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Witness to a hanging

A Welsh language version of this article is available below.

You don’t often get to read someone’s account of their own execution. But when stories began to circulate, in the Middle Ages, of a Welshman who had miraculously come back to life after being hanged, Pope Clement V sent a team to investigate. They interviewed key witnesses to what had taken place, including the hanged man himself, who was only too happy to talk about what had happened.

The man in question, one William Cragh (he probably preferred the other name he was known by, William ap Rhys — cragh means ‘scabby’ in Welsh), had taken part in a rebellion against King Edward I of England. Captured in 1290 by the son of William de Briouze, the Lord of Gower, he was executed on a hill within sight of de Briouze’s castle in Swansea - twice, in fact, as the gallows collapsed the first time. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear (was there something going on between the two?), de Briouze’s wife Lady Mary seems to have gone to great lengths to intercede on Cragh’s behalf, not only begging her husband to spare him, but, when that didn’t work, collecting his body, and praying to the late Bishop of Hereford, Thomas de Cantilupe, to bring Cragh back from the dead. And sure enough, Cragh, who witnesses had agreed had been as dead as a doornail, soon began to show signs of life, and eventually made a full recovery.

Wisely perhaps, Cragh seems to have played along with the miraculous elements of his life-after-death story. Shortly after his recovery he said that he, too, had prayed to Thomas de Cantilupe to save him, and that as he was hanging from the gallows a bishop dressed all in white had come to support his feet, and put his tongue back in his mouth. To give thanks to de Cantilupe, Cragh went on a pilgrimage to his shrine in Hereford, wearing around his neck the rope he had been hanged with.

Then, in his evidence to the papal commissioners several years later, Cragh added in the Virgin Mary for good measure, claiming that she had appeared to him in a strange vision in his castle dungeon on the morning of his execution, accompanied by ‘a lordly figure’ who she said was ‘St Thomas’, who would save him.

The commissioners sent by the Pope were there to gather supporting evidence for Thomas de Cantilupe being made a saint. They interviewed all kinds of people, Welsh as well as Anglo-Norman, who had seen what had happened from various vantage points around Swansea on that fateful day. In the end, they decided that this particular event did not constitute a miracle. But what they left behind, in the Vatican Library, is an almost unique snapshot of a city on one day in the thirteenth century.

Professor Catherine Clarke, of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Southampton, is working on the City Witness project, funded by the AHRC, which is using this glimpse of the past to add a new dimension to the city of Swansea. ‘It’s like some avant-garde film,’ she says, ‘where the same event is seen and remembered very differently by different witnesses, depending upon who and where they were.’

City Witness follows a previous AHRC-funded project, mapping the Medieval City of Chester (www.medievalchester.ac.uk). The team had been looking for another project in a Medieval frontier town, and had been aware of the William Cragh story. This time they’ve partnered-up with Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, in order to draw on their knowledge of the local archaeology. And as the Trust’s Archaeological Planning Manager Neil Maylan says, the project is feeding in to work that is currently under way, to restore Swansea Castle and open it to the public. A visitor centre there will provide information about William Cragh, and describe what could have been seen from various points around the castle in the thirteenth century. ‘It’s a way of populating a monument for the public,’ says Neil, ‘to talk about who might have been standing where you are, seven hundred years ago.’

With good timing, the project also coincides with the work of Swansea Council, which is redeveloping the historic area around Swansea Castle, creating a new ‘Castle Quarter,’ which they hope will benefit residents as well as attracting new visitors. Regeneration Co-ordinator at City and County of Swansea Council, Gareth Hughes, says that a series of pavement-markers around Swansea will be linked to information on the City Witness project website, including 3D recreations of the Medieval city, meaning that anyone with a smartphone will be able to interact at the same time with the twenty-first century Swansea, and with the historic city beneath their feet. ‘It’s about trying to get people interested in where they live, and to understand what the place is about — this is what makes a city a vibrant and interesting place to be, and it helps people take ownership of the place.’

