Liber Landavensis: The Book of Llandaff

Collections / Digitisation - Posted 26-05-2020

Nine hundred years ago, in May 1120, the bones of the sixth-century saint Dyfrig were taken from Bardsey and reburied at Llandaff, where bishop Urban was rebuilding and enlarging the church to match what he considered to be its proper status. As bishop of Llandaff, Urban claimed jurisdiction over every church dedicated to the founding bishops and patron saints of Llandaff, namely Dyfrig, Teilo and Euddogwy, and this brought him into conflict with the bishops of St Davids and Hereford, whom he saw as his inferiors. The translation of Dyfrig’s relics to Llandaff was intended to strengthen Urban’s case, but the centrepiece of his campaign was Liber Landavensis, the Book of Llandaff, which is now one of the Library’s treasures. Through it, we can see how Urban’s ambitious claims played an important part in redefining not only the Welsh church but its relations with the English church and the papacy.

The contents of the manuscript were compiled with the intention of showing that Llandaff possessed metropolitan status, direct ecclesiastical authority from the Tywi to the Wye (an area roughly equivalent to the old kingdom of Morgannwg) and an unbroken tradition from Dyfrig, appropriating the traditions of other churches in the process. It dates from between around 1120 and Urban’s death in 1133 (although other material was added later), and consists of the Gospel of St Matthew, the ‘Lives’ of Dyfrig, Teilo, Euddogwy and other saints, the ‘Privilege of Teilo’ in Latin and Welsh, an account of the foundation of Llandaff, a list of its bishops, and incomplete or corrupted copies of charters by which secular rulers granted land to Llandaff from the sixth century to the eleventh century. There is also some contemporary material, including a copy of the agreement made in 1126 between Urban and Robert of Gloucester, lord of Glamorgan, putting a stop to predations on the temporal possessions of the diocese. As is usually the case with propaganda, Liber Landavensis contains a mixture of fact, insinuation and fabrication that is often difficult to pick apart.

St Davids responded by creating its own propaganda, claiming metropolitan status over the whole of Wales and revising Rhigyfarch’s eleventh-century ‘Life’ of St David (or Dewi) so that Dewi became superior to Teilo and any reference to his consecration by Dyfrig was removed, but the matter was not to be decided in Wales. The growing power of the Anglo-Norman church and a reforming papacy meant that recognition from the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury was crucial to the success of Llandaff’s cause, and the manuscript carefully documents how Urban sought to achieve this. He owed his position to the Normans; having been appointed by Henry I and consecrated by archbishop Anselm in 1107, he was one of the first Welsh bishops to be installed by authorities from outside Wales, and the first known to have sworn canonical obedience to Canterbury. Liber Landavensis reflects this new reality, claiming (falsely) in the ‘Life’ of Euddogwy that Llandaff had been subject to Canterbury and obedient to English kings since the time of St Augustine, and that its customs were the same as those of the English. Similarly, Urban’s involvement in ecclesiastical affairs on a European level was novel for a Welsh bishop. He attended the Council of Rheims in 1119, where he first appealed to pope Calixtus II for recognition of the status of Llandaff; he received Cardinal John of Crema, the first papal legate known to have visited Wales, in 1125; he attended the Councils of Westminster in 1125 and 1127, and took part in the consecration of English bishops; he took his dispute with St Davids to the papal curia in person in 1128 and 1129; and he died in Italy while pursuing another case. Liber Landavensis records almost all of this, including copies of papal letters and accounts of Councils and of Urban’s journeys to Rome.

Urban was encouraged by a provisional ruling in his favour from pope Honorius II in 1128, but ultimately he lost his case. He had been presumptuous – Llandaff had only been an important church for a century or so, and Urban himself had been the first bishop of Glamorgan to style himself bishop of Llandaff – but he had made a significant difference. As a result of his ambition, St Davids won the boundary dispute and established itself as the leading Welsh diocese, Canterbury tightened its hold on Welsh bishoprics, and English churchmen were given new encouragement to take their complaints to the papal curia. Liber Landavensis bears testimony to Urban’s vision, and his failure.

A digital copy of the manuscript is available on the Library’s website, revealing text that was obscured until the volume was rebound at the Library in 2007.

Dr David Moore (Archivist)

Illustration: The bronze image of Christ on the manuscript’s only surviving original oak cover board. It was probably attached shortly after being made in England in the middle of the thirteenth century. The covers are now kept separately.

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