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Derfel


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(d. 6th century),

confessor. In early life he was a soldier and distinguished himself at the battle of Camlan (537). He was the founder and patron of Llanderfel (Gwynedd), where there was a famous wooden statue of him, mounted on a horse and holding a staff. In 1538 Dr. Ellis Price, Cromwell's agent for the diocese of St Asaph, wrote to him for special instructions in its regard because ‘the people have so much trust in him that they come daily on pilgrimage to him with cows or horses or money, to the number of five or six hundred on 5th April. The common saying was that whoever offered anything to this saint would be delivered out of hell by him.’ Cromwell's instruction was to send the image to London; in spite of a £40 bribe by the local people this was done. On 22 May 1538 a Franciscan Observant friar from Greenwich, John Forest, confessor to Queen Catherine of Aragon, was burnt at Smithfield for denying Henry VIII's claim to be Supreme Head of the Church in England. A little before his execution a ‘huge and great image’ (Derfel's) was brought to the gallows. The Welsh ‘had a prophecy that this image should set a whole forest afire; which prophecy now took effect, for he set this friar Forest on fire and consumed him to nothing’. Remains of Derfel's wooden horse and staff survive at Llanderfel. Late Welsh writers state that Derfel became a monk, and abbot at Bardsey. Feast: 5 April, as in early Welsh calendars.

T. Wright, Three Chapters of Letters relating to the suppression of Monasteries (C.S., xxvi. 1843), p. 190;Baring-Gould and Fisher, ii. 33–6;E. Hall, Chronicle (ed. C. Whibley, 2 vols., 1904).

Subjects: Christianity.


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