Welsh Pilgrimages

St Cybi’s Well & St Tudwen’s Church, Spring 2019

 

StCybis
St Cybi’s Church

I went to the Hermitage of the Awakened Heart recently and decided to do some pilgrimage. The first place I visited was St. Cybi’s Well which is located very close by a church associated with the same saint. This place can be found at the village called Llangybi. Legend has it that this well has healing powers. I have been feeling in need of healing and rejuvenation lately so I thought that the well could work some magic on me.

StCybisWell
St Cybi’s Healing Well

It took about an hour to walk there from the Hermitage. I stayed for a while, said some Guru Rinpoche prayers and circumambulated the well. I walked back and felt very tired, even more than I had earlier. By the time I got back I felt so out of it that I went straight to sleep for a few hours, which is unusual for me to be able to sleep during the day even when tired. I’m sure the trip had some effect on me as I felt a new lease of life the next day, which leads me to the next pilgrimage: St.Tudwen’s church.

st tudwens church northwales
Pathway at St Tudwen’s Church

The following day, one of the residents at the Hermitage mentioned that she had a fold up bike, a funny looking thing usually seen on the underground in London that I thought wouldn’t be up to very much, but to my surprise it took me on quite a journey and even managed a few hills. I ended up cycling over 40 miles, partly owing to my poor sense of direction.

After a much needed Guinness, panini and coffee at a roadside pub I eventually made it to St Tudwen’s church which is next to a village called Dinas; a name which caused me to mistake Carn Fadryn (a famous Iron Age hillfort very close by) for Dinas Emrys (another famous mountain in Snowdonia) which I had also planned to visit, but didn’t quite have the time.

St Tudwen’s Church is a lovely spot and felt very peaceful to be there especially after the effort to get there. Shame I didn’t remember to ask the farmer for the key to look inside, but still, I circumambulated the church and said Guru Rinpoche prayers. I’m not sure if others in the sangha circumambulations of place other than stupas, but at some point I seem to have adopted this practice of viewing anything sacred as a kind of stupa.

When I first went to a Dharma centre in Scotland called Samye Ling I noticed the Stupa there had a presence as if it was alive, as if it could see me. I also thought the shape suggested drawing energy of life into it, like a lightning conductor through the pointed crown on the top. Later when I became involved with Awakened Heart Sangha with its Enlightenment Stupa at the Hermitage, I heard stupas talked about in much greater detail and with a great sense of reverence and awe.

The way of relating to stupas from what I have heard is as if they are the Buddha in person – and even the shape reflects this. There’s too much to go into on that subject but I like relating the same principles to other place, even places that are not at all seemingly sacred, places that might be un-loved or ugly. I suppose you could even circumambulate a public toilet if you wanted to.

Anyway, I enjoyed the two trips I made and next time hope to make it to Carn Fadryn.

Words and images by Luke Davey.

Cist Cerrig

Buddhist Pilgrimage Cist Cerrig sacred Sites North Wales
Lama Shenpen sitting in front of the ‘H’ shaped burial stones at Cist Cerrig

We celebrated welcoming the New Year with a Pilgrimage to Cist Cerrig – a sacred site  near Porthmadog, Gwynedd that contains the remains of a burial chamber/tomb dating from the Neolithic period.

A rainbow graced us with its presence after performing Buddhist prayers and rituals on the site, considered a very auspicious sign!

Guru Rinpoche Buddhist pilgrimage sites
A Small Guru Rinpoche statue on top of the natural ‘alter’ made by the stone and an Orchid offering

Carnguwch Church & the Tickling Stick

Carnguwch Church on Llyn Peninsula North Wales
Carnguwch Church on Llyn Peninsula

This beautiful little church is based on the site of an ancient Llan attributed either to St Beuno or to a little known Saint Cuwch who may have been female. It fell into disuse and disrepair but is now under the care of the friends of Carnguwch church and the occasional service still takes place there.

The Treasurer of the friends of the church (and the key-holder) lives at Penfras Uchaf farm, Llwyndyrys. He is very friendly and happy to give the key for the church and to point people to the standing stone in his field.