Swansea is a city where there is very little of the Middle Ages left above ground, thanks to the combined efforts of the Luftwaffe and post-war developers. But through the City Witness project, historic Swansea is once more becoming visible — coming to life again, just like William Cragh, when it had seemed to be dead.

For further information please go to: www.medievalswansea.ac.uk

Article by Matt Shinn

Tyst i grogi

Nid yn aml y byddwch yn darllen am brofiad rhywun o gael ei ddienyddio.  Ond pan ddechreuodd straeon fynd ar led, yn yr Oesoedd Canol, o Gymro ddaeth yn ôl yn fyw ar ôl cael ei grogi, anfonodd y Pab Clement V dîm i ymchwilio i hyn. Cafodd prif dystion eu cyfweld ynghylch yr hyn oedd wedi digwydd, yn cynnwys y dyn gafodd ei grogi, oedd yn fwy na pharod i siarad am yr hyn oedd wedi digwydd.

Roedd y dyn perthnasol, William Cragh (mae’n siŵr bod yn well ganddo ei enw arall, sef William ap Rhys), wedi cymryd rhan mewn gwrthryfel yn erbyn y Brenin Edward I o Loegr. Ar ôl cael ei gipio ym 1290 gan fab William de Briouze, Arglwydd Gŵyr, cafodd ei ddienyddio ar fryn o fewn golwg castell de Briouze yn Abertawe - ddwywaith, mewn gwirionedd, am i’r crocbren gwympo y tro cyntaf. Am resymau aneglur (a oedd rhywbeth yn mynd ymlaen rhwng y ddau?), cymerodd gwraig Briouze, y Foneddiges Fair gamau sylweddol i gyfryngu ar ran Cragh, nid yn unig yn ymbil ar ei gŵr i’w arbed, ond, pan na weithiodd hynny, casglu ei gorff, a gweddïo i gyn-Esgob Henffordd, Thomas de Cantilupe, i ddod â Cragh yn ôl yn fyw. Ac yn ddigon gwir, dechreuodd Cragh, yr oedd tystion wedi cytuno ei fod yn farw, ddangos arwyddion o fywyd ac, yn y pen draw, cafodd wellhad llwyr.

Yn ddoeth iawn efallai, ymddengys bod Cragh wedi chwarae rhan yn elfennau gwyrthiol ei stori o fywyd wedi marwolaeth. Yn fuan ar ôl ei adferiad dywedodd ei fod ef, hefyd, wedi gweddïo i Thomas de Cantilupe ei achub, ac wrth iddo hongian o’r crocbren, daeth esgob wedi gwisgo mewn gwyn i gefnogi ei draed, a rhoi ei dafod yn ôl yn ei geg. I ddiolch i de Cantilupe, aeth Cragh ar bererindod i’w gysegrfan yn Henffordd, yn gwisgo’r rhaff oedd fod ei grogi o amgylch ei wddf.

Yna, yn ei dystiolaeth i’r comisiynwyr pabaidd sawl blwyddyn yn ddiweddarach, ychwanegodd Cragh y Forwyn Fair hefyd, gan honni ei bod wedi ymddangos iddo mewn gweledigaeth ryfedd yn naeargell ei gastell ar fore’i grogi, gyda ‘ffigur urddasol’ a ddywedodd mai ‘Sant Thomas’ ydoedd, a fyddai’n ei achub.

Roedd y comisiynwyr, a anfonwyd gan y Pab, yno i gasglu tystiolaeth gefnogol ar gyfer gwneud Thomas de Cantilupe yn sant. Cafodd pob math o bobl gyfweliad, Cymry yn ogystal ag Eingl-normaniaid, a oedd wedi gweld yr hyn ddigwyddodd o sawl man ffafriol o gwmpas Abertawe ar y diwrnod tyngedfennol hwnnw. Yn y diwedd, penderfynasant nad gwyrth oedd y digwyddiad penodol hwn.  Ond mae’r hyn a adawsant, yn Llyfrgell y Fatican, yn ddarlun unigryw bron o ddinas ar un diwrnod yn y drydedd ganrif ar ddeg.

