The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


St Illtyd’s Church, Llantwit Major, South Glamorgan, Wales.

English: St Illtud, Llantwit Major, Glamorgan,...

St Illtud’s, Llantwit Major, South Glamorgan (Photo credit: John Salmon Wikipedia)

OS grid reference SS 6990 9580. The Norman parish church of St Illtyd (Illtud) is located on Church Lane at the western-side of the town of Llantwit Major or, in Welsh, Llanilltud Fawr, in the Vale of Glamorgan. This large three-sectioned Norman church, one of the oldest in Wales, houses three very interesting Celtic stones with Latin inscriptions in memory of saints and kings that were associated with a monastic college founded here by St Illtyd at the beginning of the 6th century AD. There are also two medieval grave-slabs, one belonging to an ecclesiastic, some medieval wall paintings and two other ancient stones. At the far west-side of the church the Ragland Chantry Chapel stands in a ruined state. The town of Llantwit Major is 9 miles south-east of Bridgend and 15 miles south-west of the Welsh capital, Cardiff. Close-by the church are the earthworks of the Roman villa of Caermead, dating from the 1st century AD.

English: St Illtud, Llantwit Major, Glamorgan,...

Celtic crosses (Photo credit: John Salmon -Wikipedia)

Housed within the Galilee Chapel of the 13th-15th century church, the old western part that dates from c1100, are three very interesting antiquities: a Celtic cross and two memorial stones with carved decoration and Latin inscriptions. These date from between the 9th-10th centuries and originally stood outside in the churchyard. Cross no 1 ‘The Illtud Cross’ or Samson’s Cross stands at just over 6 feet high and dates from the 10th-century. Although only the base of the gritstone cross remains the decoration is very good, and there is interlacing and key-patternwork with inscriptions in the middle and at the top. The top inscription (front) reads: SAMSON POSUIT HANC CRUCEM PRO ANIMA EIUS or ‘Samson placed his cross for his soul’ and on the reverse side: ILTUTI SAMSON REGIS SAMUEL EBISAR or ‘for the soul of Illtud, Samson the King, Samuel and Ebisar’. Samuel was probably the carver of the cross.

Cross no 2 is ‘Houelt’s Cross’, a 6 foot high disc-headed or wheel-head cross from the 9th-century AD. This has fretwork and patternwork on its lower front section and Celtic-style knotwork, interlacing and key-patterning on the wheel-head, but on the base there is a Latin inscription recalling Houelt (Hywel) the son of Res – probably Rhys ap Arthfael, King of Glamorgan, who died in 850 AD. The inscription reads: ‘In the name of God the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’. ‘This cross Houelt prepared for the soul of Res his father’. And no 3 ‘Samson’s Pillar Cross’ is 9 foot high and of the 10th-century. On both sides of this there is a long-winded inscription which reads: IN NOMINE DI SUMMI INCIPIT CRUX SALVATORIS QUAE PREPARAVIT SAMSON ABATI PRO ANIMA SUA ET PRO ANIMA IUTHAHELO REX ET ARTMALI ET TECANI and when translated ‘In the name of the most high (God) begins the cross of the (Saviour) which Samson the Abbot prepared for his soul, and for the soul of Iuthahelo (Judwal) the King and of Arthmael and of Tecan’. There is also a 7 foot-high carved cylindrical, pyramidal-shaped stone that may have originally been part of a pagan altar, and two smaller stones that are now worn and damaged but may once have been crosses bases.

St Illtyd or Illtud (450-530) may have been a native of Brittany, though some historians think he hailed from Breconshire. However, by about 460 he was living in south Wales and eventually, after a few years, entered in to the service of King Arthur as a knight and was, according to the legend, one of the keepers of the Holy Grail. At some stage he became a Christian and retired from the world to live as a hermit beside the River Hodnant in south Glamorgan. Here he met St Garmon, his uncle, and together they re-established a monastic school (Bangor Illtud Fawr) where an earlier monastery known as Cor Tewdws (College of Thedosius) had fallen in to decay. The date of the foundation of this monastery is uncertain but it’s beginnings were c480 AD and, certainly by 500 AD the monastic school was flourishing as a renowned centre of learning with many saints being trained there, including St David. A monastery continued to exist uptil the early 12th-century but then fell on hard times, but it was later reformed as a Benedictine house of Tewkesbury and lasted until after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1547.

As for St Illtyd he is thought to have died at Dol in Brittany about 530 AD. However, Welsh historians have always claimed that he died at his monastery in south Glamorgan, or maybe he died at Bedd-Gwyl-Illtyd near Libanus, Brecon, in southern Powys? We may never really know.