View to Garn Fadryn
View of Graveyard up to Garn Fadryn

According to the treasurer (because of local old place names and house names) is that the church belonged to St. Engan (or Einion) who was king of the Llyn peninsula, descendant of Cunedda and brother of St. Seriol.

St. Engan is credited with granting St. Seriol the land  for Penmon priory and to have a hermitage on Puffin island. He is also said to have brought St. Cadfan across from Tywyn to Ynys Enlli to establish the monastery there. There was a gilded and crowned statue of him at Llanengan church until the reformation. The church also claims to hold his relics.

Carnguwch Church a peaceful and atmospheric pilgrimage site
Peaceful and Atmospheric

The Treasurer believes that the site was probably a sacred pre-Christian site due to its natural features being a flat raised area above a river. It certainly seemed to have goddess qualities as well as Christian ones.

The pulpit in the church has 3 tiers and (according to the Treaurer) the warden would sit at the bottom with a stick, one end of which had feathers. His job was to nudge sleepy men with the hard end of the stick and women with the feathered end!

Buddhist Pilgrimage and Smoke Puja at Carnguwch Church
Buddhist Pilgrimage and Smoke Puja at Carnguwch Church

 

The Church and surrounding cemetery has a very peaceful feel and I would say one that is similar to that of St. Tudwen’s church. A sense of the feminine and a deep sense of love and compassion. Sitting in the churchyard, looking up to Mynydd Carnguwch and listening to the sounds of the river Erch below is a wonderful place to meditate. The church sits above the valley of the river Erch.

Beautifully Aged Tombstones
Beautifully Aged Tombstones

This remote site is on the far side of Mynydd Carnguwch which can only be reached on foot, either from the B4177 or from Lwyndyrys.  Grid reference SH374418.

By Tara Dew

 

Huw Llwyd’s Pulpit

Huw Llwyd is a legendary figure in Welsh history and literature. His is known to have lived between 1568 and 1630 and his house – Cynfal fawr still stands in the Cynfal valley near Llan Ffestiniog.
Huw Llwyd is a legendary figure in Welsh history and literature.

Huw Llwyd is a legendary figure in Welsh history and literature. He is is known to have lived between 1568 and 1630. His house – Cynfal fawr still stands in the Cynfal valley near Llan Ffestiniog.

He lived through the reign of James 1st, Charles 1st and the first decade of Elizabeth 1st. He was apparently the 7th son of a 7th son and feasted on eagle meat to ensure his descendants had powers for a further 9 generations. He was renowned as a mercenary soldier, a bard, harpist, writer, magician, alchemist, healer and for his ability to see into the future.

People travelled from far afield to hear him preaching and to seek his help. He served in France and Holland in a Welsh regiment in the role as chaplain and doctor. As a self -styled preacher he convinced local Christian clerics that sorcery was invaluable in the battle against evil and witchcraft.

He was visited by John Dee (alchemist and mathematician of the Elizabethan court) and they exchanged ideas and knowledge of magic.

On New Years Day 2018 Lama Shenpen and residents at The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart, undertook a Buddhist pilgrimage to his natural pulpit.

Within the deep and narrow Cynfal gorge ( Grid reference: SH705412) a fast-flowing river plunges around a tall pillar of rock. It was on this rock pillar in the middle of the river that Huw meditated, gave discourses and used his magic to cast out evil spirits.

Buddhist pilgrimage to Huw Llwyd's Pulpit
Lama Shenpen and gang on Buddhist pilgrimage

His sermons were powerful and miraculously could be heard above the sound of the rushing water. He only used his powers to combat evil and to punish those who misbehaved.

In Welsh the word to describe his meditation is synfyfyrio which literally means sudden or startled meditation. He would dress in a long cape with magical symbols, wear a special sheepskin crown with a pigeon feather in it and hold a whip made of eel skin with a bone handle.

A powerful wizard, he would heal through exorcism and the demons would be cast as dark shadows into the ravine below. The waterfall downstream from his pulpit is called Rhaeadr Ddu, the Black Falls.

