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The Carmarthenshire Historian


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Thumb the stones in the parishes of local history and pages unfold; lift the turf and the evidence of human sojourn is uncovered. Everywhere the seals of our forefathers are pressed upon the landscape, though some are barely visible. The illiterate marks of pristine generations are almost one with the earth, but mound, ditch and rampart yet lure the curiosity of the archaeologist. More literate signs are plain to recognise; castle, church and mansion invite the interest of all who take pleasure from walking into the past.

But of our oldest buildings, only the churches have commonly survived for present use. Castle and manor-house may here and there boast inhabitants since medieval times, but everywhere the ancient churches practise their timeless liturgy. Despite renovation and the plunders of time, they remain substantially old; Tudor rapacity, Puritan zeal and Victorian restoration have not wholly eroded the original creation.

If the parish records have disappeared, the church, its style sullied perhaps, is likely still to be there to confront us like some three-dimensional palimpsest reminding us that architecture is history written in stone. Styles they may be, but Romanesque, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular are not fashions; they are stages that reveal the evolving skill of builder and craftsman, aided by tools and knowledge that improved with the centuries. And whatever the style, it is probable that the pattern of the church will be a legacy of the Celtic influence which ordained the square eastern end or chancel and the tower west of the nave. Learn the language and the story is there to read in the fabric.

Yet assembled stone is not of itself permanent. Without continuing care, an unused church yields to nature like a forsaken dwelling and when it crumbles a limb of the parish withers. Sad therefore is the pilgrimage that ends in a shell of roofless walls, which is all that remains of St. Teilo's little church at Llandeilo Abercywyn on the east bank near the mouth of the Taf where earlier pilgrims crossed themselves protectively before taking the ferry on their journey to the shrine of St. David. Irreligious weeds, moved by the wind, dance a pagan ritual where priests chanted through the holy generations. Gone is the rude furniture, the three-decker pulpit included, that was the pride of a rustic craft. Nothing breaks the winter quiet but a mateless bird in tune with the melancholy chorus of pilgrim voices coming down the channels of the wind.

Even the remembered dead are forgotten at last, the lost memorials no longer testimony to their worth; they share cold beds with anonymous companions whose lowly station denied them a lapidary legend. But some still cling to immortality. Awry and drowning in the churchyard's rising tide of vegetation, a solitary gravestone makes a last appeal to human memory. In the porch a congregation of rescued headstones sing praises to each other and pray for life everlasting. One, with uncharitable economy, proclaims the life and death of

departd novber ye 5t
Aged 29
Unsexed and nameless, W.D. has triumphed over oblivion for as long as the incised stone and this page shall last.
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