Allen, J. Romilly., Celtic Crosses Of Wales, Llanerch Publishing, Felinfach, Dyfed, 1989 (text originally published in Archaeologia Cambrensis 1899).,_Llantwit_Major

Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints Of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, 1991.

Barber, Chris & Pykitt, David., Journey To Avalon, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1993.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books, 1994.

Some Inscribed Stones In Wales

SH3346 7066. Inscribed stone in use as window lintel in a barn (now in an outbuilding) of Penseri farm, Trecastell, Lanfaelog, Anglesey. It is a rectangular shaped slab-stone with a Latin inscription on its face in memory of MAILISI – ‘From the grave of Mailisus’. On the left edge an Ogham inscription recalling the same person. The stone is thought to date from the 5th or 6th century AD.

SO0730 1310. Pillar-stone at Cwm Criban, Pontsticill, Powys. This stone has a worn Latin inscription in memory of MAQI – ‘Son of Maqi’ on its face and an Ogham inscription on its left edge to the same person MAQIDECEDA. It probably dates from the 5th-6th century AD and measures 1.6 metres x 0.3 metres, and was discovered in 1694.

SH4820 4554. Located in Llystyngwyn farmyard, Brynkir, Dolbenmaen, Gwynedd. A slabstone measuring 1.2 x 1.9 metres from the 6th century AD. There is a Latin inscription in three lines to the memory of ICORIFILIVS POTENTI NI – ‘Icorix son of Potentinus. On the right edge an Ogham inscription  to the same person ICORIGAS or ICORIX.

SN4229 5772. In St David’s church at Llanarth, Cardiganshire, a cross-inscribed stone 1.4 metres high, dating from the 5th-6th century AD. An incised Latin cross (9th-10th century?) on the face of the stone, while on the shaft a Latin inscription to GURHI RST or GURHIRT. On the left edge a dubious Ogham inscription in memory of TRENALUGOS a Romano-British person. Gurhirt could have been an Irish chieftain from the 6th century AD?

SH5343 3784. In St Michael’s church at Treflys, near Morfa Bychan, Gwynedd, a pillar-stone 1.3 metres high from the 6th century AD. The stone has a chi-rho cross and a Latin inscription on its face to IACONVSF IL IV SMINI IACIT which is translated as ‘Jaconus, son of Minus lies here’. An Ogham inscription on the left edge as been damaged and is not readable now.

SN4560 3990. At St Michael’s church, Llanvihangel-Ar-Arth, near Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire. In the vestry a stone has a Romano-British inscription HIC JACET ULCANUS FILIUS SENOMACILI or ‘Here lies the stone of Ulcagnus, son of Senomaglus’, dating from the 5th-6th century AD.

SO1804 9238. A stone built into the buttress (south wall) of St Michael’s church at Llanvihangel-Cum-Du near Crickhowel, Powys. This stone had been used as a stepping stone over a brook. An inscription (now worn) recalls CATACUS -‘Catacus, son of Tegernacus’, of the 6th century AD. Another stone, 3 foot long, forms a windowsill in the chancel. One side has a ring cross of the 6th-8th century AD and also, a rather worn Latin inscription.

SH4550 6071. Three stones in the abandoned St Baglan’s church half a mile NW of Llanfaglan, near Caernarfon, Gwynedd. Windowsill has an inscribed gravestone of the 5th century AD in memory of a Romano-Britain LOVER NUS FILI or LAVERNUS FILI ANATEMORI -‘Stone of Anatemori, son of Lovernius’. A second stone acting as a window lintel has a Celtic cross and a third stone also has an incised cross, both probably dating from the 10th century AD.

SN2282 1115. In Llandawke church near Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, a thin slab-stone of the 5th-6th century AD. The stone has an Ogham inscription on its edge and a Latin inscription recalling HIC JACET BARIVEND VENDVBARI which translated is ‘Here lies Barrivend, son of Vendubari. The Ogham inscription also includes the word MAQI – Son of ?

SJ0342 0976. In St Erfyl’s church at Llanerfyl, Powys, a gravestone with a Latin inscription of the Romano-British period 5th-6th century AD in memory of:- HIC IN TUMULO IACIT ROSTEECE FILI PATERNINI ANI XIII IN PACE which when translated is ‘Here in the tomb lies Rustica, daughter of Paterninus, Aged 13 in peace’. The stone originally stood in the churchyard.