Rhaeadr Ddu - the Black Falls - a Buddhist pilgrimage
Rhaeadr Ddu – the Black Falls

He was called upon to deal with anything weird and “witchy” and there are many stories of his taming of local negative forces and bandits.

In one tale Huw is called in to solve a case of serial theft at an inn in Betws y Coed. The inn is run by 2 beautiful sisters who are also witches and can transform themselves into cats at night to then steal from their customers. Huw rests that night with his magic sword by his side and when he notices the 2 cats stealthily sneak into his room and to his pockets he strikes one a blow on their paw.

The next morning one of the sisters has a bandaged hand and he knows for sure they are the criminals. He warns them and they deeply apologise for their actions. Instead of reporting them to the witch-finder for trial he tells them the inn is now under his protection and there will be no more stealing. The inn thrives and the sisters earn a good virtuous living.

The River Cynfal - scared site of Huw Llwyd’s Pulpit
The River Cynfal – scared site of Huw Llwyd’s Pulpit

In another story Huw mesmerises a group of bandits at a tavern in Pentrefoelas who were planning to kill him. He causes the table they are sitting at to grow antlers which they are unable to look away from. He gets a good nights sleep and in the morning they are arrested by the sheriff. In another story Huw leaves a spell on an unscrupulous and extortionate innkeeper by causing everyone to dance and sing until they are nearing terminal exhaustion. He then sends instructions for how to find the spell and throw it into the fire thus releasing everyone. These three tales show how he was just, effective and humorous!

He was married with children and on his death bed he told one of his daughters to throw all his books on the ‘black arts’ into a lake where they were received by a pair of ethereal hands. There is no record of his death, no will was ever executed or probate granted for his estate… some say he lives on!

His grandson (or perhaps nephew) Morgan Llwyd (1619 – 1659) was a Christian mystic and renowned welsh bard with numerous works still in print. He was a puritan preacher in Wrexham but his views were unorthodox being influenced by the German mystic Jacob Bohme. For some people he is considered a Welsh Nation builder.

The river Cynfal - rich in fish and eels
The River Cynfal

The water of the river Cynfal is rich in fish and eels. Elfyn’s grandfather caught a snake once while fishing in the river. It has a powerful feel to it – a Guru Rinpoche place and a home to nagas?

By Tara Dew

Bryn Cader Faner – Crown of Thorns

There is little to be said about the history and myths of this sacred site. Fortunately, this bronze aged stone circle (ring cairn) speaks for itself. It is simply spectacular!

In an area well known for megaliths and stone circles Bryn Cader Faner stands out as unusual and wonderful place to visit on pilgrimage in Wales.

A dramatic stone circle above Harlech with stones all sloping outwards like a crown of thorns. Situated in a remote high moorland looking up into Snowdonia.

Bryn Cader Faner translates as something like “the hill crowned with the throne of the flag”. Which implies a place of great power and prestige.

Originally a burial site (disturbed in the 19th Century), the stone circle consists of fifteen thin stone slabs of about 2 metres in length, unusually arranged so as to lean outwards. The original monument may have consisted of about thirty such stones.

Welsh pilgrimage to spectacular bronze age stone circle
Welsh pilgrimage to spectacular bronze age stone circle

To reach the site drive to Talsarnau and then take the upper Harlech Road and the first left up a steep narrow road to Eisingrug. Take the second right hand turn in this hamlet and follow the small road till its end where there is space for 3 or 4 cars to park. Go through the right hand gate and follow the track which bends around to the left. After about 10 minutes bear left onto a footpath which leads up to the circle. It takes about 45 minutes.

Buddhist pilgrimage to spectacular Welsh bronze age stone circle
Buddhist pilgrimage to spectacular Welsh bronze age stone circle

These photos show Lama Shenpen Hookham, some of the community residents and visiting retreatants of the Hermitage of the Awakened Heart near Criccieth. These show a puja (ritual) carried out to celebrate the New Year at the start of 2017.

by Jayasiddhi and Tara

Cwm Pennant (16/9/17)

Our annual Discovering the Heart of Buddhism study and meditation retreat ended with a pilgrimage to the beautiful valley of Cwm Pennant, Gwynedd, not far from where our Buddhist Retreat centre is based in Ynys, near Criccieth. Members of the Sangha have visited Cwm Pennant many times before and we love the beauty of the sacred landscape here. Tibetan Buddhist teacher H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche told us this was very special place.

