his glory and honour on account of his miracles. There is a township (or parish) in Wales, called Llan Giric, on the confines of three countries, to wit, Arwystli, Melienydd and Ceredigion. In that township there was an uncle to Ciric, named Maelgwn, who was a monk ; and he sent his servants to Ceredigion to collect his provisions. When they were coming homewards with their horses and burdens, the huntsmen of Maelgwn Gwynedd met them and laid hands on them, intending to break into the sacks and steal the food. Their hands got stuck to the sacks, and they were dragged (by the horses) as far as to Maelgwn the monk’s cell ; and the Saint with difficulty loosened them by his prayers. Then went they to Maelgwn Gwynedd, loudly bewailing their misfortune. Maelgwn was filled with pride, and thought not of the fear of God, and he sent a number of gentlemen to fetch Maelgwn the monk to him. When these men came to where they could see the monk’s house they lost the sight of their eyes. Maelgwn Gwynedd, hearing that, meditated the destruction of the Saint ; and he too, with all his men, lost their sight, and were compelled to go to the Saint and sue for mercy. Maelgwn the monk prayed to Ciric, and
he and his men received their sight. Then Maelgwn Gwynedd gave large and ample lands to Maelgwn the monk and to Ciric for ever, free from rent or gwestfa (food-rent) to king or bishop for ever.”
Then follows an account of the boundaries of the grant. Two other grants, with their boundaries defined, are also given. One is by ” Mael, Duke of Melienydd,” who gave it ” at that time to the said Saint for alms ” ; the other, at the same time to S. Ciric,” by Prince Ceredig of Ceredigion. The boundaries are interesting, as indicating that what is now Llangurig parish, or much of it, was regarded as having originally belonged to three different principalities.
Several of the late mediaeval bards refer to the Curig legend. Huw Cae Llwyd (fifteenth century) says that Maelgwn, coming to the hermitage on the bank of the Wye, “sought to practise a deception on the nun” that occupied it. His hands and those of his men, one after the other, “cleaved to the hamper,” and were liberated through the intercession of the child martyr and his mother, “the Blessed Elidan.” Maelgwn, for his attempted spoliation, “gave as an offering pasture land of great price to the sacred enclosure.”
Sion Ceri (sixteenth century) alludes to the Saint’s martyrdom, but his account is quite confused. Though martyred when three years old, he is spoken of as “a youth, gentle, eloquent and learned, who is our father, our support.”
Huw Arwystli (sixteenth century) also alludes to the nun on the bank of the Wye, and mentions the grants to Llangurig of “three lands like a golden strand, three in one ring.”
A devotion known as Emyn Curig Sant, ” the Hymn of S. Curig,” has been preserved. It comprises a lectio and five collects in prose, addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ, “in the name of the holy Curig the martyr and his mother Julitta, and all the male and female Saints of Heaven.” The Saint is therein represented as an infant, but also as an adult, ” conspicuously discreet from his childhood . . . very wise, and a teacher of heavenly things. … He rejected a lordly life, from a pure heart and the wisdom of a perfect man.”
The Emyn was known in Wales at least as early as the beginning of the fourteenth century.
The Carmarthenshire bard, Lewis Glyn Cothi, who lived in the fifteenth century, has several allusions to S. Curig. In one passage he refers to “the brave knight Curig’s coat of mail,” which proves that in Wales the Saint was traditionally believed to have been at one time a soldier. He also swears, “By Curig’s hand!” and he is very satirical on the mendicant friars, who in his day went about hawking images of Saints made of glass and alder wood, which they sold to the peasantry, and received cheese, flour, wool, etc., as payment. One, he says, carried “Curig Lwyd under the corner of his cloak.”
Giraldus Cambrensis tells us that in his time there was preserved in S. Harmon’s Church. Radnorshire, a few miles south-east of Llangurig, “the staff of S. Curig, covered on all sides with gold and silver, and representing in its upper part the form of a cross.” It possessed miraculous powers, and was particularly efficacious in cases of “glandular and strumous swellings,” and that a penny was paid as a fee for the application of the staff to the part affected.
The staff continued in great repute until the Reformation, when it is supposed to have been committed to the flames and destroyed. From these allusions it will be seen that the utmost bewilderment of mind was produced by the re-dedication of the church to the child martyr Cyriacus, and that the Welsh were unable to fuse the two legends into a consistent whole. By eliminating all that pertains to Cyriacus the Martyr and his mother Julitta, we obtain what was the current tradition relative to Curig.
1. That he was of unrecorded genealogy.
2. That he had been a warrior, but was converted and became a monk.
3. That he lived in the time of Maelgwn Gwjoiedd, and had a cell and church at Llangurig.
4. That near him lived a holy nun named Elidan.
5. That he was esteemed to have become a bishop.
The stained glass windows of Llangurig, put in at its restoration in 1878, represent the current Welsh traditions relative to the Saint, confused with the Legend of S. Cyriacus. The child martyr suffered in the fourth century, and Curig was contemporary with Maelgwn Gwynedd in the sixth. These windows stereotype the anachronism and inconsistency of the stories. The East window has in the head of the tracery “figures representing King Maelgwn Gwynedd handing to the nun Julia a box containing the deeds of land which he devoted to the church.” By Julia we may suppose Julitta is meant, who was not a nun but the mother of Cyriacus, and suffered martyrdom along with him. The nun, according to Huw Cae Llwyd, was called Elidan. On the left in the window is depicted the martyrdom of the boy, and beneath it that of Julitta. The central figure in the window is none other than S. Curig habited as a bishop with pastoral staff. To the right is a representation of his landing as Aberystwyth, and below another of his building the Church at Llangurig.
