A look at how the legend and mythology of Saint Martyr Tydfil influenced the name of the Welch town Merthyr Tydfil.
St Tydfil’s Parish Church
Lower High Street, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales
T: 01685 553529
GPS: 51.742893, -3.378061
To begin learning about the rich history of the Welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil, it is a good idea to look into the mythology of how the town got its name. The legend of Martyr Tydfil.
The story starts with the legendary 5th Century king Brychan Brycheiniog.
Brychan had four wives and several concubines and was said to have had 24 sons and 25 daughters.
Most of Brychan’s children were well educated, girls and boys, at a school in Gwenddwr on the Wye and went on to live deeply religious lives.
Tydfil was his 23rd daughter by his fourth wife.
Tydfil decided to make her home in the Taff Valley, which was sparsely populated by Celt farmers.
She established an early Celtic monastic community.
She became known for her compassion and healing skills as she nursed both sick humans and animals.
In approximately 480AD, the elderly King Brychan wanted to visit his children one last time.
He took with him his son Rhun and his grandson Nefydd as well as several servants.
They visited his third daughter at her religious community at Hafod Tanglwstl, what is now known as the village of Aberfan, south of Merthyr Tydfil.
King Brychan wanted to stay with his daughters a little longer, so he told most of his warriors and his grandson to continue on home without him.
At the time, Wales was experiencing raids from Scottish Picts who had settled in Radnorshire, and it was during King Brychan’s journey from Hafod Tanglwstl that one of these raids occurred.
The king and his followers were robbed of their jewelry, money and clothes, and everyone in the party, including servants, was killed.
While the rest of the family fought or ran, Tydfil knelt and prayed, before she too was brutally slain.
The Picts retreated over the Aberdare mountain, chased by the grandson and his warriors.
He avenged the deaths of his family at “Irishman’s Hill” before returning to bury the dead.
Tydfil was buried within the church she founded, and a Celtic cross was put up in a clearing near the Taff to mark the place where ‘Martyr’ Tydfil was slain.
In 1894, St Tydfil’s, the Old Parish Church of Merthyr Tydfil, was built to keep sacred the spot at the lower end of the High Street where Tydfil was killed.
It is thought that some form of church has stood on this spot for nearly 1500 years.
The name of the town Merthyr Tydfil thus comes from the supposed martyrdom of St Tydfil.
The lore of this story is that she was killed for her Christian beliefs and thus canonized and made a saint.
However, since the Scottish pagans slaughtered absolutely everyone in her family indiscriminately, it doesn’t seem that she was killed because of her faith, so wasn’t really a martyr per se.
So her sainthood was based on three things.
- – Her quiet witness.
- – Her great faith and dignity in the face of death.
- – Her love and compassion towards others – human and animal.
But not martyrdom.
For a more detailed history of Martyr Tydfil, visit www.merthyr-history.com
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