Castell Dinas Bran, Denbighshire, Wales
The victorious “Alleluia” Battle of St. Germanus has long remained a mystery. In the past I tried pointing towards the Moel of Crio, supposedly the Hill of the Cry or Shout, near Maes Garmon (“the field or plain of Garmon”) in Flintshire, Wales, as the location. Unfortunately, further research showed the crio was here a late and corrupt form of another word. This from archivist Jane Sellek of the Denbighshire Archives:
“Moel y Crio: Crio, 1. Careiau, pl. of carai, 'thong, lace (bootlace)' 2. Creuau, pl. of crau, 'hole, aperture'. The popular explanation - 'moel of the crying or weeping' is unacceptable.
The book was written by Ellis Davies and published (in 1959) on behalf of the Board of Celtic Studies, University of Wales. An archivist who used to work here told me that the "bootlaces" and holes are indicative of lead-mining activity.”
Not only was I wrong about this Hill of the Shout, there were legitimate objections raised about placing the battle in Wales (a problem that has been discussed in the past by other authorities). As the battle account insists that both Picts and Scots were involved, a site has been sought –albeit unsuccessfully – in northeastern England or southeastern Scotland.
Furthermore, my idea that the “Shout Motif” came about as either an aetiological way of explaining the origin of a lace-name OR was an attempt to actually translate or interpret a place-name was not met with much enthusiasm. The primary reason for the resistance I encountered over the latter has to do with the stated “purity” of St. Constantius’ Life of St. Germanus. For it is contended that as Constantius began work on the Vita only a half century or so after the battle took place, the veracity of his account should be respected.
To bring the read up to speed on both Constantius and his Life of St. Germanus, the following excellent pages are available from Robert Vermaat’s Vortigern site:
For those interested in the Latin text of the Vita, Mr. Vermaat kindly referred me to that as well:
The text begins on p. 247, with the Alleluia battle occurring on p. 264.
The first thing I had to do was to find out what was our earliest extant MS. of the Vita. According to Professor John J. Contreni of Purdue, an expert in medieval MSS.,
‘There are two versions of the text: one considered to be Contantius's authentic work and a second, "interpolated" version with additions. According to the introduction of Rene Borius's Sources Chretiennes edition of Constantius's text (Paris, 1965), the earliest MS would be Paris, BNF, lat. 12598, which is dated to the 8th century.”
Contreni also was able to verify for me that the battle story was in the non-interpolated version of the Life.
So what we have with the Life of St. Germanus is a MS. prepared by a man about 50 years after the event recorded in that work. And all of this comes from a MS. which was copied centuries after that. Finally, we have another early MS. filled with interpolations. And let us not forget: a saint’s Life is a piece of hagiography. And hagiography is not in any sense of the word history. Saints’ Lives are an odd combination of biography and wonder working, full of the standard falsehoods of religion. As such, they are an expression of the medieval mindset and world view, intended to glorify saintly personages and to promulgate the ideals and doctrines of the Church. By their very nature, then, they are often rife with pious fraud.
Still, on the surface of it, there is nothing fantastical about a holy man being present at a battle. We need not take his generalship of the British army seriously, of course, and the defeat of the pagans with a thrice-shouted ‘Alleluia!’ can be relegated to the dustbin of fictional miracles. It does seem that a Germanus of Auxerre did go over to battle Pelagianism. That much seems certain. All else is doubtful.
What history can be derived from the story? Can we find its location and, if so, what would that tell us about the nature of St. Germanus himself?
Well, for starters, let’s read the entire account of the battle once again. The following selection is taken from Robert Vermaat’s Website:
Meanwhile, the Saxons and the Picts had joined forces to make war upon the Britons. The latter had been compelled to withdraw their forces within their camp and, judging their resources to be utterly unequal to the contest, asked the help of the holy prelates. The latter sent back a promise to come, and hastened to follow it. Their coming brought such a sense of security that you might have thought that a great army had arrived; to have such apostles for leaders was to have Christ Himself fighting in the camp.
It was the season of Lent and the presence of the bishops made the sacred forty days still more sacred; so much so that the soldiers, who received instruction in daily sermons, flew eagerly to the grace of baptism; indeed, great numbers of this pious army sought the waters of salvation. A church was built of leafy branches in readiness for Easter Day, on the plan of a city church, though set in a camp on active service. The soldiers paraded still wet from baptism, faith was fervid, the aid of weapons was thought little of, and all looked for help from heaven.