In one of the side windows is S. Elidan, as a man, holding a spear in one hand and the model of a church in the other.
In again another window is King Maelgwn, overcome by religious fervour, offering a deed of lands to an image of the infant Curig, his white horse running away in the background.
Is it possible to conceive of a greater muddle of ideas ?
There can, we think, be very little doubt that the Curig Lwyd of the Welsh is the Kirik of the Bretons. He was a fellow pupil with S. Tudwal of S. Illtyd at Llantwit. According to the Brittany legend of his life, given by Albert le Grand, the Legendarium of Leon, and that of Folgoet, when Tudwal migrated to Armorica, he took Kirik with him. Kirik, like Curig, was a son of inconsiderable or unknown parents. He, like so many other Celtic Saints, had two names, Kirik and Guevroc. We may perhaps trace his course from Wales in two foundations, one in Devon, the other in Cornwall. That in Devon is doubtful, Coryton or Curig-town, on the Lyd, a confluent of the Tamar. On the further side of the Tamar he is patron of Egloskerry.
He arrived in Brittany in the reign of Childebert I, when Deroc was king of Domnonia (520-535). After having been for a while with Tudwal, Curig and fourteen others swarmed off to Lanmeur, in the present department of Finistere, and founded a monastery at about a league from the present town at Locquirec, on the coast. Hence he has of late years been displaced as patron, and the church placed under the invocation of S. James the Great.
Desirous of more solitude, he abandoned the monastery and retreated to Ploudaniel in Leon, where he found a valley, called thenceforth Traoun-Guevroc, surrounded by dense woods. Here he built himself a chapel of interlaced branches, and spent here two years. S. Paul Aurelian, hearing of him, paid him a visit, and the story goes that when the hermit came forward to meet him, the Bishop saw a radiance of supernatural light surround his head. Paul insisted on his not hiding his light under a bushel, and bade him accompany him to his monastery at Occismor. He remained there working under S. Paul for many years.
At some time, unspecified in the Life, but probably before he abandoned S. Tudwal, he must have made a foundation at Perros Guirec, a bare and rocky stretch of land north of Lannion. Here the soil is scantily drawn over a granite floor, and huge uncouth masses of rock, rounded by the sea winds and rain, strew the surface. The headland is still called Ploumanach, or the Plebs of the Monk. Five miles out to sea rise boldly out of the water the Seven Isles, one of which, l’Ile des Moines, was probably much resorted to by Curig and his party for solitude.
Curig himself, according to local tradition, loved to pray on a rock in the little bay, which is surrounded by the high tide. In memory whereof a small oratory of romanesque workmanship was constructed on the rock. It consists of a mere roof covering a statue of the Saint, supported on granite pillars.
It is somewhat singular that his settlement at Perros is not spoken of in the Life ; and no hint is given us as to his reason for migrating from Treguier and western Domnonia into Leon. It is possible that it may have been due to a difference with Tudwal. Between Perros Guirec and the mainland is a plantation of S. Kenan or Kea, and this may have annoyed Curig, and induced him to quit the neighbourhood.
It would seem, though it is not stated in his Life, that Curig was consecrated bishop by S. Paul, for he is invariably represented as a bishop.
Curig was engaged on one of his missionary expeditions when he fell sick at Landemeau, and died there. His body was transported by his monks to Locquirec and there buried.
He would seem to have exercised a roving missionary life, and at one time to have penetrated into what is now the department of Morbihan, for he is culted at Cleguier and at C1eguerec.
The story is told of him that one Sunday he saw a man cutting rushes wherewith to stop a gap in the fence of his wheat-field. Curig rebuked him, and told him that it would be better to get someone to watch lest cattle got into the field, than to do manual labour on the Lord’s Day. The farmer turned on him and abused him soundly, whereupon, so says the legend, the bundle of rushes he had in his arms adhered to him, and could not be shaken off till he had made an ample apology.
According to popular tradition, the Chapel of Notre Dame de Kreisker in S. Pol de Leon was founded by Curig. He saw a girl washing clothes on a Holy Day, and rebuked her. As, shortly after, she was struck with palsy, she fancied that this was due to her having offended the Saint. So she surrendered to him a bit of land in expiation, and thereon he built a church in honour of the Blessed Virgin. This latter point is questionable, as dedications to Our Lady came in vogue among the Celts much later than the period at which lived Curig.
Curig died on February 17, but in what year is not known. It was probably during the lifetime of S. Paul Aurelian. There is no mention in his Life of the troubles caused by Conmore, regent of Domnonia, and we may set down his death as occurring shortly before 550.