Mae’r Athro Catherine Clarke, o Gyfadran y Dyniaethau ym Mhrifysgol Southampton, yn gweithio ar brosiect City Witness, a ariennir gan AHRC, sy’n defnyddio’r cipolwg hwn o’r gorffennol i ychwanegu dimensiwn newydd i ddinas Abertawe. ‘Mae fel math o ffilm arloesol, dywed, ‘lle caiff yr un digwyddiad ei weld a’i gofio yn wahanol iawn gan dystion gwahanol, yn dibynnu pwy a ble’r oeddent.’

Mae City Witness yn dilyn prosiect a ariannwyd yn flaenorol gan AHRC, sydd yn mapio Dinas Ganoloesol Caer (www.medievalchester.ac.uk). Roedd y tîm wedi bod yn chwilio am brosiect arall mewn tref Ganoloesol ar y ffin, ac yn ymwybodol o stori William Cragh. Y tro hwn maent wedi ymuno ag Ymddiriedolaeth Archeolegol Morgannwg-Gwent, er mwyn defnyddio’u gwybodaeth am yr archeoleg leol. Ac fel y dywed Rheolwr Cynllunio Archeolegol yr Ymddiriedolaeth, Neil Maylan, mae’r prosiect yn bwydo gwaith sydd ar y gweill ar hyn o bryd, i adfer Castell Abertawe a’i agor i’r cyhoedd.  Bydd canolfan ymwelwyr yno yn rhoi gwybodaeth am William Cragh, ac yn disgrifio’r hyn y gellid bod wedi ei weld o fannau amrywiol o amgylch y castell yn y drydedd ganrif ar ddeg. ‘Mae’n ffordd o wneud cofeb ar gyfer y cyhoedd yn boblogaidd,’ dywed Neil, ‘drwy sôn am bwy allai fod wedi bod yn sefyll ble’r ydych chi’n sefyll, saith can mlynedd yn ôl.’

Mae’r prosiect hefyd yn cyd-fynd â gwaith Cyngor Abertawe, sydd yn ailddatblygu’r ardal hanesyddol o amgylch Castell Abertawe, gan greu ‘Cwr y Castell,’ newydd fydd, gobeithio, o fudd i drigolion ac yn denu ymwelwyr newydd. Dywed Gareth Hughes, Cydlynydd Adfywio Cyngor Dinas a Sir Abertawe y bydd cyfres o farcwyr palmant o amgylch Abertawe yn gysylltiedig â gwybodaeth ar wefan prosiect City Witness, yn cynnwys ail-luniadau 3D o’r ddinas Ganoloesol, sy’n golygu y bydd unrhyw un â ffôn deallus yn gallu rhyngweithio ar yr un pryd gydag Abertawe’r unfed ganrif ar hugain, a chyda’r ddinas hanesyddol o dan eu traed. ‘Mae’n ymwneud ag ennyn diddordeb pobl yn y man lle maent yn byw, a deall ystyr y lle – dyma’r hyn sy’n gwneud dinas yn lle bywiog a diddorol, ac mae o gymorth i bobl berchenogi’r lle.’

Mae Abertawe yn ddinas lle nad oes llawer o’r Oesoedd Canol ar ôl uwchben y ddaear, diolch i ymdrechion cyfunol y Luftwaffe a datblygiadau wedi’r rhyfel. Ond trwy brosiect City Witness, mae’r Abertawe hanesyddol unwaith eto’n dod i’r amlwg - yn dod yn fyw unwaith eto, yn yr un modd â William Cragh, pan yr oedd yn ymddangos fel petai wedi marw.

Am fwy o wybodaeth, ewch i: www.medievalswansea.co.uk

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