Pilgrimage to sacred sites in Wales Cwm Pennant

It was a cold morning and it felt like Autumn/Winter had arrived as we walked up the hillside to a more sheltered spot, but we were very lucky as there was no rain despite the overcast skies.

Cwm Pennant holy pilgrimage Sacred Sites Wales

We stopped next to a very interesting looking tree, where the ground naturally flattens out a little, next to a large stone that’s perfect for our outdoor shrine.

Smoke Puja Buddhist rituals sacred sites North Wales

We set out the shrine with Guru Rinpoche at the centre, with our offerings, while Jayasiddhi built the small, self-contained fire from wood we brought with us as well as sacred ash from our previous smoke puja rituals to continue the connection (read more about Smoke Puja ritual here.)

Buddhist Practice of Pilgrimage to sacred sites in Snowdonia North Wales

While we made the offering of smoke to the sacred landscape of North Wales, we read Guru Rinpoche prayers, recited the mantra OM AH HUM and sang songs.

Tibetan Buddhist Sangha in Gwynedd, North Wales

The Awakened Heart Sangha is part of a yogic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism of singing songs of realisation, as taught by Khenpo RinpocheLama Shenpen‘s teacher. Khenpo Rinpoche was a wandering yogin in his youth and in later years would often sing profound extemporaneous songs, so is likened to the great yogin Milarepa.

We regularly sing songs composed by Milarepa and Khenpo Rinpoche as part of our practice, and on a pilgrimage in the beautiful sacred Welsh countryside is no exception!

By Loshi

Llandudwen – St. Tudwen’s Church (25/8/17)

Following on from our successful pilgrimage to Carn Fadryn, Lama Shenpen and the Hermitage team took our German guests on to the nearby church dedicated to St. Tudwen.

St. Tudwen's church Gwynedd, pilgrimage site with holy well
Llandudwen Church built as pilgrimage site to St. Tudwen,

This beautiful little chapel is located off of a farm track about one mile south of Morfa Nefyn. Take a good map, the turning is easy to miss. There is parking near the entrance to church, just outside of the farmyard.

There was a legend of a Holy Well being associated with this site, although it had been lost for many years. This was recently rediscovered in one of the fields adjoining the Church grounds.

The entrance to the church begins with a narrow pathway encompassed by two traditional welsh stone walls. These walls inspired Lama Shenpen to build our walled entrance leading up to the Stupa of Enlightenment at the Hermitage.

Buddhist retreat centre, Gwynedd Wales - traditional stone walls
Stone walls leading to the Buddhist Stupa at the Hermitage Retreat in Criccieth.

At the end of the pathway is a traditional covered stone gateway (lych gate) leading into the graveyard. Traditionally, coffins would have been left overnight in this gateway before burial the next morning. I had not heard of this tradition before and wonder at its meaning and origin. Perhaps something to do with purification at the boundary to sacred ground – reminiscent of entering a mandala boundary in the Buddhist tradition.

Tradition records St. Tudwen as being an Irish Saint, and sister to the grandmother of St David. She fled to the Llyn Peninsula to avoid persecution and abuse. Later began to teach the local people about her love of God.

A church was built over her grave on this site in the 5th Century. This was rebuilt in in 1595 – the current church – in the “hammer head” shape is a Grade II listed building.

St Tudwens church, stained glass window through door
View of stain glass window through doorway

The church is very beautiful and extremely well preserved. The stained glass windows are very modest and include the alpha and omega symbols. On the day we visited the doorway was surrounded with mistletoe, giving a somewhat pagan feel.

