Worshipping at the Standing Stones?
This week’s prompt was challenging! I struggled with my choices of ancestors to write about in this post. I have modified an older story of my Welsh roots and the importance of the standing stones, and the different ways our ancestors’ beliefs shaped their lives.
Across the Moors – Welsh Beginnings
The river Cleddau runs through Pembrokeshire forming two rivers the Eastern Cleddau and the Western Cleddau. They rise in the Presseli Mountains, the Eastern flowing through Mynachlog-ddu and the Western flowing through Haverfordwest, and forms the Milford Haven estuary, a natural harbour in Pembrokeshire, Wales.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haverfordwest
Cleddau comes from the Welsh word cleddyf meaning ‘sword’ – [a fitting word for the history of this land of my heritage]. The combined stream flows through Wolf’s Castle, where it enters the spectacular 90 m deep Treffgarne gorge, cutting through the hard volcanic rocks of Treffgarne Mountain.
Haverfordwest is the capital city of Pembrokeshire and is my great-grandmother’s birthplace. Mary Ann Evans was born in May (my own birth month) and was baptised at St Mary’s Church on 24 May 1833. I imagine my ancestors walking up the steep hill towards the church. St Mary’s, originally built in the 12th century, sits at the top of the High Street as a prominent landmark, and contains artifacts from the 15th century. It is a Grade 1 listed building, placing it prominently in the history of Wales.
Apart from its history, St Mary’s is a place of worship – my ancestors would have sat in those pews and listened to the sermons from the pulpit – just as the people of Haverfordwest do today.
I visited St Marys’ in 2008, whilst travelling back to my roots, on a celebration day of the Church’s history. Part of the items on display were the transcripts of the census of the town of Haverfordwest from the 1830’s to 1911. From there I was able to locate the residence of my great grandmother; she was living in Fountain Row, not far from St Mary’s Church.
As I walked into the church that day, I felt a strong feeling of belonging. I sat in the pews and listened to the Burgess introduce a guest speaker who specialized in the history of this church and this town. It was my lucky day, and I listened intently whilst quietly browsing the census documents.
A memory from my travels to Wales! I had a strong yearning to walk the moors and to find some standing stones – to immerse in the past. This was not an easy thing to do in the short time we had in Wales, so I needed to wait until we were in Devon. There is something ancient and magical when touching these stones that have stood for centuries. But I am getting ahead of myself in this story of Mary Ann Evans and her clan in Pembrokeshire.
Mary Ann was a worker bee, no high born airs and graces for her, just hard work and seizing opportunities. I believe she saw an opportunity to marry George Robinson (Railwayman) and move out of poverty and out of Pembrokeshire to Croydon, England. I wonder how they would have met. Perhaps, as Mary Ann had occupations in the Pubs and inns as a maid, she met her prospective husband when he stayed at one of those pubs.
They married on June 5th, 1859. On the certificate I noticed Mary had made the mark of an X where the signature should – she could not write. Marrying a man of substance was about to transport her into a very different world of commerce, transport, and prosperity.
Mary Ann came from strong Welsh stock! Her father David Evans was a labourer and he was a good provider for his wife Lettice, and a family of eleven children. Mary Anne was the eldest of his tribe. It took a long time to prove, genealogically, that David and Lettice were the parents of my great-grandmother. This was a gate-opening moment, and now I could see further down the line to my Welsh communities behind Mary Ann. I can see some of her clan were born either at Treffgarne, Llantrisant, Pembroke, or Haverfordwest.
I wish to travel back again to Wales and visit these towns again and look for the headstones of my clan members. I need also to return to Haverfordwest – the churchyard and cemetery of St Mary’s were under repair on my last visit – so I now wish to go back and see where my Welsh connections are buried.
The maternal line for Lettice Evans is interesting to travel – the name alone is very different from all the other Mary’s, Elizabeth’s, and Jane’s. Lettice was born in Treffgarne, Parish of Daugleddau, and died in Haverfordwest. These two towns are not very far apart, but today’s standards – but in her day, the transport was limited. Lettice was a strong childbearing woman, giving birth right up into her 40s. I wish I could have known her.
I would love to have seen the beautiful little church at Treffgarne and to stand where she had stood centuries before. The current parish church, dedicated to St Michael, is located near the centre of the village. Parts of the church date from the 11th century (the 14th-15th century font and water stoup). However, the church was totally rebuilt in 1881. [Wikipedia]
Although my clans would have openly worshipped at these Anglican Churches, St Marys and St Michael, I believe they also worshipped or followed some of the ancient ways. The skill of ‘knowing’ is strong among my Celtic clans, and that is where I think I am drawn to explore just what they were capable of. It is their imagined lives that drive me forward in writing the Family Story of my welsh ancestors. My own mother definitely had leanings toward the Wiccan beliefs. She was not a churchgoer, but her own belief system, handed down through the welsh ancestors, was strong.
I have imagined that Lisbet (Elizabeth Evans, my GGG Grandmother, at seven) could commune with the stones in Pembrokeshire. … if you look for the fictional stories in this site, listed in the menu at the top, you will find the Whirram Way. There is a collection of chapters there that have become the foundation of my next Fantasy Fiction writing, The Book of Shadows.