Meanwhile the enemy had learned of the practices and appearance of the camp. They promised themselves an easy victory over practically disarmed troops and pressed on in haste. But their approach was discovered by scouts and, when the Easter solemnities had been celebrated, the army--the greater part of it fresh from the font--began to take up their weapons and prepare for battle and Germanus announced that he would be their general [dux proelii, "leader for this battle"]. He chose some light-armed troops and made a tour of the outworks. In the direction from which the enemy were expected he saw a valley enclosed by steep mountains. Here he stationed an army on a new model, under his own command.
By now the savage host of the enemy was close at hand and Germanus rapidly circulated an order that all should repeat in unison the call he would give as a battle-cry. Then, while the enemy were still secure in the belief that their approach was unexpected, the bishops three times chanted the Alleluia. All, as one man, repeated it and the shout they raised rang through the air and was repeated many times in the confined space between the mountains.
The enemy were panic-stricken, thinking that the surrounding rocks and the very sky itself were falling on them. Such was their terror that no effort of their feet seemed enough to save them. They fled in every direction, throwing away their weapons and thankful if they could save at least their skins. Many threw themselves into the river which they had just crossed at their ease, and were drowned in it.
Thus the British army looked on at its revenge without striking a blow, idle spectators of the victory achieved. The booty strewn everywhere was collected; the pious soldiery obtained the spoils of a victory from heaven. The bishops were elated at the rout of the enemy without bloodshed and a victory gained by faith and not by force.”
Now, to begin with, I now know I was indeed in error when trying to find a ‘shout’ place-name. While there are some in Britain, one or two of which can be traced to the Romano-British period, these are will-o-the-wisps. The fact is that the very name of the saint seems to have contributed to the formation of the Shout Motif.
These entries are from the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (GPC):
[Crn. garm ‘gwaedd’, Llyd. garm ‘gwaedd’, H. Wydd. gairm ‘gwaedd, sgrech’: < Clt. *gar-(s)mn̥ o’r gwr. *ĝā̆r- ‘galw, sgrechian’]
eb. ll. garmau.
Bloedd, cri, llefain, dadwrdd, twrf:
shout, cry, outcry, clamour.
[bf. o’r e. garm+-ain1]
bg. a’r be. fel eg.
Bloeddio, gweiddi, llefain, nadu:
to shout, yell, cry, wail.
From AN ETYMOLOGY DICTIONARY OF PROTO-CELTIC by Professor Ranko Matasovic:
SEMANTIC CLASS: language, Gaulish
*gar(s)men- (> Old French guerm-enter) ‘lament’, Early Irish gairm ‘call, shout’, Scottish Gaelic gairm ‘call, office’, Welsh garm ‘shout, cry, outcry, clamour’, Cornish garm ‘call, shout’, Breton garm ‘call’
What I’m suggesting, in other words, is that at some point the saint's LATIN name was interpreted along Celtic lines. Thus the idea of the shouted Alleluia was born.
To this idea, Dr. Simon Rodway of the University of Wales replied. “Yes, this sounds quite plausible”, while Professor Peter Schrijver said only “That must be right!.” I’ve obtained similar positive responses from other top Celticists.
If I’m right about this, then the battle story in the Life of St Germanus came from a Celtic source or, at the very least, this must be true of the Shout Motif.
As the St. Germanus (or ‘Garmon’) place-names are all in Wales, and St. Germanus’s story in the HISTORIA BRITTONUM also focuses on Wales, it is to that land that we should turn for the location of the Alleluia Battle. One traditional spot is Maes Garmon or the Field/Plain of Germanus near Mold, Flintshire. But I have reason to believe the battle site is to be found elsewhere in Wales.
According to P.C. Bartram in A CLASSICAL WELSH DICTIONARY, these are the Welsh locations associated with St. Germanus [I’ve before mentioned that the “hounding” of Vortigern by the saint in Nennius functions as a means of plotting out St. Germanus church locations]:
For me, the most interesting passage in the Vita’s description of the battle is the one which describes the church made of leafy branches within the camp of the British army, a church made on the plan of a city church. The leafy branches made me wonder about a possible place-name, and so I began by searching for the known St. Garmon sites that were next to or near forts.