Church door with mistletoe, St. Tudwens, Gwynedd
Mistletoe around doorway, St Tudwens, Gwynedd

We spent some time sitting inside the church in silence, absorbing the atmosphere and meditating. As we had the church to ourselves we chanted the Green Tara mantra and our retreatants sang some of their Dharma songs in German. We had been enjoying these all week, the sweet melodies and wonderfully tuneful voices!   By Jayasiddhi

 

 

 

Carn Fadryn “Mother Mountain” 25/8/2017

Carn Fadryn (Garnfadryn) was the sacred destination for the second group of German retreatants on our Discovering the Heart of Buddhism retreat this August. We could not have chosen a better day to explore the Welsh sacred landscape, the skies were clear and the sun was hot – an auspicious day to initiate out ten German guests to the practice Welsh Pilgrimage.

Carn Fadryn Mother Mountain

Lama Shenpen and Rigdzin Shikpo had once asked H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche about the possibility of finding holy places in Britain. He asked for a map of the area and identified a number of sacred places in North Wales. The one he felt stood out as  being particularly special was Carn Fadryn.

Khyentse Rinpoche was one of the foremost Tibetan Buddhist teachers of his generation and was highly respected as a Terton – or Treasure Finder. He had found many sacred objects and Buddhist texts (Termas) hidden in the landscape of Tibet and the surrounding Himalayas. His naming of Carn Fadryn as a place of strong spiritual significance should therefore be taken very seriously.

Dilgo_Khyentse Rinpoche

H.H Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Carn Fadryn translates as something like “mother mountain” and has strong feminine associations, a fitting destination for an all female retreat from the German Sangha (Buddhist community) Tara Libre. Some sources link the mountain with Modrun, the grand daughter of Vortigen, the Welsh hero and famous Celtic King.

There is also a legend linking the mountain to King Arthur.  There is a cromlech (a standing stone burial site) named “Coetan Arthur” (Arthur’s Quoit) at Trefgwm. It consists of a great stone resting on three smaller stones. The legend states that Arthur “the Giant” threw the largest stone from Carn Fadryn – a distance of several miles. His wife then picked it up and propped it on three smaller stones from her apron!

We parked at the handy lay-by at the foot of the mountain in the village of Garnfadryn and began our ascent under the glorious sunshine. The mountain has a height of 371 metres, but has a well trod track through heather slopes and is a relatively easy walk (approx. 45 minutes) with a few high steps in places.

Garnfadryn village

The summit marked by ancient cairns and a modern trig point, was the sight of at least three ancient hill forts. The earliest dates from around 300 BC.  The most recent was recorded in 1188 as “newly built” and referred to as “the castle of the sons of Owain”.

Buddhist Puja Wales

We performed our Smoke Offering Puja (ritual) with chants and mudras (ritual hand gestures) before tucking in to our well deserved feast. The feast was accompanied by many yogic songs – in both German and English. Afterwards, we enjoyed a spot of sun-bathing – almost unheard of on our Welsh pilgrimage outings!

Buddhist Feast Practice

The views from the summit were amazing. We had a complete panoramic view of the whole of the Llyn Peninsula from one coast to the other. Nearby, we could see the two small twin islands of Ynys Gwylan-fawr and Ynys Gwylan-bach; further out we could see the popular pilgrimage destination of Bardsey Island and the Isle of Angelsey (Ynys Mon) with its Druidic associations. The mountains of Snowdonia could be seen brooding in the far distance. Although a fine day, we were unable to see the Wicklow mountains of Ireland, which can sometimes be spotted.

Llyn Peninsula Garnfadyn  Carn Fadyn View

As we made our descent back to the cars our minds slipped from holy sites and legends of old to the more mundane – beaches and ice cream! A great way to end a pilgrimage.     By Jayasiddhi

 

 

Dinas Emrys German Pilgrims – 17th August 2017

Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia was the pilgrimage destination for 23 German students visiting us for a Discovering the Heart of Buddhism retreat. At the end of their week of meditation, study and discussion, they were more than ready to stretch their legs and explore the sacred and holy sites of Wales.