The Breton Life gives no account of any events in the life of the Saint whilst he was in Wales. It is possible enough that the annoyances felt by him from the turbulence of Maelgwn Gwynedd may have determined him to quit Wales, coupled with the urgency of his fellow pupil Tudwal.
The following are the Curig dedications in Wales : — Llangurig, in Montgomeryshire ; Eglwys Fair a Churig, in Carmarthenshire. Capel Curig (called in full, Capel Curig a’i fam Julitta), in Carnarvonshire, is dedicated to SS. Cyriacus and Julitta ; and Llanilid (called also Eglwys Ilid a Churig), in Glamorganshire, to SS. Julitta and Cyriacus. Llanilid (also called Cray S. Hid), in Brecknockshire, is dedicated to S. Julitta, as well as Llanelidan, in Denbighshire. In this latter we have the Elidan = Julitta of Huw Cae Llwyd and the mediaeval Welsh Calendars. The church of Porthkerry, in Glamorganshire, is usually regarded as dedicated to S. Curig. It is stated in the lolo MSS : — ” S. Cirig founded Porth Cirig for the benefit of the souls of sailors, and as a port for them ” ; but in another passage in the same work the place is associated with Ceri ab Caid, who is said to have lived there and to have been called Ceri Hir Lyngwyn, ” because he had numerous fleets at sea.” In the Taxatio of 1254 it appears as Portiri (for Portciri), and in that of 1291 as Porthkirey, forms which do not favour the Curig dedication.
In the parish of Llanilid (Glamorganshire), is a well called Ffynnon Geri, and the parish wake, Gwyl Geri, was formerly held about Midsummer. S. Curig’s Chapel once stood at Langstone, near Llanmartin, Monmouthshire, and there was formerly a pilgrimage chapel, called Capel Curig, in the parish of Newport, Pembrokeshire. It is very probable that the parish church itself (now S. Mary’s) was once dedicated to him. The great annual fair there is called Ffair Gurig. Ffos y Mynach (or Myneich), near S. David’s, was at one time also called, according to Fenton, Ffos Gyrig (his dyke). In the parish of Llangian, Carnarvonshire, was formerly a well called Ffynnon Fyw (the Living Well), now dried up, celebrated for the cure of rheumatism. It was supposed to be dedicated to S. Cyr, the martyr, whose chapel stood close by.
Owing to the popularity of SS. Cyriacus and Julitta among the Normans it is not possible to assert that all the churches dedicated to SS. Cyriacus and Julitta, or to them severally, have supplanted foundations of Curig. Some may have been entirely new and be Norman foundations, but in purely Welsh districts the Curig churches are undoubtedly to be attributed to S. Curig and not to Cyriacus, and the Ilid churches certainly in Brecknockshire, Glamorganshire, and north-east Cornwall to Ilud, the daughter of Brychan, and not to Julitta of Tarsus. We cannot be assured that the Kirik or Guevroc of Brittany is identical with the Curig of Wales, but it is most probable that they are the same, as the Breton Life makes Kirik come to Armorica from Wales.
Possibly, as already said, we may trace the course pursued by Curig on his way to Brittany, by foundations in Devon and Cornwall. There is a Newton S. Cyres near Exeter, now regarded as dedicated to S. Cyriacus. Coryton on the Lyd is apparently Curigtown. The church is now esteemed to be under the patronage of S. Andrew. Near it is a Holy Well. At Eglos Kerry, near Launceston, he has not been displaced. Calstock Church is dedicated to SS. Cyriacus and Julitta, and Luxulyan, which seems to be a corruption of Lan Sulian, is now held to be under the invocation of SS. Cyriacus and Julitta, but was possibly a foundation of S. Sulian or Sulien.
In Brittany he is patron of Perros Guirec in Cotes du Nord ; of Launeufret (that bears the name of Meubred ?) in Finistere, formerly also of Locquirec in the same department, where Curig had his monastery and was buried ; and of C1eguerec in Morbihan. He has supplanted S. Geraint at S. Geran near Pontivy. He has chapels at Goulven, in Leon, and Ploubezre near Lannion in Cotes du Nord, and at Ploumanach in Perros Guirec. Chapels as well at Ploundrin and Tredrez, in Cotes du Nord. He is invoked for the cure of abscesses and strumous swellings, just as formerly Curig in Wales was thought to be efficacious in these diseases. At Ploumanach is his statue in stone, of the thirteenth century, representing him in sacerdotal vestments with a crozier in one hand, an open book in the other. At Perros Guirec he is mitred and holds a crozier with one hand, and is giving benediction with the other.
On account of his having in Wales been fused with S. Cyriacus, his day is June 16, that attributed in the Roman Martyrology to SS. Cyriacus and Julitta ; but his day in Brittany is February 17, the day on which he died. Breviary of Leon, 1736, Breviary of Quimper, 1835, and Albert le Grand.
Although the statues of the Saint in Brittany give him without a distinguishing symbol, it would be suitable to represent him as a bishop carrying a bundle of bulrushes.
wikipedia article explains the confusion over the name of the church at Capel Curig – which obviously should be a dedication in St Curig’s name!
Holy Father Curig, pray to God for us.