St. Harmon is only a little over a kilometer from a Roman camp
Capel Garmon is next to the Capel Garmon chambered long cairn
The village is named after an ancient castle. The castle was built in 1156 by Madog ap Maredudd. Madog's nephew Owain Cyfeiliog swore allegiance to the English, Owain Gwynedd took the castle from him and destroyed it in about 1167. It has been suggested that a mound in the churchyard of St Garmon's is the remains of the earthwork castle. This mound is known as Twmpath Garmon, so it could be a preaching mound (as in Llanfechain; see below). The most recent view is that the mound does not appear motte-like and a survey in 2002 failed to find a surrounding ditch.
The parish church, St Garmon's, was originally constructed in Norman times, and still retains many original features. It is a Grade II* listed building. It is a single-chambered structure with surviving Romanesque windows in the east wall and two doorways in the south wall. There were some Victorian alterations including the addition of a western bell turret. Inside, the roof dates from the 15th century, the font is from about 1500, the pulpit carries a date of 1636, and at the western end its gallery remains.
According to tradition, the saint preached from a mound in the churchyard at Llanfechain. The remains of this mound, 'Twmpath Garmon' are still evident today north of the church, although graves have been dug into it. According to the recollections of 19th century villagers, recorded in Volume 5 of the Montgomeryshire Collections, cockpits were dug near to the mound for cockfighting.
It was Llangollen that caught my eye. This is the Church of St. Collen. However, the word collen, taken as a known instead of a name, is the plural of the following:
From the GPC:
[H. Grn. colwiden, gl. corillus, H. Lyd. limn-collin, gl. tilia, Gwydd. coll: < Clt. *kosl-, cf. Llad. corilus, S. hazel]
e.tf. (un. collen) ll. cyll.
Math o lwyni neu goed bychain yn dwyn cnau bwytadwy; pren ifanc, brigyn, ysbrigyn:
hazel; sapling, twig.
9g. (MC) VVB 78, Corilis i. coll.
12g. LL 247, finnaun he collenn.
13g. LlDW 9723-4, guerth kolluyn .xxiiii. otenyr vn kollen or kolluyn .iiii.
14g. WML 104, Kollen pymthec atal.
14g. GDG 234, Llysgon, oedd well eu llosgi, / O gyll ir; ni bu o’m gwall i.
c. 1400 R 103329, Gorwyn blaen coll. geir digoll bre.
id. 134912-13, Glewllew llit meruyn. is brynn bryt kyll.
c. 1400 [RB] WM 49031-2, nyt oed yma goet namyn un o gollen derwen.
15-16g. TA 473, O chaf finnau wych feinwen, / Bagl goll a gaiff bugail Gwen!
1547 WS, koll pren, hasyll.
1588 Gen xxx. 37, Yna Iacob a gymmerth iddo ei hun wiail o boplyswydd a chyll.
1604-7 TW (Pen 228) d.g. corylus (hefyd D).
Digwydd fel e. p. yn yr enw Llangollen.
Hence, the church of leafy branches is an interpretation of the Church of St. Collen! Collen being rendered as ‘hazels, saplings, twigs’ rather than a personal name. And, indeed, it is entirely possible that St. Collen, of whom typically marvelous stories are told, is a personification of the noun collen.Llangollen in the valley of the river Dee is not only close to the Pillar of Eliseg, which bears the name of St. Germanus, but is also pretty much exactly between the St. Garmon churches at Ial and Dyffryn Ceiriog.
I would, therefore, tentatively propose that a battle was fought in the Dee Valley at or near Llangollen, Castell Dinas Bran and the Eliseg Pillar. It wouldn’t have been waged against Saxons in 429 A.D., and is unlikely to have involved Picts (although the Brittu/Brydw whom Germanus blesses on the Eliseg Pillar may bear a name that is cognate with the Pictish name Brude, a name or title born by many Pictish kings, with variants including Breth, Bred, Bredei, Breidei, Brete, Bridei, Brideo, Bridiuo and Bruide). The St. Germanus who was present (in spirit if not in body!) would not have been St. Germanus of Auxerre, but instead either a Powysian Garmon or Mac Garmon of the Isle of Man.