Tara Anne Dew (our resident pilgrimage expert) had chosen Dinas Emrys as the destination for this pilgrimage as our guests had travelled a long way to be here and Dinas Emrys is regarded by many (including Rigdzin Shikpo) as the “most powerful location” in Wales.

Associated with Celtic King Vortigern and Merlin (Myrddin Emrys), this is where Merlin discovered the red and white dragons (representing the Welsh and the Saxon peoples) were buried under the hill. Merlin released the dragons and the subsequent fight led to a victory by the Welsh red dragon over the white Saxon dragon. This event is commemorated on the Welsh flag.

Dinas Emrys Snowdon

The previous few days had been quite rainy and so the waterfall at the foot of the hill was in full flow and quite invigorating to watch. We spent some time there chanting the Green Tara mantra.

Dinas Emrys Waterfall

On the ascent we were treated to a wonderful view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The heather was very bright and colourful and the whole place felt very lush.

Pilgrimage Snowdonia

By the time we arrived at the remains of Vortigern’s hill fort, the rain began to fall and we all donned our waterproofs before starting the smoke offering puja. As is often the case, once we had lit some incense and started our chanting the rain stopped completely and sun broke through the clouds. We were able to enjoy the rest of our puja and the feast that followed in comfort.

The German ladies were in fine form and sung us some beautiful and stirring songs. Lama Shenpen and Tara sang and danced along the top of the tower foundation wall. A lot of fun was had by all.

On the return walk we stopped in a particularly atmospheric glade. I experienced a very strong sense of presence in this spot. Lama and Tara performed the Buddhist Tara dance for us, which I had not seen before. It was really wonderful to watch.

When we arrived back the National Trust Centre we appeared to have lost two German pilgrims. We searched the wonderful Cafes and ice cream shops of Beddgelert for them (at least this was our excuse!). Not finding them we retraced our journey to Dinas Emrys hoping that they had not been tempted off the path by the faerie folk! Happily we found them quite quickly – they had taken a wrong turn on the descent and were awaiting us in the very informative National Trust centre.

By Jayasiddhi

Another visit to the sacred site of Llyn y Dywarchen

A Buddhist Pilgrimage to a sacred sites in wales
A pilgrimage by students of Lama Shenpen, members of the Awakened Heart Sangha and Hermitage residents, to the sacred site of Llyn y Dywarchen in Snowdonia, North Wales.

Last weekend we went on another pilgrimage to the sacred site of Llyn Y Dywarchen in Gwynedd, to mark the end of the week-long Formless Meditation retreat, held at our sacred siteThe Hermitage of the Awakened Heart in Criccieth, North Wales.

the holy island of Llyn y Dywarchen in Gwynedd, North Wales
The holy island at Llyn y Dywarchen in Snowdonia, a sacred place we like to regularly visit on pilgrimage in North Wales

As we described in a previous post about a pilgrimage to this sacred Welsh site, it is special to us for a number of reasons: we’ve made a strong connection to Guru Rinpoche to this place and brought many visiting Lamas here. It’s been visited and blessed by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche amongst many others.

Building a shrine on a sacred site of pilgrimage in North Wales
Awakened Heart Sangha members preparing the shrine to make offerings

We always end our retreats with a pilgrimage to a local sacred place and this time we had some new retreat attendees, so it was their very first Welsh pilgrimage to a sacred site with us, and their first visit to Llyn y Dywarchen.

Our Shrine overlooking the holy island at Llyn Y Dywarchen
Our Shrine overlooking the holy island at Llyn y Dywarchen

We prepared a Tibetan Buddhist shrine with Guru Rinpoche at the centre and offering bowls, candles, flowers and incense, over looking the holy island and lake.

Connecting to the sacred sites of Wales through Buddhist ritual and practice
Tibetan Buddhist rituals connecting us to the sacred landscape on our pilgrimage to the holy site in Snowdonia

We all sat together and chanted the offering prayers and mantras, to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the environment and all that dwell there. While we were performing the puja the sun came out momentarily, which felt very auspicious!

You can find out more about Buddhist pilgrimage ritual and practice including the fascinating ritual of smoke pujas, on our Buddhist Pilgrimage page.